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Lidia's: The Search for New York Nirvana in Kansas City
Jeanette Pryor ^ | July 31, 2012 | Jeanette Pryor

Posted on 07/31/2012 2:09:15 PM PDT by Jeanette Pryor

My husband was so homesick for Brooklyn that I resolved to find a New York-style restaurant here in Kansas City, a sort of “home away from home.” It would have to serve real Italian food, employ very loud waiters and feature at least one New York accent. In such a place an exile might find relief from the excesses of politeness, tranquility and non-homicidal drivers that plague the Midwest.

Research beat a quick path to Lidia’s owned by the star of P.B.S.’s famed Lidia’s Italy. For weeks I poured over every cookbook the woman ever published. Culled from Kansas City’s six libraries, these tomes featured Lidia’s philosophy and recipes. I prepared for the dining experience with an expeditionary spirit rivaling that of Shackleton himself.

Online virtual tours of the renovated Rockwell-designed freight house elevated anticipation to utterly utopian heights; all that remained was to actually experience what I’d certainly find at Lidia’s, plated essence of Italy.

Arriving for Sunday brunch, I brushed aside momentary surprise when, instead of feeling the much-vaunted familial hospitality, I stood for several minutes alone in the entryway. The hostess finally arrived and led me to a table.

The visual battle raging in Lidia’s high ceiling was disturbing. A preposterous amalgamation of glass balls, a sort of deconstructed abstraction best entitled, “Essence of Grape Cluster,” clung precariously to what appeared to be dangling chicken-wire. The atmosphere aspires to old farm-house kitchen in Northern Italy. The airy, lightsome dining room is pleasant, but fails to conjure thoughts of meandering chickens.

Besides the Democlesian glass balls, Lidia’s attempt to evoke sun-soaked villas is thwarted by a rather hideous painting of a New Orleans jazz player splayed on the west wall. The mural gives the impression an entertainer from the Big Easy accidently sashayed into the dining room, ignoring the incongruity of his dancing in the middle of the would-be Italian countryside.

The waitress was personable without being silly. She explained that Sunday brunch is served in four courses; a basket of fresh-baked goods, a buffet of appetizers, a sampling of three pastas and another buffet of desserts.

The basket appeared full of bread sticks and crisp pastry triangles contrasting with moist muffins and scones. An assortment of flavored butters arrived on a chilled plate. I found them overly sweet. The pastries were tasty, but altogether too heavy for an amuse-bouche.

The baked goods left me deflated, but determined to be enchanted by the entrees. The salmon, slimy and bland, bored the palate. The soup, overly spicy, lacked a single distinguishable taste. Sweet potatoes were barely cooked, though the spinach, a now nearly-despaired-of- delight, sported a fresh, balanced vinaigrette. The broccoli, a most difficult vegetable to prepare, as it can be delicious in only one precise state, delivered alternating textural sensations of wood and mush.

My mood had descended precipitously from giddy anticipation to morose disappointment and now threatened petulance. Except for a mouthful of spinach, the food failed to live up to its promise. I would defer final judgment however until the pastas had their chance to redeem.

A waiter approached, brandishing a pan of fresh ravioli. The pasta was cooked to perfection; but its chicken-liver filling was overpowering. Next arrived spaghetti married marvelously to its marinara; the sauce a blend of succulent tomatoes and noticeably fresh herbs. The farfalle was an excellent al dente, but unfortunately lay smothered beneath pulverized broccoli. My opinion, slightly improved by the pasta itself and marinara sauce, was dampened again by a bowl of parmesan sawdust placed in front of me; no fresh-grated was offered table-side.

Anticipating final disappointment, I surveyed my dessert choices with dismay. Tiramisu takes a concerted effort to ruin so I chose this, giving the faux-Picasso-adorned barn a final chance to impress. The Tiramisu was fine, but people don’t come to this renowned venue for fine. Like Zorro, they are “looking for the miraculous in everyday life.” Lidia’s served a buffet of the commonplace.

The waitress was hailed, the bill paid. Professional restaurant reviewers dine three times in an establishment before passing judgment. Real people will not pay for three awful meals; they must be seduced upon first acquaintance. Lidia claims that every meal prepared with fresh ingredients and Italian culinary techniques will render a sumptuous symphony of tastes. Sadly her own restaurant did not prove this.

Refusing to despair of an authentic Italian experience, my pursuit happily concluded with the discovery of Jasper’s in Kansas City. Jasper’s is less a restaurant than a standing invitation to share the Mirabile’s family table. None of the waiters are loud and we have yet to hear a Brooklyn accent, but there is always a warm greeting at the door of this unabashedly Sicilian oasis. The food is indeed the gastronomic “miraculous in everyday life,” which, instead of provoking disappointed flight, beckons one continuously to return.

As for Lidia’s, I hope the chefs get library cards and revisit the wisdom and recipes so beautifully articulated by their founder in her books.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Food; Society
KEYWORDS: kansascity; restaurants

1 posted on 07/31/2012 2:09:20 PM PDT by Jeanette Pryor
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To: Jeanette Pryor

Except for pizza. I never eat Italian out. Too close to home to be fooled by a restaurant

2 posted on 07/31/2012 2:18:37 PM PDT by Vaquero (Don't pick a fight with an old guy. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.)
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To: Jeanette Pryor

Nice restaurant.

When I moved form the NY area to the mid/far west, even the simple things became desired: pizza with thin crust, bagels not from a freezer, four inch pastrami on rye sandwiches, crumb cake with one inch crumb layer.

That’s all I ask for.

3 posted on 07/31/2012 2:20:04 PM PDT by cicero2k
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