Chow Town

Bluestem gets a brand new look

Before (left) and after images show the transformation.
Before (left) and after images show the transformation.

Bluestem — one of Kansas City’s premiere dining destinations for the past decade — reopened last week with a brand new look.

Chef/owners Megan and Colby Garrelts worked with David Herron of Herron + Partners in Olathe, a long-time Bluestem fan and customer, to renew and rebrand the restaurant at 900 Westport Rd.

The space was transformed from shabby-chic to modern, streamlined and contemporary. “The objective was to make it a cleaner space,” Herron said.

A neutral gray color palette offsets high-density foam sueded banquettes and dark walnut stained millwork accents. But it is the dramatic curvilinear geometric 3-D ceiling design resembling an abstract topography map of the prairie and a wine rack constructed of mailing tubes to resemble crop circles, oblique references to the native bluestem grass that take the space to a new level of sophistication.

Changes to the 102-year-old building include an open kitchen laid out to alleviate previously cramped quarters where James Beard award-winning chef Colby Garrelts says his line cooks used to do the “Bluestem dance.” The new stainless steel kitchen layout offers better flow while also serving as a dramatic stage for diners to watch the chef as their meals are plated.

Diners with a sweet tooth can enjoy one of four seats at the open pastry kitchen station in the lounge.

A sleeker version of the bar offers clean cyclinder specialty hardware details that double as purse hooks.

But, as Herron said, “it doesn’t matter if the restaurant looks great if the food doesn’t taste great.”

After dining on a 10-course tasting menu (diners have the option of three, five or 10 courses, with or without wine pairings), I can safely say that the Bluestem style of food — progressive American cuisine emphasizing local, Midwestern, artisanal and seasonal ingredients — remains much the same, starting with the restaurant’s signature spring pea soup, poured from a teapot at tableside.

The first night the new restaurant was open, Bluestem catered a dinner offsite for the Republican National Convention committee members. The next night, when I dined, Michael Corvino, executive chef of the American Restaurant, stopped by the bar.

Despite construction delays that left the restaurant shuttered for eight weeks, Colby Garrelts said the process of recreating Bluestem was rewarding.

“Rye (the couple’s Leawood restaurant) consumed us for two years,” he says. “I was feeling guilty. I lost some of my love for this space because it was just broken.”

You can read a profile about the couple’s 10-year journey to create their award-winning restaurants in the June 22 issue of Star Magazine.