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Kauffman Center provides new Dining Experience

The menu items, which will change seasonally, are served in a contemporary bento box, all ceramic, designed by a local Kansas City artist
The menu items, which will change seasonally, are served in a contemporary bento box, all ceramic, designed by a local Kansas City artist Kauffman Center

I’ve not had the opportunity to attend the Dining Experience at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, but I plan to rectify that situation sooner rather than later.

This brand new space allows performance goers as well as those who simply want to wine and dine in the beautiful setting the chance to soak in some incredible scenery while noshing on wonderful food and sipping special wine.

I had the chance to meet maitre d’ and general manager Matthew Lees over lunch recently. It was the chance for me to learn a lot about a fellow wine lover and the space he lovingly guides.

“It’s different and unique, that’s for sure,” Lees said. “It’s more simplistic than other restaurants. We only offer four entrees, and people can make their entrée selection when they buy their tickets online.”

Along with being the Dining Experience’s maitre d’ and general manager, Lees also crafted the wine list, which he admits he created for himself as well as consumers.

Lees calls the list “approachable, but excellent” with everything from a sub-$30 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to a Chateau D’Yquem, the ethereal and very expensive dessert wine from Sauternes, France.

“I’m very proud of the list,” Lees said. “It’s something I’m happy to sell and a list that I’d be happy to buy from as well.”

It’s no surprise Lees takes a special interest in the wine portion of the Dining Experience. Lees is a longtime wine educator who’s been in the restaurant industry for 20 years and is a certified sommelier, having passed the first two levels of his Master Sommelier examination.

Lees was recruited by the Kauffman Center and seems to be a very good fit for the center’s new Dining Experience.

The meals at the Dining Experience, which is housed in the Founders’ Lounge, are prepared fresh on performance days.

As of this writing, there have been only about seven of those days so far this year, so the Dining Experience is a very new one. The menu items, which will change seasonally, are served in a contemporary bento box, all ceramic, designed by a local Kansas City artist.

The meals are served at room temperature, in 30-minute increments starting two hours prior to that day’s or evening’s performance.

Aside from the food, wine and convenience, another draw is the view. The Founders’ Lounge offers a terrific view of downtown Kansas City and affords diners the chance to indulge themselves in an upscale environment just steps away from their seats.

Lees said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People have told us they love the food and wine,” he said. “They love the setting. And they love the view of the city.”

The Dining Experience is by reservation only. Reservations can be made up to 48 hours in advance of performances, either online or by calling 816-994-7222.

It’s $40 for a meal, which includes a cold, non-alcholic beverage. Taxes, tip, dessert and, of course, Lees’ wine selections are separate. I can’t wait to check it out.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.

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