641 East 59th St
Kansas City, MO 64113
There’s a new restaurant just up the street from me. It took over where a little flower shop had been, and we’ve been patiently waiting for the doors to open for a few weeks now. They posted a sign with a stylized bowl and chopsticks that said simply “Noodle Shop” over the door, and I could see nice wood furniture and trendy lamps hanging from the ceiling.
Finally, I noticed the “coming soon!” sign was down, and I dragged my 13yo and 3yo sons in (turned out it was opening day!). Right off the bat, I wondered if I’d made a mistake… there was pretty art on the walls, and the place was peppered with 30-somethings that looked like they had money. The natural-toned floors and walls felt upscale, and I was sure the toddler would be, at best, frowned upon.
No worries. Both servers and the owner came up to greet us (I’m sure the chef would have, too, but he looked a bit busy), and waved away any concerns… “he’s fine! What a cutie! Here’s the crayons!” The little guy immediately started scribbling on his personal menu… we each had a checklist-type sheet in front of us. It reminded me of those delis, where you check the kind of bread, fillings and dressings you want, only instead of Dijon mustard and alfalfa sprouts, you’re choosing from spicy barbeque pork tenderloin and Japanese fish cake.
There’s also a selection of pickles. Pickles? Yep. In Japanese tradition, a first course of pickled vegetables is quite common. Words that I knew from my macrobiotic friends in California (but never saw in Missouri outside of an Asian market!) filled the page: daikon, gobo (burdock root), umeboshi, shiso, konbu (though I always thought it was kombu?). We got the combo plate… delicious, and a deal at only $3.50.
I ordered one of the combo noodle bowls instead of creating my own: Udon noodles (thick and floppy wheat, fun to eat!) with chicken, egg, pork, fish cake and vegetables. My older kid selected a mishmash of things he liked in his bowl… he went for the large version, $8.50, while my smaller bowl was $6.50. My toddler happily slurped up all the noodles we gave him, and the rest of my bowl was delicious… fresh, crispy veggies to be stirred into the hot flavorful broth and wilted. The only off-note was the cold egg floating in the broth… was I supposed to stir that in, too? Or lift it out and eat it cold and slimy? (It wasn’t done all the way yet). The best part was the coins of pork floating in the bowl… savory and a bit of spice.
There were a few sesame-chili seasonings and either soy sauce or tamari (I didn’t taste it) on the table, if you felt like further flavor experiments.
Some of the other possiblities from the menu (you get to choose six items, plus a type of noodle and a broth): Long-simmered beef short rib, shrimp, bok choy, broccoli, asparagus, pickled bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, silken tofu. The broths were chicken or vegetarian, with the option to add miso for a buck. And the three noodle choices were udon, somen (thin wheat), and harasume (clear mung bean, no gluten).
An animated fellow with an apron and dishpan-damp hands came up and asked if we’d enjoyed our meal. I was wondering why the dishwasher was out here… and then the server told me he was the owner! Turns out I’d met Dennis Kaniger, who had been the co-owner of Verve, opening chef at City Tavern, and chef at Harry’s Country Club. I asked him why he was opening a tiny noodle shop featuring (for the KC area anyway) far-out ingredients, and he said, “On a whim!” Charming and full of energy, and obviously willing to participate in every aspect of his business, Dennis made a great impression on me. He also shared his source for real umeboshi, which I’d been searching for since I got here. The guy is a peach!
But he wasn’t the one filling the bowls. That was James Landis, who Googles up as a past chef de cuisine at Le Fou Frog. I had no complaints!
The service was helpful, fast (seriously, we got our pickles instantly, and the bowls before we’d made a dent in them!), and mostly informative… my poor waiter was flummoxed by my questions regarding the kombu and umeboshi, but very willing to go ask and find things out. The atmosphere was congenial and light, with big band and swing music in the background and plenty of art to check out. The bowls were all unique and maybe even handmade, adding additional elegance to the meal.
Even the chopsticks, though disposable wood, weren’t the splintery squared-off kind, but rather the rounded style with decorative shaping. Unless I’m mistaken, there was a limited John Lennon print in the bathroom. We were given three small bits of three types of real chocolate with our bill. I saw Japanese cookbooks on shelves by the cash register. There’s probably far more careful and delightful details to discover by someone who wasn’t simultaneously trying to tend a toddler.
I was told that soon there would be more daily specials, and that the business had applied for a beer and wine license. To my great joy, the hours include both lunch (11-2) and dinner (5-9) Tuesdays through Saturdays… this place is an easy walk from my home. I can see my family ambling here on a crisp fall evening, enjoying hot spicy noodles for supper.
Arigato gozaimasu, Mr. Kaniger! We’ll be back, soon and often!