Friday, January 22, 2016

Renee Kelly's Harvest, an overpriced greasy spoon in Shawnee, by a pretentious chef who wants to move to KCMO

Renee Kelly's Harvest, is in the old Caenen Castle on Johnson Drive in Shawnee--west of Shawnee City Hall (Nieman) about half a mile.

The building has also been a rest home, a night club and other things.

Renee Kelly's Mom told me, personally in 2003, that she bought the home to launch a career in food service for her daughter.  Caenen Castle, (sans the Renee) was the name at first.   She started at first doing catering, private parties and lots of wedding receptions.  The house, sans elevator, is beautifully restored.  It has lots of charm.  But on this Friday night, in the height of KC Restaurant Week, was largely as deserted as its former life as a haunted house.

Over the years, Renee's brand identity shifted from the ambiance to her personality.  She changed the menu from home cooking to feature a growing trend of "Farm to Market" cooking.  That means locally grown foods, mostly organic.  Renee is a bit stiff, like a scolding nun with a ruler, about rapping the customers' knuckles with this incessant message of virtue and health.  Her menu is so broad and changes so often it is described on numerous web sites as "all over the place".  Many online reviews call her food overpriced.  So I wanted to sample it during KC Restaurant Week, $33 for dinner or $15 for lunch.  I defy you to find that menu online.  She signed up at the last minute, long after the first 100 restaurants were committed to the charity event, and many places had already booked up for the 10 day season.

Let me ask you this: when you feature just three entrees for the special, {rabbit ravioli (3 to a plate); clams and mussels (a meager 10 count) and baby back ribs with barley risotto}, how in heck does a competent chef with integrity run out of the ribs , at 6pm on Friday night?  Even Aldi down the street had raw ribs, if that is what you lacked.

One had to plan ahead early that morning, to substitute with a far lesser cut of meat, brisket that needed to be marinated in sarsaparilla.  And the $33 special cost more than most things on the regular menu.  Quite the opposite of the six other fine dining places I visited this week.  They offered a deep discount.

Renee is ambitious.  I'll give her that.  I followed her this season on Bravo's excellent series, Top Chef.  Renee won the first Quickfire challenge.  This gal can chop up a tray of 30 whole chickens into smaller pieces, I tell you!  Whack, whack, whack!!!

While she was then voted first to leave, as was KCMO's Debbie Gold, a truly charming, creative and self-effacing chef from several seasons back, Renee Kelly demonstrated enthusiasm, confidence and sass.

One wonders why chefs leave their business for a month to appear on Top Chef.  It became clear to me that Renee has her eyes set on whatever will land her a choice second location in the heart of KCMO.  Because when she introduced herself, she never once mentioned that her flagship--and ONLY-- restaurant at the moment is in Shawnee.  KANSAS!   Hands on her hips, stuck out at a jaunt, tossing her auburn curls, it was: "I am Renee Kelly, the sassy chef from Kansas City MISSOURI!"  

(Excuse me?  She is not.  No restaurant there, no license, etc.  And not even a tax subsidy, tho of course everyone asks.)  The very personable waitress, Claire, added, "Nobody knows where Shawnee is."  Well that's not the point, when you are trying to brand yourself as being not from a major market.

I do recall in the early "aughts", when Renee and her rah-rah stage mom first approached me at a Chamber event, to intercede with the codes officials and planning staff at the city of Shawnee about opening Caenen Castle as a public restaurant.  (I was the elected president of the Shawnee City Council then.)  They had the big head about expecting the city to completely ignore or break all their codes.  To hear tell, Renee's Mommy wanted the city to condemn adjacent land for a song, so they could magically and cheaply meet the city's firm and inviolate requirements for offstreet parking.  Or just make life easy: to commandeer onstreet parking, currently in use by the existing neighbors, to suddenly post it from 5p-10p as as Private Parking for Caenen Castle only!

And I quote: "Do you realize just how talented my daughter is and what she is about to create??  For this little town??"  

To Shawnee's credit, we maintained our requirements.  And did not 'give away the farm' to the eventual Farm to Table/Contemporary American restaurant.  Perhaps that's why Renee Kelly's 'Harvest' (forget the Castle) is now rebranding and seeking greener pastures in KCMO, the lush land of abatements.

Oh brother.  I'd love to be a fly on the wall if Mommy Kelly tries to negotiate with the other queen of entitlement, Shirley Helzberg, (above) for Renee Kelly to now be handed a tax-abated signature site downtown in Greedy Shirley's tax-abated development in the Crossroads.  For BNIM Architects, who cannot keep a straight face by threatening to move to JoCo if their ladidah millionairess landlady-first-time-developer doesn't get her $5 million tax break?

Now that would be a dish: Filet of Catfight on Green Dirt Farm greens, with raspberry vinaigrette.

OK, so how was my actual dinner at Renee Kelly's Harvest in Caenen Castle in Shawnee?

Horribly greasy.  Both the substitute brisket with greens; 
   and the duck (regular menu) with gooseberry schmeared on
   the plate like blood from a crime scene.
Absolutely wonderful waitress, Claire.
Adele songs over the PA.  "Hello?" Pretty sure that's illegal...

You know what, Shirley Helzberg?  And Sly James?  You can have her.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Story, in PV: giving huge value at KC Restaurant Week. Just needs to frost their front windows

Of 184 restaurants participating in KC Restaurant Week this year, Story has the certifiably best food in JoCo--and they're practically giving it away.

The special dinners are just $33;  Lunches are $15.  IF you can get in.  Always use for a reservation.  In this weather, wusses often cancel at the last minute, so do not give up.  Keep checking--you might score a top tier restaurant that will provide the meal of the year for you.

