Local Lighter Fare

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Winter has set in and it has brought along heavier meals for the ride. Steaks, chops, and roasts have replaced those lighter summer and fall salads and dishes with an emphasis on fresh vegetables. Heck, even the veggies are heavy this time of year with root vegetables taking center stage. Heartier fare can wreak havoc on a diet and waistline, but as I discovered in recent visits to two of my absolute favorite Kansas City restaurants, it doesn’t have to!

I’ve been spreading the word of The Dining Experience at The Kauffman Center for some time now. Executive Chef Laura Comer’s cuisine is local, seasonal, beautiful, and delicious! Many people I’ve encountered were unaware there was a full-service restaurant in the Kauffman Center, and many others who knew of the restaurant believed you could only dine there if you had tickets to a show that night. Truth is, if there’s an event at the Kauffman Center, The Dining Experience is open for business.  And, with a three-course seasonal menu offered for just $37, and Comer at the helm, how could you possibly go wrong?

My wife and I stopped in recently for a sampling of Comer’s current menu items. It was a meal I would give rave reviews. I had the Corn Chowder, which with Circle B Bacon and Crème Fraiche didn’t exactly fit into the Healthy Dine Finds theme. However, my wife’s Orchard Salad with local wild greens matched the healthy theme to a “T”. In fact, it’s easy to find healthier items at The Dining Experience as each option that meets Saint Luke’s heart-healthy guidelines is highlighted on the menu.

“We have a partnership with Saint Luke’s where we go through the dishes with a dietician. And, we do that with every item on every menu,” General Manager Phil Carrey told me.

The Skuna Bay Salmon with roasted apples and cabbage was once such option, as was the Autumn Grains with red rice, black quinoa, green lentils, roasted wild mushrooms, cranberries, beets, and pickled squash with a citrus vinaigrette. But, the great thing about The Dining Experience is the fact that even if you don’t order a heart-healthy option, the ingredients for each item are local and fresh which makes them inherently healthier than something that’s frozen or processed.

“The entire menu is comprised of great, local, fresh, healthy ingredients. Take the Hatfield signature steak for example. Laura says Tim raises happy cows. They never receive any hormones or antibiotics, so the steak is both healthy and delicious. Plus, it comes from right up the road in Nodaway County, so it’s local too,” Carrey pointed out.

Like I said, local, seasonal, and delicious. The fact that each of Comer’s plates is also a work of art is a bonus. I can’t recommend The Dining   Experience at The Kauffman Center or Laura Comer highly enough.

I’ve been a fan of Jax Seafood House and Oyster Bar ever since it opened in the West Plaza four years ago. Always greeted and served by an engaged and energized staff, Jax hits the mark with fresh, tasty, and creative seafood dishes.

I’ve written in the past of Executive Chef Sheila Lucero’s passion for, and participation in, sustainable seafood efforts through a Blue-Ribbon Panel formed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. While Lucero spends most of her time in Colorado, here in Kansas City, the site of the only Jax restaurant outside that state, the kitchen duties have been handed to fellow Coloradan Jerred Ashton. A young man with a bright culinary future, Ashton has grabbed the reigns with gusto and grabbed my palette with some thoughtfully crafted, delightfully creative, seafood crudo. I sat down with Ashton recently to talk about seafood, sustainability, and healthy eating.

“We try to execute things here properly, keep it simple, keep it fresh,” Ashton, Jax’s Chef de Cuisine, shared. “You don’t want to do too much to the ingredients, just keep them as pristine as possible.”

That’s perfect for Healthy Dine Finds, keep the ingredients simple and let the seafood shine. Although Jax’s seafood selection is hardly local, it is immensely fresh, flown into the restaurant daily. That, and Jax’s and Ashton’s philosophy of a minimalist handling of the product, makes a healthy dining choice extremely easy without diners having to sacrifice a morsel of flavor.

“Oysters, both fresh and grilled,” are great options. I feel like they don’t need a whole lot added to them, maybe a mignonette sauce for the raw oysters and a chimichurri sauce for the grilled. That’s all you need,” Ashton said.

I love starting with Jax’s calamari. Served closer to pan-seared than deep-fried, accompanied by two sauces, both light and airy and packed with flavor, the calamari are some of the best in town. You will find items like that up and down Jax’s menu.

Jax Seafood House and Oyster Bar – doing a good thing for the planet and for diners. That’s a pretty powerful combination.

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