Like most people, I love this time of year. The weather is turning warmer (finally), the grass is getting green, and spring-inspired menus are popping up at area restaurants like the blossoms on dogwood trees.
Spring menus are my personal favorites for a couple of reasons. First, they lighten the load after a season of heavy braises and roasts.
Second, they re-introduce us to items we haven’t seen (or, at least, shouldn’t have seen) on menus for months! What follows are some of my personal favorite spring menus and the highlights within them.
Let’s start with Lidia’s, which transitioned to spring with a special Roma menu. Only available through the end of the month during dinner service, Lidia’s Roma menu featuring specialty dishes with seasonal items found in the heart of Italy (think fava beans and artichokes).
“The inspiration behind the Roma menu stemmed from a trip I took with Lidia two years ago which took us through Rome and Puglia. These are traditional dishes of the region and I drew inspiration from that trip to create the Roma menu," Executive Chef Dan Swinney told me.
With three courses and dessert, the entire menu is delicious as a recent dinner confirmed. If I had to pick two dishes to highlight they would be the Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with Lemon and Baby Artichokes, an appetizer, and the Rosemary Marinated Lamb Chops with Roasted Yukon Potatoes and Braised Spring Vegetables Roman-style, which was my favorite entrée.
Having traveled to Italy more than a dozen times, this menu had me dreaming of sunny, lazy days in Italy spent sampling incredible local cuisine and my favorite wines on the planet,.
Bravo Lidia’s! Bravo Signore Swinney!
Staying on the Italian theme, Tavernonna in the Hotel Phillips recently debuted its spring menu. Heavy on produce like asparagus, arugula, and romaine hearts, this menu is both delicious and the dishes beautiful to behold.
“Spring is all about firsts. The first new vegetables coming into season, very delicate sprouts, light ingredients and bright colors," Executive Chef Bryant Rigger said.
Among my favorites on the new menu are the grilled asparagus with roman gnocchi and a sunny-side up egg and the thyme-basted scallops served with sautéed baby spinach, guanciale, carrot puree, and sea bean butter.
But, honesty, there are so many terrific choices on the menu I have to get back in to sample more before the menu changes!
For sheer numbers, no one can match the new spring menu at the Tavern at Mission Farms.
Executive Chef Bobby Morris added 21 dishes, including appetizers, salads, main dishes, handhelds, sides, and desserts.
I’m not sure where to start, but you could do a lot worse than the Fire Roasted Tomato Mussels, an appetizer.
I love almost any preparation of mussels, but the fire-roasted tomatoes elevate an already tasty dish. I counted eight new main dishes. My wife and I tried two — the Pan Seared Sea Scallops and the Tarragon Chicken. Both were terrific.
The lemon risotto and asparagus were great accompaniments to the scallops, and the tarragon white wine sauce was a lovely addition to the chicken!
Finally, no one in town can drop a new menu like Laura Comer. The Executive Chef at The Dining Experience at The Kauffman Center comes from both artistic and culinary backgrounds, and it shows in her dishes.
I’ve lauded her menus in the past, but this might be her best work yet!
“Spring, I always feel, is a fresh start. We’re all ready for fresh items, green vegetables, flowers, warm weather, etc., so I like the spring flavors to be bright, bold, and refreshing,” Comer said. “This menu we really took inspiration from different world cuisines, incorporating regional American, Peruvian, Japanese and Caribbean flavor profiles with locally sourced ingredients.”
Written in three acts and priced at $35 per person, this one of the best values in town. Diners choose one selection from each course, and if you play your cards right, a table of four can try just about everything on the menu. Standouts for me were the Spicy Peruvian Cold Potato Salad with purple potatoes, olives, watercress and egg from Act 1, the Circle B Ranch Brown Sugar Pork Belly served with soba noodles, pickled green mango vinaigrette, a sweet potato ribbon, and heirloom carrots from Act 2, and the Red Velvet Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich with textures of red velvet, a white chocolate flexible ganache, and strawberry pave from Act 3.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another chef in town who crafts more beautiful dishes than Comer, but that’s just her opening act. The fact that every dish of hers I’ve tried is immensely flavorful and delightfully balanced brings down the house!
Remember, you don’t have to be going to a show at The Kauffman Center to sample Comer’s cuisine. If the Kauffman is open, The Dining Experience is too. I would encourage you not to let this show close before you have a chance to attend.
Dave Eckert is a Kansas City-based food and beverage journalist, a two time Emmy winner, and the producer and host of "Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert," which aired on PBS and cable TV for 11 seasons.