Wednesday, September 30, 2009

3 Big Announcements and KC part 3

Now that I have finally taken and passed my Series 66 Exam I actually have some time to finish the 3rd chapter of Mindy and my weekend in Kansas City with a review of Benton’s Steak and Chophouse

Before I do this though I wanted to mention something that I think is really cool.

The next blog I post will be my 100th. This is pretty important to me because it signifies one of the few things I’ve actually stuck with in life over a period of time. My first post was in March of 2007 and even though it may have been infrequently, I’ve continued to post for the last 2 and a half years. With any luck, I’ll continue to do so far into the future.

To celebrate my 100th post I’m going to do something I haven’t done on this blog, I’m going to make 3 BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS. As “big” is a relative term, don’t get too excited. I’m not giving away a car (but a giveaway isn’t out of the picture.) Just check back in the next couple weeks and read my next post and you’ll figure out what it’s all about.

But enough of my rambling, on to Benton’s.

I was more apprehensive visiting this restaurant than any of the others on this trip, primarily because it was the most expensive. Despite the fact that it was our anniversary, at $33 a plate (easily the most I’ve paid for a meal), the champagne brunch needed to be spectacular. What worried me even more so was that Benton’s was located in the Westin Hotel. I’ve worked in a classy hotel before and just because the rooms are $300 or more a night does not mean the food is going to be good. Luckily, the fact that Benton’s was on our Passport Card eased my worries a little bit.

We arrived at the Westin shortly before our reservations and found the designated elevator with little problem. If nothing else, at least we would have a good view of Crown Center from the top floor of the hotel.

What we found in the brunch buffet and wait staff was a very satisfying experience.

I started my brunch with a slice of prime rib and a dish of cooked to order pasta with shrimp, asparagus and a tomato cream sauce. I’ve easily paid $20 a plate for the pasta alone at other restaurants and this was equal in quality. For good measure, I filled out the rest of my plate with several of the cheeses from the cheese platter, some amazing multi grain crackers and a croissant. When I arrived back at the table our server had brought champagne and coffee. Both were excellent as was the prime rib (though it was served more rare than I typically prefer, I realize this is how most eat prime rib so I don’t hold it against Benton’s).

Gus, our server, was amazing and acted as a concierge in addition to a server. Three separate times we asked him fairly complicated questions about the happenings in Crown Center and the facts he didn’t immediately know he sought out an answer for. If we ever return, I’m calling Benton’s and visiting when he is scheduled. He was that good.

Our meal was rounded out by several more trips to the buffet and choosing from the seemingly endless selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner fare followed closely by a trip to the dessert bar. By the time we were finished, both Mindy and I were more than adequately stuffed.

I would highly recommend Benton’s to anyone with a serious appetite looking for a semi formal but relaxed atmosphere and beautiful view. I don’t know if I could allow myself to spring for the price of the brunch without my Passport Card, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t worth it. I’m just a bit too frugal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kansas City - Day 2 - The Foundry at McCoy's

After the Bice Bistro debacle, it wouldn’t take much for The Foundry at McCoy’s to be a better experience. What we found far surpassed our expectations.

Recommended to us by my friend Eric Milner, a Westport resident and Ukraine Trip brother, I was looking forward to the immense selection of beers and casual fare The Foundry had to offer. As an added bonus, the Westport Art Fair happening all around us made the atmosphere electric.

When we arrived, the alternatively dressed yet super friendly wait staff showed us to a table on the patio where we ordered our first round and waited for Eric and his troop to arrive. An avid fan of Brown Ales, my first choice was McCoy’s own Hogpound Brown. Brewed less than a block from where I sat, Hogpound Brown is now a very strong contender for my favorite beer ever, holding ranks with none other than my trusted favorite Newcastle Brown Ale. Mindy chose McCoy’s Blackberry Lager and though I’m not a huge fan of fruit beer, the taste was very crisp and refreshing.

Soon, Milner and our new friends had arrived and before we knew it, it was time to order more beer and something to eat. Though I was tempted to stick with a good thing, I chose not to order another Hogpound and instead opted for an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Let me tell you this, you have not had a stout until you’ve had Old Rasputin. Even the head was dark.

After some thought I chose to order one of The Foundry’s house pizza’s called “The Bruce Lee” and Mindy went with the ultimate of bar foods, the “Serious Nachos.” Before we knew it our food had arrived and we could dig in.

