For those familiar with the culinary scene in Kansas City, this post will not come as a surprise. Extra Virgin, owned by the illustrious James Beard award winning Chef Michael Smith, is one of the greatest restaurants in Kansas City. Hands down, there is no debate. Extra Virgin takes tapas to a new level as Chef Smith draws from cultures around the world to create an assortment of dishes that continue to astound and tantalize even the most critical foodies.
About once a year, my family and I go to the Crossroads in Kansas City to sample Chef Smith's delicacies. We go during happy hour, when most of the dishes are half-priced, and each person picks two items off the menu. We order in two rounds, followed by dessert, and share everything with each other so by the end of the evening we have all sampled about ten different dishes. I truly believe this is the only way to eat at Extra Virgin because to limit yourself to only one or two of Chef Smith's masterpieces would be unconscionable.
But my reasons for loving Extra Virgin focus on a very specific part of the menu, a part that tends to horrify some members of my family. One part of the menu is labeled, "Adventurous." And it is certainly that. With fare including pig's ears, duck's gizzards, snails, and tripe, many diners shy away from his more bizarre concoctions. I, on the other hand, dive right in. I love to try strange new foods as often as possible, for no other reason than they sound weird and I haven't eaten them before. So the adventurous side of the menu offers me a unique opportunity to sample odd delicacies prepared by one of the greatest chefs in the country.
I began with the "Crispy Pig Ear Salad." The salad - arugula and radishes - is light and delicate with a slightly sweet dressing that compliments the bitterness of the arugula. The pig ears are sliced into thin strips then fried. Honestly, they were delicious. They had that slightly sweet taste of pork to them and were a little tough, like biting into a piece of jerky. In the salad, they were a dream opening course but I could see myself snacking on this chewy bits of goodness while watching television on a Sunday afternoon. My father and sister refused to try the pig ear, although they did love the salad. But to me, the dish was proof that Chef Smith can take something many people would throw away and turn it into a fine dining delicacy.
In addition to my pig ear, I also ordered the "Braised Snail Ragout." I had never had snails before but can sincerely promise I will eat them again. The braised snails and mushrooms are served in a rich broth I can only describe as liquid smoke or perhaps the essence of everything barbecue wishes it could be with a side of garlic toast to sop it up. If there was a way I could bathe in that broth I probably would. The snails and mushrooms are so tender, smokey, and rich that you'll swear that they are going to melt in your mouth with a puff of smoke more delicate and delightful than the best braised beef you've ever had. I now genuinely wonder why these little mollusks are not on the menu at every great barbecue joint in the country.
If my praise of Extra Virgin and Chef Michael Smith seems excessive, then you have obviously never eaten there. For someone always looking to try new and bizarre foods, the adventurous tapas at Extra Virgin in Kansas City is the best possible destination.
This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!
Total Travel Time: 45 miles
Total Travel Distance: 1 hour