Its a rare restaurant visit that requires approval of a bouncer to get to your table.
By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA
The Kansas City Star
As we headed toward a gated patio entrance we were stopped and asked to show our IDs. Should I be flattered? Oh, were just going to have dinner, I offered. Still, we were required to show our IDs before passing through an open courtyard (an empty space that later that night would serve as the spillway for a quartet of nighclubs).
One Block South is the umbrella name for an entertainment complex discreetly tucked into Rosana Square shopping center just west of Metcalf Avenue.
The set-up includes Kanza Hall, a 10,000-square-foot country music bar with stage for live music acts; Red 8, a billiard room with bar; Fuel American Bar, a sports bar with a live music stage, and Milieu, a French fusion bistro/bar with an adjoining lounge offering techno and DJ music taking the space that was once Raouls Velvet Room. Milieu opened in late December.
We stepped through a set of double doors and into a dining room with an attractive L-shaped bar. The shabby chic decor distressed gray walls, white chandeliers, a baroque picture frame, a fake fireplace hung with frosted wine bottles and poster-sized prints of two women dressed in a burlesque style was interesting. Yet the dining room was nearly empty.
It is Saturday night, right? I said, turning to my husband, who shrugged his shoulders.
The discomfort must have registered on my face. They have wonderful food, its just too much, offered an elderly woman who certainly qualified for a senior discount, although obviously she saw no need to stick to early-bird specials since it was already nearly 8 p.m. Her husband nodded and smiled as he dutifully carried a bag of take-home boxes.
A waitress dressed in black bootie shorts and suspenders over a white T-shirt smiled warmly and seated us at a table by the window. I found myself facing a glowing red Price Chopper sign. I switched seats so I could watch the bar instead.
We ordered a champagne cocktail and an appetizer and waited for our younger, hipper disco dancer friend to arrive. As we scooped up the glistening chunks of tuna dotted with Sriracha aioli using crispy fried wontons, I was relieved to discover this wasnt going to be a night of typical bar food.
Turns out Jim Pearch is the executive chef. He worked at J. Gilberts Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood before joining One Block South owner Shawn McClenny, a former manager of J. Gilberts and the Bristol. Calvin Davis, grandson of KC Masterpiece founder Rich Davis and a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is Milieus sous chef.
Their training and pedigrees are evident in the well-executed, interesting and tightly focused menu five hors doeuvres, a soup, four entree-size salads, five sandwiches, five entrees (ranging from $12 to $20), plus a few desserts.
I could recommend any of the hors doeuvres for casual noshing, including the signature champagne mussels, but my favorite was that most unexpected of bar foods, grilled ratatouille. A generous stack of eggplant medallions was topped with yellow summer squash and a tomato compote with a chiffonade of basil. Basil pesto and balsamic vinegar were drizzled attractively across the plate.
The potato leek soup, served with a Gruyere crouton, was also a lovely start to our meal, but the Nicoise and the kale salads were even more remarkable.
Both were perfectly dressed with a light herb vinaigrette that gave them enough flavor to moisten the delicate and fresh salad leaves without leaving more than droplets at the bottom of the plate.
The Nicoise came with several large pieces of seared tuna across the top, along with petite bits of radish, olive, hard-boiled eggs, green beans and grape tomatoes mixed in rather than served separately. The light and ruffly kale was dotted with a point-counterpoint of tart dried cranberries and pine nuts.
For something more playful, we tried the chicken (dark meat, our waitress warned) and French toast with fresh berries and a thyme-infused syrup, and the decadent Duck and Cheese, a three-cheese mac and cheese with duck bacon sprinkled over the top.
In a more traditional take, the bistro burger was served with cheddar, bacon, onion marmalade and mustard aoili on a brioche bun and arrived at the table with a knife jutting perpendicular from the center. I requested the meat be cooked to medium rare, and thats the way it was served.
Everyone at the table agreed the burger was a tasty choice, but so was the peppery duck BLT speared with rosemary and, my personal favorite, the arugula bruschetta, a long piece of soft, pale French baguette (OK Id prefer a crustier version, but plenty of people prefer doughier) topped with an over-easy egg, bits of bacon and fresh arugula drizzled with truffle oil.
Every sandwich came with a side of pommes frites and an addictive sweet-and-sour ketchup mixture.
An order of steak frites also came cooked precisely to order. I wasnt wild about having the brandy peppercorn cream sauce with a touch of Dijon napped on the hanger steak since the sauce wasnt listed on the menu. Still, the dish was solidly prepared.
The filet of grouper was one of the few disappointments. The fish was flavorful and well-cooked but drowned out by an odd Cajun hollandaise. The potato mousseline did nothing to bolster the flavor profile and only added to washing out the plate presentation.
The kitchen also has an eye for upscale presentation, but sometimes the end results were ever-so slightly off. The creme brulee served with red raspberries had nice vanilla notes but did not have a hard caramel topping to shatter into the creamy custard, and the special one night, a bread pudding, had a clever stacked presentation (instead of the standard mushed and ugly), but the center was cold.
As the night life began to overwhelm the few clusters of diners, the lights dimmed, the doors to the lounge opened up and the bass got stronger, threatening to drown out the remainder of our dinner conversation. I looked outside to discover throngs of nightclubbers lined up for their ID check as buses and taxis dropped off or picked up more.
The kitchen stays open until 11 p.m. on weekends and 10 p.m. on weekdays, but it was clearly time to make a choice: hit the dance floor or go home.
Milieu (at One Block South)
7300 W. 119th St.
Food: ★★½ Sound kitchen technique and upscale presentations make Milieu more interesting than your average bar menu options.
Service: ★★ Friendly, but the waitstaffs knowledge of food is lagging and, frankly, their outfits distract from the seriousness of the food.
Atmosphere: ★★½ Owner Shawn McClenny and his wife have put their own spin on rustic French decor.
Hours: Dinner only, 4:44 (long story) to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4:44 to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Closed Monday.
Entree average (including nightly specials): $$
Vegetarian options: Grilled ratatouille (minus cheese), pommes frites, potato leek soup, kale salad, salad Nicoise (minus tuna), a la carte items including potato mousseline, haricots verts, quinoa and couscous, grilled asparagus.
Handicapped accessible: Yes.
Parking: Large lot.
Kids: Keep in mind this is a nightclub so not necessarily kid-friendly.
Noise level: The closer to dance time, the louder the music. By 10 p.m. the doors to the next-door lounge are open, and the beat is thumping.
Reservations: Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call ahead.
Star code: ★ Fair, ★★ Good, ★★★ Excellent, ★★★★ Extraordinary
Price code: $ Average entree under $10; $$ under $20; $$$ under $30; $$$$ over $30.
Code of ethics: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant. When required, reservations are made in a name other than the reviewers. The Star pays for review meals.
What to drink
The bartenders at Milieu can make anything, but champagne cocktails are a specialty of the house, each served in a retro-style coupe. The house champagne is Dom La Tour. Several of the cocktails I tried were on the sweet side. Id ask them to back off on the fruit elixir. The French 75 was a favorite, offering a nice citrusy note.
One Block South owner Shawn McClenny says he did some market research and predicts hes ahead of a trend. He was hoping to serve the champagne from the cherub fountain at the bar as a conversation piece, but he hadnt figured in the carbonation, which prevents the chilled champagne from rising through the copper tubing.
The house wine, LOrval, is also from France.
Grilled ratatouille | $7
Salad Nicoise | $14
Kale salad | $8
Duck BLT | $10
Arugula bruschetta | $9