Though I’m pretty sure Bruce Lee “the legend” was of Chinese descent, Bruce Lee “the pizza” was straight out of Thailand, but what it lacked in cultural accuracy it more than made up for in taste. Topped with curried chicken, Thai peanut sauce, mozzarella, provolone, red onion, carrots, sweet chili sauce and toasted peanuts, the Bruce Lee was a roundhouse kick to the pallet. Only Chuck Norris could serve it up better.

As for the Serious Nachos, I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten a more accurately named appetizer. The Serious Nachos were piled high with pork carnitas, black beans, cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, jalapeños and green onions. Though typically served with black olives and sour cream, we opted for no olives and the sour cream on the side. Regardless, there was no end to the flavor. Mindy was able to eat about 1/3 of the plate which left me and the rest of the table to finish it off. Within a couple minutes, there was nothing left and after polishing off the last of the Bruce Lee and Old Rasputin, I leaned back in my chair and melted in a food induced ecstasy.

If you find yourself in the Kansas City area and craving Urban flavored bar food with an artsy twist, The Foundry at McCoy’s is your destination. With their alcoholic milk shakes, themed salads and baja tacos just to name a few, The Foundry’s menu should be diverse enough for even the pickiest eater.

I look forward to another weekend visit with Milner and another trip to The Foundry, if for no other reason than to have another Hogpound Brown.

The Foundry at McCoy’s

Overall Rating – A

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kansas City Day 1 - Bice Bistro

Maybe I was just tired from driving the three and a half hour trip or maybe the chef was having an off night. Whatever the case, Bice Bistro (pronounced Bee Chay), just off of Kansas City’s Power and Light District was far from impressive.

Mindy and I arrived optimistic for what would be the first of three dining experiences. Mindy had our second anniversary weekend planned start to finish, and thanks to her excellent taste, I was happy to eat wherever she wanted me to.

Parched from our journey I immediately ordered Kansas City’s own Boulevard Wheat. This choice would be the only good one of the night.

At first glance the menu looked fabulous. Offerings such as Risotto aragosta, Lamb oso bucco and Linguini Carbonara leapt from the page and whetted our appetites. I decided on a personal favorite, Veal Piccata, and Mindy chose Scaloppine (Veal in a Marsala Wine Sauce), both $22 plates. Ordering veal dishes for the both our meals may have been our first mistake, but considering we never make it for ourselves at home, it sounded especially good this night. I chose to order a Caesar Salad as well.

As soon as the waiter had taken our order, the bread arrived. Unlike most Italian restaurants that bring only one type of bread, Bice’s basket held small portions of 3 different kinds; Focaccia, Italian and crispy seasoned bread sticks accompanied by a cream cheese, olive oil and balsamic vinegar dipping plate. This offering, to Bice’s credit, was actually very enjoyable, though it would have been far more enjoyable if we had silverware or appetizer plates (all of which were brought well after our bread had been consumed).

After a short time my salad arrived and though displayed beautifully and topped with a generous amount of parmesan shavings, it may have been the worst tasting Caesar Salad I’ve eaten. The dressing tasted much like mayonnaise stirred with anchovies. Even the parmesan shavings were tasteless. My $4.50 would have been better spent at McDonalds.

Slightly disheartened but still hopeful, we waited for our main course. Once again, both plates were beautifully displayed, but the beauty was only skin deep. My first bite of veal was surprising. The picatta sauce was the strongest I have ever tasted. Thankfully I am a fan of strong tastes or I would not have been able to eat another bite. I would soon be extra thankful as the strong flavor of the sauce helped drown out the bland (dare I say from a box) garlic mashed potatoes and cooked spinach. In most cases I am a fan of spinach. Spinach salads, spinach artichoke dip, spinach almost anything is great, but spinach in and of itself, cooked and soggy as the only vegetable on the plate? I really don’t know what they were thinking.

As if this wasn’t enough, the veal was tough. I had difficulty cutting it, even with a knife.

Mindy felt much the same about her meal, though she did at least have the benefit of grilled asparagus as a side. The Marsala Wine Sauce was good, but not phenomenal. Her veil was tough as well. The highlight of her meal was the Cucumber Martini (but it's hard to go wrong with Hendrick's Gin).

