Nacho Ordinary Mexican Restaurant. El Patron.

7 Mar

In Southern California there are entire restaurant chains dedicated to perfecting the fish taco (Rubios, Wahoos, etc.). Those spoiled Californians don’t know how good they have it! Here in the Midwest, a craving for flaky fish and crispy cabbage on a warm tortilla is much, much harder to satisfy.

Luckily, Kansas City has El Patron, where a mex-food snob like me can get tacos that taste like an authentic slice of SoCal. Two corn tortillas are loaded with lightly battered fish and all of the trimmings, including generous hunks of creamy avocado. The fish taco dinner comes with a heaping plate of El Patron’s wonderful, fluffy rice. Word to the wise: do not plan on splitting this meal; you will not want to share a single one of your scrumptious fish tacos!

The decor at El Patron is a welcome departure from the dim lighting, decrepit booths, and themed tschotskes that ones typically finds in a Mexican restaurant. Instead, exposed brick and lofty ceilings create a sophisticated, urban vibe. Modern art on the wall and a lively bar complete the contemporary package.

Tip: The nachos are superb, full of gooey goodness.

The only thing that could possibly be improved upon is the salsa. El Patron’s salsa can’t decide if it wants to be blended or chunky. This identity crisis leaves the salsa with a consistency that is both watery and lumpy. I recommend the hot salsa, which has a respectable after burn. The mild salsa is completely bland (best for wimps and little kids).

On a recent visit, my son warned us all not to double dip our chips. He need not have worried; my husband and I were both vying for the hot salsa and Elliott finished off the the entire bowl of mild by himself. He ate his chicken taco and rice with an equal degree of gusto and asked “Mommy, when can we come to this place again?”

Son, you don’t have to ask me twice.

El Patron on Urbanspoon

BrGr Basics.

25 Feb

You may ask, “how can someone who rarely eats beef appreciate a gourmet hamburger restaurant?” Point taken. Let me just say that my husband is a voracious carnivore and can vet the burgers for this post.

And BrGr has a lot going for it beyond the burgers: an outdoor fireplace, fantastic fries, and a fabulous patio to sip milkshakes on (in warmer weather, of course) are almost enough to satisfy me.

I like the idea of BrGr more than I actually like eating there. I like that Prairie Village has a well designed urban eatery hanging out in one of its strip malls. I like that 90% of the patrons are parents with children, and yet the restaurant retains its trendy feel. I just wish that the main dishes excited me more.

I’ve been to boutique burger joints (ahem..Blanc..) that serve up equally stunning beef alternatives. The Spiced Lentil Burger at Blanc is exotic and out of this world delish. In contrast, the VrGr at BrGr is serviceable and stodgy; it gets the job done, but isn’t going to rock anyone’s world.

There are a few salads on the BrGr menu, most notably the Green Goddess with “roasted chicken, feta cheese, red peppers, olives, celery, croutons & Green Goddess dressing” and The Wedge, which is delightfully decadent.

My husband likes the C2, a patty made of ground chicken and andouille sausage with “caramelized onions, watercress, blue cheese and chipotle aioli” on a corn bun.

He also recommends the Jucy Lucy, which has molten cheese stuffed inside of the sizzling beef patty, and the tasty Out-N-In (but cautions that it bears no resemblance to the similarly named SoCal manna). The onion rings speak for themselves.

BrGr keeps the younger set happy with mini chalkboards and a straightforward kids menu.  Unfortunately, my son is the only child in America who doesn’t like hamburgers or hot dogs.  So, he orders a grilled chicken breast (sandwich without the fixings) and some of those fabulous fries. 

The Good: PV was itching for an injection of cool and BrGr definitely delivers on style. I especially love the space-age heaters and industrial chic ceiling fans.

The food is good, but….

The Bad: …in my opinion, they are missing an opportunity to try more innovative and  inventive cuisine.

The Ugly: Burgers and salads are $8-9 a pop and do not include fries. You can easily spend $15-20 a person ordering a burger, fries, drink and one of their marvelous milkshakes (they make a milkshake with marshmallow cream – need I say more?).

BRGR Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

I <3 My Maclaren.

23 Feb

High end strollers can be likened to luxury cars. Brands like Stokke and Bugaboo are the Benzes of baby gear. They cost irresponsibly large amounts of money and woo buyers with the promise of prestige and a celebrity lifestyle.

Maclaren is like an old-school Volvo. A Maclaren “buggy” will run you anywhere from $200-$400, but delivers superior design and durability every time.

We bought a secondhand Maclaren Triumph when our son was 10 months old (to replace a behemoth Graco Travel System that I could barely lift out of the trunk).  

