Lidia’s has long been one of my favorite restaurants in Kansas City, so the meal I had there recently, sampling Lidia’s summer menu, was simply a confirmation of my good taste and their excellent efforts.
By DAVE ECKERT
Of course, we all know Lidia’s is an outpost of Lidia Bastianich, the famous Italian television chef who’s flagship restaurant, Felidia in New York City, is the site of one of the best meals of my life.
Lidia’s has never sought to achieve the kind of lofty heights in fine dining that Felidia often reaches. But man, it’s good and it always has been.
Much of the credit for that, in my opinion, goes to Lidia’s understated Executive Chef Dan Swinney. Swinney not only excels in the kitchen, but also in relationship-building-meeting, befriending and securing product from an array of local artisans.
For example, heirloom tomatoes from Southern Missouri that topped Swinney’s bruschetta along with some basil and house-made ricotta. Was it the best bruschetta I’ve ever had? I’m not sure. Could I have gorged myself on four or five pieces and not even felt guilty? You bet.
Another favorite of mine among the antipasti was the assorted house-cured salumi, which included lardo, a slice of cured fat from the “cap” of the hog that is so delicate of flavor and fragile of construction that it literally melts in your mouth.
“We cure the lardo and the prosciutto in-house,” Swinney told me while decompressing with a glass of grappa after the media dinner was over. “You just can’t get the same aromas, textures, and flavors, if you don’t.”
The heirloom tomatoes showed up again a couple of courses later when the pasta arrived. Of course, Lidia’s is known for its “endless” trio of pastas diners can have at lunch or dinner, so it was no surprise when the two pasta offerings knocked my socks off.
The first was cavatappi, a sort of macaroni, with uncooked heirloom tomatoes sauce, fresh mozzarella and pine nuts. The pasta was as fresh as a breeze off the Adriatic with the acidity of the tomatoes matched beautifully with the creaminess of the mozzarella.
The second, ricotta gnocchi with summer tomato and eggplant sauce, was equally outstanding.
“We can’t take the gnocchi off the menu,” Swinney told me. “It’s so popular, people would scream bloody murder.”
That’s okay by me. I love gnocchi in almost any preparation, and this was one of the best I’ve had in awhile.
I could have ended my night with the bruschetta and salumni, certainly after the pasta, but no, Swinney wasn’t through torturing us with his culinary delights.
A trio of entrees followed: an heritage pork loin topped by an heirloom tomato and sage, grilled lamb chops and caponatina with a balsamic reduction and a braised rabbit leg “alla cacciatore” with fresh corn polenta.
Rabbit, lamb, and pork all on the same plate? Are you kidding me? Those are three of my favorite things on the planet, and I get to have them all at the same time, and wash them down with a glass — alright two — of La Mozza Morellino De Scansano, a 100-percent Sangiovese beauty from the heart of Tuscany. This was a course, and a night, to remember.
Desserts and grappa followed, but I was in a food coma, so I don’t remember much about them to be honest. In all, we were presented 12-items from the summer menu. Aside from the desserts, and I’m not much of a dessert person anyway, I’d order any one or any combination of them without reservation, though reservations are recommended.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.