Luckily Bice Bistro is one of the restaurants that accepts our Passport Unlimited Card and we were able to use our card to get one of the entrées for free (this is how we chose the restaurant to begin with). Bice Bistro excluded, we have always been extremely happy with Passport Unlimited choices and look forward to using it every chance we get, but even with nearly 50% off of our ticket, we were both thoroughly disappointed in our meal. We cook far better for ourselves at home at a fraction of the price.

If you know me at all you know I’m not a very negative person and very rarely whiney. It takes a lot for me to say something pessimistic, but in the case of Bice Bistro, there's not much good I can expound upon. I would venture to say that if the restaurant does not shape up, it will not last another a year.

Thankfully, our next night of dining would be the exact opposite experience and restore our faith in Kansas City dining... I'll post my review of "The Foundry" very shortly.

Bice Bistro

Overall Rating - D

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Fearless" by Max Lucado

I must admit that this is the first Max Lucado book I have ever read. Several have been suggested to me in the past, but I’ve never been interested. Though I am a Christian, I’ve always found a majority of modern Christian literature off-putting. In my opinion most seems manufactured to sell to a Christian audience at a premium price and then it’s not even that good. But when I was given the opportunity to read Lucado’s new book free of charge, before it was released and then encouraged to write an honest review, I jumped at the chance. If nothing else I could resell the book on and make a couple dollars. Besides, I was intrigued by the title.

If you ask my parents, they will tell you I was usually a very intrepid child, unafraid of most things that kids commonly fear, at least until I watched the movie “Gremlins.” I still vividly remember dreams I had of those little green monsters in the weeks and months following the movie and even as an adult I haven’t been able to go back and watch the film again. Beyond this incident though, I still maintain a very cavalier attitude, typically unafraid of calculated risks and intrigued by the dangerous. So it was with a mind for my fearful friends and acquaintances that I read this book, and in turn would suggest to every one of them. I even took a little away for myself.

“Fearless” is written in the form of a daily or weekly devotional and even includes a discussion guide in the back. I was able to read through the book in about 2 days time with little effort and thoroughly enjoyed it. Lucado is honest and forthcoming with many of the fears he faces or has faced in his own life, and it’s easy to relate to him knowing he’s been there and done that. What is even better is that all of his points are reaffirmed with scripture. Though I’ve read most of the passages Lucado cites in his writing, I had not noticed or at least taken to heart how often Jesus referred to the idea of fear or rather having no fear. The scriptures make it abundantly clear that God has the best intentions for us whether we can understand His methods or not and as Christians, though He does not promise us a life without stress, turmoil, hardship or even tragedy, we can have faith that in the end, no matter the struggle, we will be with Jesus for eternity. As the book quotes “Everything will work out in the end, and if it’s not working out, it’s not the end.”

I especially appreciated Lucado’s illustration about Monopoly money on page 103. In the current economic climate, finances are a chief concern. Being smart with the money I make and saving for the future are very important focuses in my life, but as important as they both are, I must remember that in the end, I cannot take the money with me. Money holds no value in God’s eyes. It’s what we do with the money while we're on earth that matters.

Overall I give high marks for “Fearless,” though I would suggest reading it a chapter a day or even a chapter a week to be discussed with your small group. The book’s format does not lend itself well to cover-to-cover reading. There’s just a bit too much to take in.

As for me I will most likely read this book again, only slower, and I have a few specific people in mind that will be receiving the book as a gift.

As for you, whether courageous or cowardly, this book probably has something that can help you grow.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

10 Stupid things I said in my teens and early 20s.

Now that I’m “growing up” I find myself thinking back to a lot of the things I said when I was younger and reveling in my naive stupidity. It’s a commonly known fact of life that teenagers and college agers think they know everything. One of the greatest things I’ve learned so far in my nearly 28 years on this earth is that I “know” very little and I can learn a lot more from people than I can probably teach them. This doesn’t keep me from trying though, so with that in mind, here is a list of 10 stupid things I said in my late teens and early 20s.

Some are personal and probably won’t relate to you or where you’re at in life, but they’ll be a good laugh. On the other hand, some are probably things you’ve heard come out of your own mouth. If I sound harsh, don’t be offended. I’m not saying anything to you that I haven’t already said to myself at some point or another.