He will be starting kindergarten in the fall and we are still rocking that little red Triumph!

Our Maclaren has been on and off of planes at least 100 times.

It has been tossed on trains and beat to heck by baggage handlers. 

It has been crushed in crowds at Disney World,

and has carried our precious cargo over cobblestone streets.

It has handled sand,


and slick sidewalks

in six different countries.

I’ve cleaned everything from spilled coffee to exploding poo off of the fabric.
And it is still in great shape.  

In my opinion, Maclaren strollers are tops in a much hyped category. Lightweight and high quality, they are worth every cent.  

Note: We bought a Maclaren Twin Techno for the arrival of baby number two, and it has not disappointed. With a weight limit of 110 pounds (55 in each seat), we will be strolling with style AND functionality for years to come!

Eat and be merry, but be wary. Dim Sum at Bo Lings.

21 Feb

The fortune cookies at BoLings should say “be careful who you go to Dim Sum with.”

My husband will eat anything once. He’s always game when it comes to gastronomical experimentation. His fearlessness with the fork may have something to do with the fact that he has a diminished sense of smell and taste. So, something revolting is rendered merely unpleasant when he eats it.  

Not the ideal dim sum companion for someone like me who has relatively low risk tolerance at restaurants.  When the big metal carts roll by our table, I always stop the ones that display simple and recognizable favorites: steamed shrimp dumplings, savory pork buns, crispy spring rolls, sweet cream buns and custardy egg tarts.  I even like slightly bitter lotus leaf rice and sou pastries.

My husband calls over the carts that carry strange, pungent dishes with unrecognizable ingredients.  His choices invariably involve slimy seafood, fermented beans, or deep fried chicken feet.

Dim Sum is a blast for kids and is best enjoyed in groups. Our son thinks that grossing Mommy out with the Phoenix Talons (fried chicken feet) is the height of hilarity.  He loves Bo Lings lo mein noodles and devours an astonishing number of spring rolls for a kid his size.

Go, eat and be merry – but be wary – don’t let the gridiron gut of your group place the orders!

Bo Ling's on Urbanspoon

Wall To Wall Dolls. KC Toy & Miniature Museum.

19 Feb

One of the scariest books that I remember reading as a kid was a supernatural mystery involving a haunted dollhouse.  A family moved into a gloomy old mansion and found an antique dollhouse (an exact replica of their new home) in the attic.  At first the little girl played happily with it, but began to notice lights on the attic room of the dollhouse at night. And no matter where she left the dolls before bed, when she woke up in the morning, they were always arranged in a macabre tableau – with one of the dolls in a crumpled position at the bottom of the stairs.  I can’t recall all of the details, but the gist of the story was that someone had been pushed down the stairs and the murderer was never brought to justice.  The creepy paranormal “clues” provided by the dollhouse and its inhabitants eventually brought the truth to light.

I had haunted dolls on the brain as we explored dimly lit rooms at the Toy & Miniature Museum of Kansas City. I felt the painted eyes of porcelain beauties following me, and my eyes were drawn in morbid fascination to tiny staircases, where I half expected to see the scene of a crime.

My 5 year old seemed immune to the spook factor. He ran around in a constant state of excitement, pointing out oddities and peering through dollhouse windows into the miniature self-contained worlds.

The museum’s collection is fascinating. The largest dollhouse stands nine feet tall and at one time may have had gas lights and running water!  Victorian era dollhouses were used as teaching tools to prepare wealthy girls for their roles as wives and “household managers,” so a variety of domestic servant dolls are on display.

In addition to the dollhouses, the museum has antique toys of every variety: wind ups, trains, teddy bears, puppets, etc. There are also modern miniatures, astonishing in their detail and scale. The craftsmanship and artistry that must be involved in creating miniatures (some so tiny that they can only be viewed through a microscope!) boggles my mind. Upstairs there is an enormous display of marbles, a case full of Star Wars memorabilia, and a temporary exhibit chronicling the history of Barbie. It’s the kind of place you could could spend hours exploring and return to find something new again and again.

My husband commented that as you move through the museum’s collection, the toys become more commercialized.  The soulful eyes of chipped china dolls on the bottom floor are in sharp contrast with the homogenized sex appeal of made-in-China Barbies on the top.

My only complaint is that the museum doesn’t allow photography. Ostensibly, they prohibit photography to protect the exhibits, but I don’t see how a digital camera with flash off would harm anything. Surrounded by the bizarre and the beautiful, I was itching to look through my lens. I respected the museum’s policy and only took photos when we were outside or in the lobby. Despite clearly posted signs, I saw plenty of other visitors snapping photos left and right (I am including a few of these renegades’ photos below, courtesy of Flickr).

