My reports on our meals in Kansas City in the second half of July are almost at an end. Here is an account of our penultimate meal in the city, at Voltaire. This was one of two meals we ate on this trip that were not centered on barbecue and both were positioned to break up the consumption of barbecue so we wouldn’t get stuck in a (smoky) rut or die (at this point we had already eaten smoked meats at Joe’s Kansas City, Arthur Bryant’s and Pigwich). The first of those meals was our dinner the previous night at Waldo Thai Place. Like that restaurant, Voltaire had been recommended by the same friend of a friend on Twitter. And given how much we’d enjoyed our dinner at Waldo Thai we had high hopes of our meal at Voltaire as well. These high hopes were mostly met. Read on for details.
Voltaire, as I quipped somewhere or the other, is one of those places that any American city above a certain population threshold is seemingly now required by law to have at least one of: a carefully designed interior that evokes a non-specific bygone Americana—one glimpsed more in cinema and tv than in anyone’s actual memory, probably; a menu composed of shareable dishes; bespoke cocktails. In the Twin Cities the classic equivalent would be 112 Eatery; the more recent one would be Estelle.I’m not sure where Voltaire falls in Kansas City’s enumeration of the genre but it felt quite familiar. Which is to say that there isn’t a whole lot on the menu—not that we ordered anyway—that really speaks to its Kansas City or broadly midwestern location. Instead what is evoked is a kind of portable and seemingly highly replicable global eclecticism that seemingly takes cues from everywhere and is everywhere but is not of anywhere: a menu that has hummus, Thai curry, Moroccan sausage, Spanish octopus, fish tacos etc. alongside each other; all of it passed, of course, through a cheffy blender. You can find menus like this all over North America; all over North America on any given evening a couple of thousand well-heeled (mostly young, mostly white) people are ordering from menus like this. It has become an index of identity as much as clothes or music.
From a gastronomic perspective what matters of course is how well the food is done. And at Voltaire we found it for the most part to be done well enough, even if none of it really got our pulse quickening. What did we get?
- Spanish Octopus, Grilled. Served with chorizo, potato and a whole lot else. The octopus was cooked very well but it did seem like there was a bit too much going on on the plate.
- Albondigas. These lamb meatballs were tasty enough but it’s a rather substantial dish and seemed ill-suited to this format. Even one meatball per person seemed a bit too cloying, especially with the feta on top.
- PEI Mussels. The mussels are cooked in Thai green curry and served with long beans, baby corn etc. The dish is topped with cashews. We’d asked if the cashews could be left off—both boys are allergic—and were assured they would be. However, it first showed up with the cashews on top and we came pretty close to having the evening derailed, the cashews catching our eye just one of the boys was about to have a go. It was replaced apologetically with a cashew-free version. The mussels themselves were cooked perfectly but the Thai curry made little impression (having had an excellent dinner at Waldo Thai the previous evening probably didn’t help).
- Gambas a la Plancha. This was our favourite of the savoury dishes. The shrimp were again cooked perfectly but it was the garlic-saffron-lemon-parsley infused sauce that was the true star—we held on to the little cast iron griddle long after the shrimp were gone and it was in this sauce that we dipped most of the bread that came with the other dishes.
- Baby Back Ribs. We couldn’t resist ordering ribs here as well. Not surprisingly this isn’t Kansas City barbecue. The ribs are tea-smoked and are served with an Asian pear-ginger dipping sauce and house fermented kimchi. The ribs were done well and the pear-ginger sauce went well with it. What the kimchi was doing on the plate I really don’t know—well, I guess it was playing the role of a spicy slaw—but I do wish I’d taken a picture of the missus’ face when she tried it. I’m afraid it was over-fermented and not very good.
The desserts, however, were both very good. We got the lemon curd tart and the strawberry sponge cake. The younger boy—who has a major sweet tooth—was suspicious of both desserts at first but after one bite set a new land speed record in demolishing the sponge cake.
To drink: a cocktail each for us. I got An Officer & A Gentleman (bourbon, cognac, cynar etc.) and the missus got a Picnic Blanket (watermelon-infused gin, vermouth, gentian). Both were very good.
For a look at the restaurant, the food and the drinks launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on service, to see how much it all cost and to see what’s coming next.
The service was very friendly—without being over-familiar—even if a little bit too distracted on what was not a very busy Wednesday evening. One example of said distraction was the near disastrous one of forgetting to tell the kitchen to leave the cashews off the mussels; the other was the non-appearance of a dish we’d ordered (the padron peppers). This latter was fine by us in the end as we had already over-ordered. Our server was very apologetic about the mussels (she never realized that she’d forgotten the peppers) and at first presented the check with replacement mussels comped. Having eaten all the mussels we didn’t feel comfortable not paying for them and had her put them back on.
Price? $136 before tip. Not cheap but par for the course for the genre. Four adults could have eaten all of this comfortably. Throw in a few more drinks and you’re probably at $50-60/head. You could pay a lot more for similar fare elsewhere in North America.
Ah yes, the restaurant has some outdoor seating. On this trip, however, we were not being as cautious as we were a couple of weeks later in Madison. The younger, unvaccinated boy had his mask on whenever he was not eating (we did the same at all the other places we ate in at) and as it was not too crowded we did not worry too much. If we were there now, however, we’d ask about sitting outside. Both boys did enjoy very much the outing to an adult restaurant (as they had at Waldo Thai the previous night but there the food was more familiar to them).
Up next from Kansas City: one last barbecue meal, this one at the other major Kansas City barbecue institution, Gates. That’ll be next Sunday. Before that a Twin Cities report on Tuesday and a Madison report next Saturday.