What does one get from Story for $33?  When the rest of the year, prices are higher?  I loved the Mahi Mahi.  A seasoned broth so special, the Bush Bean Dog is stalking Chef Carl on Twitter and Instagram, hoping he will reveal the secret recipe.  On the regular menu, just that course alone is $28.

Plus I quietly slurped up my choice of the starter, a creamy white bean soup, perfect for January--which the regular menu lists @ $9.  (I could have had the salad, a value of $8.)

Plus the world's most sensational bread basket--like a trip to Paris. Without the Muslim riots outside. The perfectly hard crust that so many restaurants cannot achieve.  I always feel a bit like a wolf on the prowl when I tear into really good French bread.  Do you?

And for dessert, merde---I adored the cardamom flavored Panne Cotta.  With two citrus pieces on top--like lazy cats curled up in the sun.

Wiki describes Panna cotta:   (Italian 'cooked cream') is an Italian dessert of sweetened cream thickened with gelatin and molded. The cream may be aromatized with rumcoffeevanilla, or other flavorings.

Story is not a French restaurant.  It's that new breed of New American cuisine and craft bartending. The chef is Carl Thorne-Thomsen.  He might be the last of the hypenated husbands.  But he is first in my book of award-winning chefs in JoCo.  Just named to 100 Restaurants Worth Traveling To.  The only one in the metro.

And they weren't talking about just guiding your Lincoln up Mission Road from Leawood. They meant: fly into town, hail a cab (hard to get Uber at KCI) and head to 3931 W. 69th Ter, in the very middle of the Prairie Village Shops, next to Standee's Theatres and across from the great Cafe Provence.  

Now I love Story.  Went there for my birthday.  But I have two suggestions.

One:  Someone please go buy Chef Carl some black plates.  All of his are white.  But when you serve a Panne Cotta, which is ivory, on a white plate, even tho it has those fancy drips orbiting the dish, like Neptune's 14 moons, well, it would be  breathtaking if it just was served on a black plate--so this "out of this world" dessert could really stand out in the culinary firmament.

And Two:
Frost the windows on the east side of their front door.  Or get reflective tape.  Because there you are, swooning with delight, until some SUV pulls into the parking space with their headlights on, and sits there.  No doubt texting or calling or catching up on Facebook.  An eternity.   If you are seated in any of the first four tables, the lights are right in your eyes.  Six feet from the window!  Think doe in the headlights.  Or the raid in Benghazi.  It completely ruins the moment.  In Gitmo, they use that kind of a surprise on the guys we are torturing to elicit confessions.

Why isn't this fixed??  I know the market research says show people inside dining, to attract folks from the sidewalk.  But really.  Perhaps Chef Carl and the waiters are always standing up when they stroll thru the dining room.  If they EVER sat down, after dark, where they seated me, trust me, they'd be fixing this.  It's bad enough that the view all the time is the Chico's sign.  Story has cute faux drapes of stringy yarn.  They fail to cover the windows nor cut the glare.  Please.  Design a better solution.  You'll rocket from one thumb up--because my other hand was rummaging for my sunglasses.  To two thumbs up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Clean up your yard quick! And close your garage door!!! Big Brother/aka JoCo government is taking the picture of every home.

Click here to see why there's a white van in front of your home...

It's just Big Brother.

And it's time for the Johnson County update.

I know it would look much more prosperous if the bureaucrats scheduled this when there are leaves on the trees.  Oh well, apparently, NON-beggars can't be choosers, either.

At the very least, close your garage door.  Nobody wants to see it.  You've seen those commercials for Febreze, re pet odors you have gone "nose blind" to?  Every day you park your car and rush to enter your home through a maze of rubble, boxes, sports equipment, plastic toys, tomato cages, hoses, loppers, ladders, shovels and junk just piled up waiting for Deffenbaugh's Spring Cleanup.

I am reminded of the great George Carlin, and his routines about Our Stuff.

And what about those treasures you are pre-staging in your garage for that sale you never got around to, last year?

Ouch, I just hurt myself with self-confession.  
Surely someone will pay handsomely for Joan Baez vinyl.  Nobody I'd date, but somebody.

Remember the JoCo Golden Rule: We in the golden ghetto do not want to see the white trash you have become "garage blind" to.  Close your garage door except when ingressing or egressing.
That's the rule in my HOA.  Or at least it was before the world's worst HOA President, Krista Turner, came to power.

Besides, in these temps, it's freezing all the garden and painting supplies you have in your garage.

And if your yard is cluttered as well, hurry--there's a brief warm-up in the weather.  Pick up your crap.  Store your giant trash bins where they belong, either inside your garage, or at least behind the front wall of your home.

These curbside portraits of your biggest investment will be like a drivers' license for your home for more years than you might imagine.  Used not just for assessment and taxation, but also all these google maps, etc that prospective homebuyers search before they buy in your neighborhood.

So between the county's white van and Google Maps' eye in the sky, you can run but you can't hide.

If your neighbors' yards look a mess, that can reflect negatively on your home's value, especially if you are moving soon.  Have some fun.  Challenge your neighbors to play a game like I do with kids: 30 Minute Pickup.  Only in your case, the winner gets a beer.  Not bad, right before the next playoffs game.

At the bottom of the link, there are some other things the Curious Mind can search.  Verify the property lines for your fences, for example.

And if you have a loved one in the dating world, or on Tinder (heaven help you), or your kids or grandkids are going on playdates with schoolmates, one can check out the kind of dwelling they might be visiting.

With my Norwegian frugality, and OCD talents, at least when I decide to get rid of stuff I will have the right sized box to put things in:

Now why haven't I cleaned out my own garage, you ask?  I'm busy.  Blogging.

Happy New Year.