The Toy & Miniature Museum of Kansas City is located on the UMKC campus in a renovated/expanded 1911 mansion (built for successful local doctor Herbert Tureman). I don’t know if the Turemans ever commissioned a dollhouse replica of their elegant home, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one turns up some day in a forgotten attic corner, dusty and determined to tell its stories to the world.

Notes: The museum considers their collection most appropriate for ages 5 and up. I think younger kids (3+) would enjoy it, as long as they have a firm grasp of the “look but don’t touch” concept. The Barbie exhibit will be on display through July 4, 2011.

Following Photos By Chris McGillicuddy: 

Following Photo by Amber Cox:

Brrrrr’s and Purrrr’s.

6 Feb

Snopocalypse. Snownami. Snowmageddon. I’m having a Snowtal Meltdown from the number of days we’ve been cooped up in the house this winter.  I feel like a degenerate parent when my son plays Wii for hours on end, or sits glassy eyed with the iPad on his lap; but the sad fact is that I have no choice. When the kids have a snow day, I scramble to entertain them while working from home.  So, if I want to keep my job, I need to get over the guilt in letting my 5 year old gorge himself on electronic media.

Even when the daycares are open, my kids aren’t exactly getting an abundance of exercise or outdoor stimulation during the winter months.  At best, recess is doing synchronized stretches, or maybe a game of indoor duck-duck-goose. 

So, when the weekend rolls around and the windchill isn’t downright dangerous, I bundle them up and out we go.  To quote my friend Jennie, “Isn’t it funny when 40 degrees is a heat wave?”

The Zoo, with its many trails and wide open spaces, might not seem like an obvious choice for a February afternoon. Apparently, most people are of that mindset, because the parking lot was borderline deserted when we went the weekend after Snopocalyspe.  The main pathways were pretty clear, and I only had trouble getting the stroller past a few spots where the snow had collected in slushy lumps. 

It was fun to see Nikita, the polar bear, with real snow and ice in his habitat.   And the boys loved watching a zookeeper toss snowballs to a frisky monkey. However, Jennie and I were not loving it when they followed suit and tried to throw snowballs into the sumatran tiger enclosure!

When cold fingers and toes prevailed, we hit some of the indoor attractions: Discovery Barn, Tropics, Snakes Alive, and Polar Bear Passage.

If you’ve only been to the Kansas City Zoo on a bustling summer day, you are missing out on a unique experience.  In the winter, your encounters with the animals are more direct and intimate. And if you venture off of the main trails, you are free to make a solitary exploration of the frozen landscape.

Notes: If you go when snow is on the ground, wear shoes with decent traction; the paths will be slick. Most of the concession stands and restaurants are closed from Nov through Feb, but the Beastro Cafe in the main building is open year round. We always stop there on our way in for a bag of $2 popcorn or a soft pretzel.  I hear that the chili is also quite good.

Getty Or Not Here I Come.

5 Feb

If you fly over Los Angeles and see pockets of green dotting the endless grid of gray, you might imagine neighborhood parks brightening the urban sprawl. A nice fantasy to be sure, but this city’s lush gardens and manicured lawns are almost always private property.

So-called “public” parks scandalously segregate based on class; Lacy Park in tony San Marino charges non-residents a $5 (per person!) entrance fee on the weekends. Even people who live in nearby (and equally chi chi) Pasadena are forced to whip out their wallets if they want to walk, jog, or picnic like the privileged class.

So, on my first visit to the Getty, I was simply blown away.  The Getty is more than a museum.  It is arresting architecture, refreshing fountains, sunny piazzas, stunning sculptures, polished gardens, and magnificent vistas – oh yeah, and if you tire of soaking up beauty in the brilliant sunshine, there is some world class art to see indoors. The Getty is a grand, elegant and 100% FREE playground for the aesthetes of Los Angeles.

The list of things that I miss about living in L.A. is short and sweet, but the Getty is definitely on it.  I love Kansas City for its abundance of parks and public spaces, but some small part of me still pines for a sunset evening at the Getty (especially when winter storms are dumping several feet of snow on the Midwest!)

The last time we were in L.A., we met good friends at the Getty for lunch. I am happy to say it was still the utopian perfection that I remembered.  The kids were elated by the tram ride up the hill and cavorted giddily in the gardens while the adults walked, talked, and took in the views.  There were tears when it was time to go home (and I’m not saying if they were from the kids or me). 

NOTE: The Getty Villa in Malibu is much smaller in scale, but just as lovely as the main Getty. It’s also free, but a reservation (timed entry) is required for entry to the Villa.  There is a fee for parking at both Getty sites.




