Food Critics: The Best French Food In Kansas City | KCUR

Food Critics: The Best French Food In Kansas City

Apr 27, 2018

Mussels from Café Provence.
Credit Café Provence/Facebook

Many people consider French cuisine to be the ne plus ultra in the culinary world. And French culinary techniques are considered to be standard in many restaurant kitchens.

Whether it's hearty stews or delicate fish dishes, airy pastries or baguettes with crackling crusts, French-inspired dishes are on menus all over town.

On KCUR's Central Standard, our food critics searched out the best French food in and around Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • My favorite French spot is Ça Va, a Champagne bar. After all, what is more French than Champagne? Walking into this quaint little gem makes you feel as though you’ve been transported to Paris. I love the chicken liver pâté with sweet potato and golden raisin aigre-doux, chervil and fried shallots. It’s also a place to get a pretty authentic croque madame and monsieur. Both are a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a white sauce, but the madame has a fried egg on top.
  • Café Provence. This tiny spot tucked away in the Prairie Village shops is a longtime haunt of those who love fine French cuisine. My favorites include the French onion soup, the beautiful steak tartare and escargots.
  • French Market. The French Market is owned by the same family that owns Café Provence. For a treat, bring home the cassoulet, a rich, slow-cooked casserole from the south of France with duck confit, sausage and white beans. You can also carry-out a divine chicken liver mousse.
  • Le Fou Frog has been in the River Market area for as long as I can remember. With its red velvet decor and singing waiters, the visit itself is an experience. They always have a huge blackboard list of specials, but classics include the duck confit, tuna tartare and lobster salad.
  • Westport Café and Bar has a terrific steak frites special on Tuesdays with bottomless frites. I also like the mussels with a coconut curry broth (which may not be exactly French, but it’s a very tasty riff on a French classic).
  • Ibis Bakery + Messenger Coffee has fabulous French baguettes and croissants that are as flaky as can be.
  • Aixois Bistro. This neighborhood gem is best known for its patio, but while you’re there, try the grilled certified Angus hanger steak that’s served with green peppercorn sauce, salad and pommes frites.
  • Charisse. The owner used to work at Aixois. It’s very traditional French food that's beautifully executed. I love the grilled ribeye frites with garlic parsley butter; the steak is cooked perfectly. My other favorites are the French onion soup and the mussels with either a Provençal broth or a saffron crème.
  • Tatsu’s French Restaurant — scallops menuière. This restaurant has been around a long time, and while the menu doesn’t change (except for specials), there’s a reason it’s still so popular: they do everything well. The fresh scallops menuière may sound boring, though it’s anything but. The brown butter sauce is transformative and the whole dish melts in your mouth.
  • The Rieger — charcuterie plate.

Jill Silva, food writer:

  • Le Fou Frog. This funky French bistro is a place I often recommend for a date night or romantic occasion. It’s big on atmosphere yet delivers a variety of specials. One of my favorites is the French cocktail Kir Royale (crème de cassis and Champagne) with mussels, lobster bisque and steak au poivre.
  • Charisse — croque madame. I have only been to lunch at Charisse, where I keep reordering the decadent croque madame. The ham and Swiss with Gruyère and béchamel on toasted sourdough is always a treat. Served with pommes frites (house-cut fries with truffle oil).
  • Ibis Bakery in Lenexa — kouign amann. Pronounced “queen-ah-mahn," this is my new croissant. It’s a laminated pastry that looks like a crown and is filled with cream cheese or chocolate. It is a round crusty Breton cake made of “laminated” dough, which means lots of layers of croissant dough (half butter and half yeasted dough). Individual portions are made in a cupcake pan. The flakiness is magical and the crunch of large pearls of sugar seals the deal for me.
  • Tous Les Jours. This French-Korean bakery is a chain that offers European-style pastries with a twist. One of the more unusual fillings you will find is hot dog-wrapped pastries known as frank rolls. In a self-serve bakery display case that requires the use of tongs, you’ll find classic brioche and less familiar pink milk bread (strawberry-flavored bread made with Korean milk), corn cream donuts and red bean soboro bread.
  • Black Dirt. French with a Midwestern twang. The duck confit fritters are one of my favorite items on the menu at chef Jonathan Justus’s new American bistro-style restaurant. The duck, which is from the Barham Family Farm in Kearney, is confited (poached at a low temperature in its own fat, which preserves it). It’s then combined with Missouri rice and served on butternut squash malted barley puree, pickled red cabbage and poblano chive aioli. The coconut cream Napoleon, three layers of puff pastry with decadent crème sitting atop a pool of raspberry sauce is a light touch to end a meal.
  • Bun Mee Phan. Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches illustrate fusion cuisine: Asian-style sandwiches made on French baguette. Or try the bahn tieu, an ever-so-slightly sweet Vietnamese-style beignet. Grilled pork or spicy lemongrass chicken meats, caramelized pork belly or fried tilapia are served with fresh cucumbers, cilantro, pickled radish, carrots and onions.
  • Ethnic Enrichment Festival — crepes. Once a year, Kansas City's French association sells its crepes hot off the griddle. They are exquisite and always sell out. Get them the third weekend in August.
  • Porto do Sul — crème brûlée. Unlike many cultures, Brazilians are not overly impressed with French food, but crème brûlée may be an exception. This is a notable version with a nice thin crackle crust.
  • Hank Charcuterie in Lawrence — charcuterie plate. Go quick; it's closing in mid-May. But it's reopening as the Fox and Pearl in Kansas City.

Charles Ferruzza, food writer:

  • The French history in Vietnam (1787-1954) influenced that country's cuisine, best represented locally by Bun Mee Phan, which serves the traditional banh mi sandwiches on crusty baguette loaves. It’s a sandwich with a lot of good textures.
  • Café des Amis has a patio that, at night, is just magical. It’s like being in a treehouse. The food there has always been consistently good.
  • Café Provence. I’ve never had a bad meal there; the food is just fantastic. The crème brûlée is just exquisite; the custard underneath the burnt sugar is so silky and smooth. It’s just a textural pleasure.
  • Tatsu's. I've loved it since I first moved to Kansas City 30 years ago. They have wonderful pastries: light, evanescent and delicious.
  • Le Monde Bakery in North Kansas City — French curry chicken soup.
  • Charisse — charcuterie plate.

Listener recommendations:

  • Chez Elle is a really good crêperie. It has about 40 varieties of savory and sweet crepes. And it's located in an old movie theater.
  • Sierra Grill in Lenexa. I understand the chef worked with French chefs in Las Vegas.
  • Affäre. It’s a German restaurant with a French-trained chef. Some of chef Martin Heuser's dishes are amazing; I think he’s possibly one of the best chefs in town. I like the seafood lemon risotto. He also makes these astounding French-inspired soups. I had a snail soup; my mouth waters just thinking of it.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org and follow her on Twitter @JenChenKC.