bluestem’s chef Colby Garrelts had been nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef – Midwest from 2007 all the way through 2013, the year he finally won it, and bluestem has been nominated as a James Beard Semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurant in 2015, 2016 and 2017. With all of this attention, bluestem was at the top of our list for dinner on our recent trip to Kansas City.
The meal was full of highlights, and the service matched: quiet, unobtrusive, and flowing smoothly. The pacing of the food was nice; a little slow at times since they were trying to match our speed to the table next to us which was also doing the 10-course tasting menu. (Trying to match across tables is always problematic even if the courses are small since individual tables each have their own pace of eating and discussion.)
The 10-course tasting is not on the menu, so be sure to ask for it. Here’s what we had.
We started with an amuse bouche trio, composed of a gougère (cheese puff), aroncini, and a Midwest hoecake with a liver mousse and a beet green leaf. The gougère, my favorite of these three, was a warm, creamy and savory cheese puff. The dough that made up the puff had the same consistency as an éclair, but lacked any sweetness. It was a really nice and savory way to wake up my appetite for the meal.
The aroncini were small rice and cheese filled balls, rolled in bread crumbs and then fried. They had a nice crunch, certainly, but their flavor was too subtle to be very interesting here.
The hoecake was a nice bite; full or crunchy corn and smooth liver and topped with our first of many beet greens.
The first course was an autumn beet, delicata squash, apple, cranberry, goat cheese and walnut salad. The delicata squash had the same soft yet dense consistency as the beet, and was a nice counter play to its color.
The second course was a La Belle Farms foie gras torchon, with poached Seckel pears, black pepper, yogurt, pistachio and a thick, crispy brioche in, well, some sort of syrup. Sourghum? I’m not sure.
The brioche was cut about a half inch thick, which I thought was far too thick for a composed bite. It would have been better if the brioche was half as thick. And since we’re thinking critically, while I do enjoy a good torchon, when that torchon is foie gras I can’t help but think just how much better this would have been if it was made from a seared lobe of foie gras instead.
The third course was called the fairytale pumpkin soup and it came with a whipped Manhattan foam, pickled green apple and pepitas.
Those pickled green apples were luscious and bright, and definitely the highlight of this dish. I thought the Manhattan foam was a pretty neat idea, but it wasn’t focused enough in flavor to discern whether the foam was from rye or bourbon. I think this dish would have been better with an Old Fashioned foam, which would have added vermouth to that mix and an added layer of flavor.
The fourth course was a ricotta cappelletti, with braised rabbit, a parmesan mousseline and an edible nasturtium leaf. This was really fabulous. The rabbit was really juicy and full of rabbit flavor, which paired so very well with the salty parmesan mousseline.
The fifth course was a seared scallop with black truffle, savoy cabbage, butternut squash and shellfish bisque. The scallop was only seared on a single-side, which left the bottom half of my mouth feeling left out, but that fabulously bright and vinegary savoy cabbage.
For the sixth course we had seared aged Peking duck, with Tokyo turnip, chestnut, a mustard frill and a sprinkling of salt. While not listed on the menu, it was accompanied by a square duck rillettes topped with pickled mustard seed and that mustard frill.
The seventh course was a grilled angus ribeye, seared crispy on the outside but nice and rare inside, served with a beautifully savory and cheesy acorn squash polenta, some kale, pickled onion and a black truffle jus. This was a wonderful dish, and the interplay of that seared beef and savory cheesy acorn squash polenta was a perfect match.
The eighth course was the cheese course: soft, spreadable Mimolette cheese in a small ramekin, with green apple, bacon, a sweet onion marmalade and raisin walnut toast. Originally made at the request of the French King Louis XIV, Mimolette is a soft cheese, here white, but usually colored orange from nutty-flavored annatto. I ate the whole thing, creamy, bacony, marmaladey, crunchy. This is a dish I would order with a nice white wine and just meander through an afternoon.
The ninth course began the dessert courses. First was the pumpkin and spice cake with goat cheese, pecan and a sage brown butter ice cream. I wish they sold sage brown butter ice cream at Kroger.
For the tenth and final course, we had a dark chocolate and chili mousse with a sweet potato whipped cream, chocolate ice cream, pomegranate seeds, a raspberry sorbet (or was that pomegranate too?), crème fraiche and lime.
As a final amuse, they brought over a tray of small desserts: little cubes of ginger and pear gelatin covered in sugar, rich deep chocolate truffles rolled in bitter chocolate, gingerbread cookies full of hot ginger flavor, and chewy sea salt caramels. What a nice way to finish this meal!