Chow Town

Creativity and fine execution meet at Kauffman Center Dining Experience

Kauffman Dining Experience Pan-roasted Cornish game hen
Kauffman Dining Experience Pan-roasted Cornish game hen

Armed with a new menu and a new(ish) chef, The Dining Experience at The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is seeking rave reviews for its dining performances. And I have to say, based on a recent tasting, I think they’re in for a long and successful run.

Executive Chef Laura Comer should feel particularly at home in the environs of the Kauffman Center, having graduated from the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance before moving to California to pursue her culinary dreams at Pasadena’s Le Cordon Bleu.

Comer was named Executive Chef at The Dining Experience last fall. Her spring seasonal offering is her second menu roll out, and her dishes are as beautiful as they are delicious.

“Everyone is tired of the gray and cold by this time of year. So I designed the menu to emulate spring with all sorts of floral elements. I wanted the dishes to be lively and reminiscent of a springtime garden,” Comer said.

There were numerous standouts for me from the three-course menu. From Act 1: Starters, the vichyssoise with a fried squash blossom and tarragon oil was gorgeous and quite tasty.

Both the pan-roasted Cornish game hen and lamb offerings from Act II: Entrees were stellar. The lamb, a Middle Eastern preparation with minted yogurt, couscous, and apricot chutney, was perhaps my favorite of the day.

And the Act III: Desserts I sampled, the lavender angel cake and the carrot cake ice cream sandwich, were so lovely and delicious that even this non-dessert eater finished them!

“Obviously, I want diners to love the food. But more than anything, I want to spread the word that The Dining Experience is open to everyone, not just people who have tickets to a Kauffman Center event. Everyone’s welcome,” Comer said.

In addition to the cuisine, there’s also a major emphasis on the cocktail program at The Dining Experience. You can thank restaurant manager Phil Carey for that. “We want to be creative and innovative, but also stay local as much as possible,” Carey told me.

Those innovations include a color changing cocktail, the Cherry Blossom, and another infused with smoke, The Smoked Free-State Manhattan. I had both and they were exactly what Carey was striving for.

“For the Free-State Manhattan, we use a smoke-infused Corsair Ryemageddon Whiskey along with chocolate bitters, a splash of Fernet and a Grand Marnier Cherry. The drink is served ‘up’ and it’s still smoking when we present it to our guests. There just aren’t a lot of places doing things like that around town,” Carey said.

Four of us sat down and wrote the menu,” Carey said. “It ended up being a nice representation of different styles from different areas of the world.”

The three-course menu, along with a selection of small plates, is available to diners during all performance days at the Kauffman Center.

And, as Comer and Carey pointed out repeatedly, you don’t have to be going to the show to partake of its pleasures. I for one plan on returning to see what else Comer might have up her sleeve as well as the wine list Carey eventually assembles.

If it approximates the creatively of his cocktail program, it should be a joy for wine lovers. In fact, now that I think about it, “joy” is a good term to sum up what The Dining Experience emotes these days. And for that I say bravo!

Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.