1. I’ll NEVER work there again.

You think I would have learned after the first time, but no, I can picture 3 different times in my life where I uttered these words. All three jobs I ended up coming back to eventually, one of which I’m currently working at and happily basing a long-term career plan around. When you’re broke, even the worst job can seem appealing again and often times when you return with a different attitude you can’t understand why it was so bad in the first place. Luckily my dad taught me to never burn my bridges. Imagine me re-applying at a job after I had previously told off the boss. I know the movies make it look like the most liberating experience in the world, but in most cases it’ll do nothing but hurt you.

2. I will always love you.

Yeah right. Not to be a downer on love because I’m married to a wonderful girl who I plan on spending the rest of my life with, but mostly bad decisions are made after these words are spoken. Yeah, I’m sure it was meant to be romantic, but 10 years down the road you’ll probably be laughing at yourself. I know you think you’re always going to feel this way, but you won’t.

PS. Girls… guys will use this line without remorse, and most of them only plan on “loving” you for the next 20 minutes or so.

3. Money is not a priority.

The love of money is the root of all evil, but the disrespect of money in your life will lead you to more heartache than almost anything. I talked to a girl once, who after having a “revelation,” quit her job and bought tickets to Portland on her credit card. “Money doesn’t matter,” she said “I’ll figure it out later. I just need to get out and live life.” You can live life, and probably even a fuller life, without spending a ton of money. The trip to Portland, or clothes from the Banana Republic that you can’t really afford may feel liberating in the moment, but that credit card debt is going to be an anchor around your neck when you’re tossed into the ocean of life!!! I’m not joking!!!

4. God put me here to save Rock and Roll.

Nothing really to learn from this one other than things you say while in highly philosophical moods and trying to impress girls are usually ridiculous. I kinda want to shoot myself in the face for having said this.

5. I don’t like being efficient.

Used to be I didn’t care if I had to make an extra trip, found things on sale, re-watched a movie in the theater, threw away leftovers or drove a vehicle with bad gas mileage, but the truth of the matter is that if you’re not being efficient, you’re being wasteful. Planning ahead, or even just thinking ahead can make a world of difference in many areas in your life.

6. I don’t care what people think about me.

Now this one is tricky so listen carefully. For the most part, I still don’t care what people think about me. I don’t care how I look driving an old car (that I’ve never made a payment on) instead of a new one, or living in a small house (that we can afford) instead of a big one. I’m not worried if people judge me on certain things and I believe this is good trait. On the other hand, the meaning of “I don’t care what people think about me” has changed from when I originally started saying it. In the past, this line was nothing more than an excuse to do whatever I wanted. I didn’t care what certain people thought as long as not caring made others think highly of me. It’s only now I realize how hypocritical I was.

7. Any trendy phrase I have ever spoken.

Trendy language just irks me. It’s probably something I should get over because it’ll never go away, but I can’t help it. Shamefully, I admit I have been a part of it in the past. Nowadays I just try to ridicule the practice by using the phrases long after they have lost their trendiness. Currently, my phrases of choice are “ahhhh snap” circa 2003 and “Niiiiiiice.” Phrases you can punch me in the nose for using would be “Legit” and “I know right?” at least until next year. Seriously people, they’re just trends! Some frat boy or valley girl probably started them. No one was saying them last year, and no one will be saying them next year!

8. I would DIE without music.

Seriously. Yes I said that. Like I’m really going to stop breathing if I can’t play guitar or listen to my ipod. And to think, most of the music I was listening to back then really sucked. (Oh yes, your musical tastes will change.)

9. I HATE this town!

Believe it or not, even the angst filled teens and New York, Seattle, Paris and Rio De Janeiro have probably spoken these words. The place you live is not the problem, YOU ARE. I’ve traveled all over the country and the plight is always the same. “There’s nothing to do here” (strangely enough I usually hear it from the kids who WON’T be coming to the concert we’re putting on for them). Stop you’re whining and go do something already.

10. I’m never going to use this in real life.

I think I drove this one into the ground, mostly in my Algebra 1 and 2 classes (both of which I failed the first time I took them). Have I specifically had to use Algebra 2 in my life since I graduated? No, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t generally used it, or wished I’d spent more time learning it. Challenging your mind stretches your brain. It helps you think and it helps you reason. Having knowledge will never be detrimental to you regardless of if you’ll be able to specifically use it. I really wish I could have those high school days back. I would have been less lazy and signed up for all the advanced classes and I would have breezed through any of them simply by putting my mind to it. I’m sure you could probably do the same.

Just so you know, I plan on writing another one of these posts in about 10 years called "10 Stupid things I said in my late 20s and early 30s."