Lidia Bastianich is one of the few TV chefs I respect, so I was eager to try her restaurant in Kansas City. But I was possibly expecting too much by comparing it to the excellent Frontera Grill of Rick Bayless in Chicago or Emeril’s Delmonico in Las Vegas.
I was flying solo and sat at the bar and started with a Campari. The bartender was friendly and quick, but the cocktail glass was covered in sticky Campari, making it a less-than-pleasant experience, and I had to ask for a glass of water, which irked me. I guess I can forgive the sticky stemware, because I’ve gotten Campari everywhere in a drunken rage before.
I chose the prix fixe Tuscan Grill which came with four courses for a very reasonable $34: polenta, daily pasta, choice of a grilled plate, and a mixed dessert. In general, all of the plates felt like they weren’t made with excellence, but more with a banquet dinner in mind. None of the dishes came out hot, merely warm. I’ve said many times I’d rather be served food Way Too Hot than Not Hot at All. I can wait for the food to cool or choose to burn my mouth, thank you.
The first plate was a polenta wedge with a grilled eggplant slice and a cream sauce. The polenta was a bit chewy and not served nearly hot enough. Also, it was Hard to Eat because you couldn’t really cut the eggplant with a fork, and you aren’t provided a proper knife for cutting it. I managed. Then came an empty plate. Then came a heaping of spaghetti bolognese. Then came a heaping of fettuccine with shrimp. Then came a heaping of ricotta and spinach ravioli. Holy crap, that plate is enough to make two meals.
Hey, I like starch. But polenta followed by a pasta bomb is not the bomb, as kids these days might say. My favorite was the fettuccine with shrimp, even though I’m ever-weary of seafood in the Midwest. The spaghetti and fettuccine were cooked perfectly al dente, but the ravioli was woefully undercooked, and where the filling met the dough, it was arguably not even cooked at all, just a gooey doughy mess.
But I suppose it’s okay that some of the pasta was essentially inedible because no one should be eating all that food, anyway. I ate most of the fettuccine, half of the spaghetti, and one of the ravioli that had actually gotten cooked. I was verging on full before the grilled lamb chops arrived. I commented to the bartender that the pasta plate was a ridiculous amount of food, and she agreed. Guess I’m right.
The lamb chops were served with far too many tart cherries, and I’m generally against fruit in entrees, but it would’ve been pretty good had the chops been served hot, and had the chops not been overcooked. They were three meaty and tender chops, but I’ve definitely had far better preparations. Also on the plate were cipollini onions with a fried breading crisp on top. These might have been excellent had they come out piping hot, but instead they had clearly cooled and showed little (failed to menace, even).
I know what you’re thinking: where’s dessert after all that? The candied pistachios were fine but possibly burnt in spots. And I don’t understand why you would put lemon sorbet next to vanilla ice cream. It’s a jarring combination. I would’ve far preferred to just have one or the other.
Ultimately, I was disappointed. The atmosphere is fine and the food is reasonably priced for what you get, but it was much too much food and I felt I was eating banquet fare, not the excellence of Italy I expected. I wonder what Lidia would’ve said about my dinner.