Chow Town

As American Restaurant celebrates 40 years, future looks bright with Michael Corvino

Updated: 2013-12-07T04:10:36Z

By DAVE ECKERT

Special to The Star

This is the second of two blog posts commemorating 40 years of history for The American Restaurant. Today, a look at where the American is and where it may be heading.

Valentine’s Day 2014 marks a significant milestone for The American Restaurant, Kansas City’s only Forbes Four Star and AAA Four Diamond Award recipient.

The restaurant turns 40 on that day. A 40-year run for any restaurant is an achievement, but 40 years as the city’s leading fine-dining restaurant is truly amazing!

As I wrote in my last column, The American recently replaced James Beard Award winner Debbie Gold, who left to pursue other opportunities. It’s a big position to fill, and a tremendous opportunity for the man or woman who fills it. Though it’s early in the game, it appears the American chose wisely.

The man The American tabbed to take over the reins is Michael Corvino, a Walla Walla, Wash., native who comes to Kansas City from his position as executive sous chef at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas.

“Chef Corvino is a vibrant young chef whose focus on giving guests a luxury product, a modern-elegance style of dining, makes him a perfect fit for our restaurant,” said general manager Jamie Jamison. “His culinary vision and unique perspective will bring a new level of luxury to every dining experience.”

It sounds good. Heck, it sounds great! But, how does this modern elegance and unique perspective taste? Well, if my recent dining experience is any indication, the answer to that question is “pretty darned good.”

My wife and I settled into dinner at The American recently. My goal was to visit with Corvino to get a sense of his personality and sample his cuisine to get a sense of the culinary direction he’d be taking the restaurant. I’d have to say it was mission accomplished on both fronts.

As for his personality, Corvino seems like a genuinely nice guy. He appears to love where he is and is humbled by the opportunity that’s been placed in front of him, and inspired to rise to meet the challenge.

As for his cuisine, it is definitely American with bold flavors, aromas and textures. There’s smoke, but also balance, nuance and complexity.

The menu was incomplete as we dined. Corvino explained that as many as six new entrees, listed on the menu as “plates,” were in the offing as he came at the end of the summer season, which seemed to stretch on forever. Still, the meal was a multi-course affair with my wife and I requesting a few hits and Corvino laying down the soundtrack.

I won’t bore you with every offering, but if you will indulge me, I’d like to provide a few highlights.

First, in my opinion, was the torchon of foie gras. It was served cold, which I usually don’t prefer. But, this version, with puffed wild rice, lemon conserve and smoke, served with a 2-ounce glass of Dorino, Picolit (an Italian dessert wine I’d not heard of), was amazing.

In fact, I ate half and saved half for my dessert since I’m not much of a dessert fan. I wanted something to nosh on while my wife had her figgy pudding. When they tried to clear my bread plate, which held the final few bites of the foie gras, I nearly leaped from my chair to save it. Yeah, it was that good.

Second, the Porcini Lyonnaise salad, which was outstanding. Served with a celeriac mousseline, a slow-poached egg, a crispy pig ear and a smoked vinaigrette, this dish had everything: texture, taste, and balance.

Finally, an entrée, the Pacific black cod, which was served in an Asian style with devil’s club dashi, scallion, dumpling, pickled roots and matsutake. I could have easily settled for the foie gras and the cod, but there were many other courses and small bites before and after, and it was all fine with me. Michael Corvino is a talented young man, and The American, at age 40, seems poised for a very long run.

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.

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