Almost worth 5 stars. Almost.
First heard of this restaurant through some of Chef Celina Tio's appearances on TV, and decided to try it on our trip through Kansas City last year. Imagine our surprise when this celebrity chef was seating customers! (Also sweeping the floor, washing dishes, . . .) Ate there twice on that one trip--both times were good enough to make us juggle plans on this trip so we could eat there again. When we called for reservations, Hannah answered the phone, but turned us over to Chef Celina when she couldn't book us--on the night when the restaurant was rented out for a wedding. Celina is definitely a hands-on chef/restauranteur--and definitely cares about her customers. Anyway, we juggled plans to stay over and go to Julian the next day.
Which was Sunday. Which was the Family Style Fixed Price menu. I was going to say "Prixe Fixe," but Julian just isn't that stuffy. My take on the Sunday menu thing is that it gives the chance for a sous chef to try his/her hand at creating menus and running the restaurant.
Hannah seated us, and waited on us, and remembered me from my phone call.
The service started out slow, but did pick up a bit, although the pace definitely remained leisurely. The food, as expected, was excellent. This night, the dinner started with a fresh salad with a buttermilk-blue cheese-crispy speck dressing that was crispy, tart, and well balanced. It's very easy to let blue cheese run away with the whole show; the sous chef here had kept it in check so it provided a pleasant counterpart to the crisp greens.
Second course was a cheese plate, which seemed a bit out of place. I'm used to cheese plates at the end of a meal. And I prefer some sort of neutral cracker or platform upon which to base the cheese/grapes/jelly combos I come up with. While there was a delicious cheese biscuit/scone sort of thing with the plate, it was a bit too assertive to serve as a platform--and was soon gone, anyway.
We had short ribs with cheesy scalloped potatoes and chard as the entree. Yes, it sounds homey. Yes it's comfort food. But elevated. The ribs were tender yet flavorful, the potatoes perfectly tender, yet not mushy, with just a hint of cheese to elevate them from bland. Again, a deft hand balanced the assertiveness of the cheese with the tender creaminess of the sauce and potato. The chard felt like an afterthought--just something tossed on the plate to round it out--kind of like something Mom would have done. She always said we had to eat a green thing! I left the chard alone and let the salad stand as the green thing.
Then dessert--a tasting of three rich and sinful concoctions that were amazing individually, but didn't quite blend. The chocolate ganache with caramel sauce was like eating a decadently rich truffle. The chocolate was wonderful; the sauce needed a bit more caramelization to add that slightly bitter, burned note the best caramel had--and of course, a bit of sea salt. After the ganache, the apple bread pudding seemed a bit bland. There were chunks of apple in it, which I could identify more through texture than taste. The pudding too was kissed with the caramel sauce, and frankly, the sauce's shortcomings were more pronounced against the bread pudding than the ganache. All that being said, they were still among the best desserts I've had in a long time.
I had, unwittingly, saved the best for last--the lemon tart. It reminded me, in the best, heart-and-soul-warming way, of the lemon tarts my Yorkshire grandmother used to make. Tender, flaky pastry filled with a mouth-puckering lemon curd. Yes!!!! My husband was threatening to lick the plate.
Julian is still on my list as a place worth juggling routes and plans for. But I think I might try for a regular menu night next time.
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