My First Getty Visit

Iron Horses.

25 Jan

Picture a place where hardworking railroad engines go to retire. A place for the real old timers to escape from the cinder, smoke and steam and while away their days in a sunny clime.

No more coal burning, freight hauling, or passenger pulling for them. Just palm trees and the adoration of awe struck children, who come to play and pretend in and among the proud trains.

This railroad Shangri La is not a figment of my imagination. It exists in a quiet corner of Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. It is called Travel Town.

Travel Town is open every day except Christmas and admittance is FREE.

Take your history buffs and engineering enthusiasts; they will love exploring the vintage behemoths. Take your littlest Thomas fans; they will giddily think they’ve landed in Sodor’s Tidmouth Sheds.

Blahnik’s At The Beach

23 Jan

Manhattan Beach, California is the closest thing to a family vacation paradise you will find in the greater Los Angeles area. The white sand beaches are beautiful, access is free, and options for shopping, dining, or strolling are endless.

Just like in the rest of LA, be prepared for sticker shock if you want to throw down your money at a trendy boutique or bistro. MB is a high-end beach town; there is no getting around that. Manolo Blahnik’s trump flip flops and the locals are not salt of the earth surfer types. However, the presence of mucho-monied denizens ensures that the ample public spaces all stay extremely clean and manicured, even after repeated use by the masses.

It may seem counter intuitive in such a tony zip code, but finding budget activities for families is a breeze. One of my favorite cheap thrills is renting bikes and tooling around the the Strand, a fabulous beach front bike path lined with multi-million dollar showplaces. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the path when you have crashing waves competing with the mansions in all of their synthetic splendor. If you want to take in the spectacle at a slower pace, you can walk or jog the Strand instead.

The green belt running between Manhattan & Hermosa Beach is another great place for a walk. Secret hideouts can be found in and under the lush plantings, and little explorers will tromp through the underbrush with glee.

Kids will love a visit to the tiny aquarium at the end of the MB pier. And the whimsical fountains in the Metlox courtyard are a great place to cool off. Sand Dune Park is another special spot, but unfortunately the city has limited public access to it due to overuse and resident complaints.

My favorite budget eats are Wahoos, The Kettle, Manhattan Bread & Bagel, and Mama D’s. Yes, yes, the pancakes at Uncle Bills are good, but in my opinion are not worth the perpetual wait.

For budget lodging you can’t beat Hawthorne Suites. It is a small hotel with a quiet courtyard located near the green belt. They often have rooms (with kitchenettes and sleeper sofas) for under $100; parking is free and a full, hot breakfast is included in the price! Note: Upon check-in they bestowed us with a welcome packet that contained such random gems as sample razors, bottled water, chocolate chip cookies and Advil (the cookies didn’t last long in our room).

Lidia’s KC.

1 Jan

The next time you are yearning for a white table cloth meal, but a babysitter is out of the question, pack up your progeny and head to Lidia’s in the Crossroads. Lidia’s is an anomaly, a special occasion restaurant where you don’t have to hide your children under the crisp white linens. Solicitous and knowledgeable wait staff – check. An adventurous menu and extensive wine list – check.  Dramatic architecture and romantic ambiance – check.  Children welcome – check.

Helmed by celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich (whose cookbooks are prominently displayed by the front door), Lidia’s serves up high quality Italian food in a unique location.

The converted freight house is an impressive space with soaring ceilings and enormous  Chihuly style blown glass chandeliers. The bar is especially warm and inviting, with a roaring fireplace and massive glass jars filled with exotic looking pickled ingredients.

In mild weather, sitting on the garden patio inhaling the scent of fragrant herbs, you can imagine yourself supping in Italy.

The interior designers did a wonderful job of creating intimate corners in a cavernous space. However, the sheer size of the room means that the noise level can get quite high.  While that may bother a canoodling couple, it is a boon for the parent of a fussy baby (or a preschooler with the iPod turned up full blast!).

The ever changing pasta trio is a fun way to sample several different dishes.  My recent pasta trio lunch included a velvety smooth butternut squash and zucchini ravioli; it was divine and could have easily passed for dessert.  

Every meal starts with a collection of sweet and savory breads, served with artisan butters. There may be hunks from a rustic ciabatta, petite sugar dusted scones, or slices from a dense fruit and nut loaf.

Tip: Sunday brunch offers a tempting spread and the price includes a regular sized entree. Those with a smaller appetite (or budget) can forgo the entree and fill up at the appetizer and dessert buffets for around $14.

Lidia's Kansas City on Urbanspoon