Wednesday, May 1, 2013

First Impressions: Peanches - Don't Judge This Book By Its Cover

[This restaurant is no longer open - KM]
Do you ever check Google or Bing Maps and use their street view feature to see what a place looks like before you venture out? I do it all the time and have convinced myself that I'm pretty good at making accurate snap judgements based on curb appeal alone. This time I was dead wrong. What you see here is Bing's Street Side View of a strip mall on 39th Street just about a block west of Southwest Trafficway. The tenant on the far right side is Peanches - a decidedly underwhelming looking restaurant with a culinary surprise hidden behind a depressing facade. I've personally driven past this place dozens of times and never even paid attention to it. That changed for the better last Saturday night.

I hesitate to add this but in addition to the mundane digs another uphill challenge for this place is chef/owner Pete Peterman's reputation for being a little prickly. Prior to opening Peanches, Peterman owned the Sour Octopus and S.O. Redux and there are a number of colorful tales of diners/bloggers/critics getting sideways with him and not feeling very good about the respective encounters. My curiosity is piqued.
Note: This place is so different from anything else in Kansas City I feel the need to punctuate my review with special call outs (like this one) alerting my faithful readers to pay strict attention.
With all of this as backdrop, Shelly and I, accompanied by two good friends made reservations for dinner last Saturday.
By the way, reservations are required for dinner. Not because the place is crazy busy (it's not) but as Peterman related to me several days later, he's a one-man band in the kitchen and striving to use only the finest, freshest ingredients available. To do that well and keep his prices reasonable (more on that later) he needs to know how many people he is going to feed on any given evening.
We arrived at 7:00 PM and entered the large open space that is dining room and bar. Booths line two walls, the middle is four-tops, bar to the right. It has the feel of a quiet sports bar. Weird, right? But that's all I've got. Not unpleasant but not memorable either. We were seated immediately, offered drinks and soon thereafter our server presented us a menu and proceeded to tell us what we'd be eating tonight.
I already knew about this part but it's still one of those 'sliding the record needle across the vinyl' moments. You see, the menu is prix fixe and most of the courses are already set in stone. No choices, no substitutions. Nada. This is all related to that last bit about quality at a good price. By not only knowing how many people are dining but also knowing exactly what they will be eating, Peterman can concentrate on amazing dishes with little or no waste. (Special dietary needs should be addressed with the chef at least 48 hours in advance of your reservation).
Menu (click to enlarge)
The menu offers four courses for $32. Wine pairings are an additional $16. (Even if the food was mediocre this would be a great value. Thankfully mediocrity is nowhere to be found in this kitchen). There were an additional three supplemental courses available at varying prices (see menu at right). These are optional and any members of the party can add as many or as few as they like (choice lives!). I will not be denied gastronomic excess and I chose all three supplementals for a seven-course meal.

First out was the (supplemental course) "Missoura Style Crab Cake". I'm from Maryland and am generally disappointed by crab cakes offered anywhere not in close proximity to the Chesapeake Bay. At least these are not called Maryland Style. No disappointment here. They were meaty and delicate, full of flavor. The remoulade was rich yet not overpowering. Not like home but not pretending to be either.

Six more courses followed. All small plates that left us both satisfied and craving a little bit more (as it should be). As each plate arrived and the first bite was taken there was a collective glance around the table, mutual eye contact among the four of us and that look that says, "Can you believe this?" This food is good. All of it.
Let it be noted here that per our request Chef Peterman dropped by our table (after the kitchen quieted down) and introduced himself. This was the first time we met and while he seemed nice enough to me he obviously would have preferred to be in the kitchen or on the patio unwinding from his solo act. No shame in that. In the age of the celebrity chef I sometimes feel sorry for the 99.9% of workaday chefs who neither need nor seek out the limelight. In my experience many of the best chefs are more akin to so many talented artists - producing their best work alone and possessing a shyness that at times can feel antisocial.
I won't walk you through each course as I suspect many of these items will no longer be on the menu by the time you eat here. Chef Peterman tells me that now that the local markets are opening and his own garden is under way the menu will change with greater frequency.

Back Strap & Neck of Beef with Porcini Risotto and Peas
I will give a special nod to the 3rd course, Back Strap & Neck of Beef with Porcini Risotto and Peas. These are cuts not commonly offered in Kansas City and after eating them at Peanches I wonder why. The back strap is a very tender cut from the loin while the neck possesses a taste and texture more like slow cooked pot roast. The back strap is served medium rare while the necks are fully cooked yet extremely tender. Side by side they compliment each other more than I would have imagined.

Wine pairings were solid though I could have done without the dessert course's pairing of Montelle Peachy (Missouri). In fact, I did do without it. At the first sign of my lack of enthusiasm our server immediately offered a substitute - in this case a very nice Port that felt very much at home with our Carmel Pecan Crumb Apple Pie.

For me this was among of the best and exciting meals I've eaten in Kansas City in many months. I enthusiastically recommend you try Peanches if you are willing to go along with the eccentricity of the place.
The prix fixe only menu is decidedly not for everyone. If the thought of being told what to eat even as you pay for it gives you an extreme case of the fantods I suggest you go elsewhere. If you find this notion even a little intriguing and you want to enjoy course after course of ridiculously good food, get yourself here. 

Breaking: Just got word from Chef Peterman that beginning tonight (Wednesday May 1, 2013) Peanches will begin:
  1. offering à la carte items from the prix fixe menu. In other words, items from the prix fixe menu can be ordered individually as entree portions (and will be priced accordingly). 
  2. taking walk-ins on a space available basis.

The dining room and bar area.

Missoura Style Crab Cake with Caper Remoulade

Shrimp, Couscous, Garlic and Arugula

Veal Sweetbreads, Polenta, Tomato-Veal Stock

Foie Gras Poele with fried Bread and Orange Gastrique

Carmel Pecan Crumb Apple Pie


  1. backstrap is a KC strip

  2. One thing that i find very off-putting about this place is their lack of vegetarian or vegan alternatives. I've been told that the owner/chef was even rude about it when asked. Especially given the area that they've chosen, that's going to hurt their business.

    1. Anon - I'd like to see a vegetarian/vegan dish too. Not b/c that's all I eat (it's not) but b/c it would probably be great.

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