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Monday, July 28, 2014

AVI expands Wichita’s high-end dining options

By Denise Neil
The Wichita Eagle

It’s easy for Wichita locals to forget about hotel restaurants.

They’re hidden inside, usually with no exterior signage, and in-towners tend to think of them only when it’s holiday brunch time. As a result, gems like Harvest Kitchen/Bar inside the Hyatt don’t get the traffic they deserve.

AVI Seabar & Chophouse could help change that.

Corporate Caterers owner Ben Arnold opened the fine dining restaurant inside the newly remodeled Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview in November after several delays and a list-minute head chef switch when Jeremy Wade bailed for businessman Wink Hartman’s private new Lakeside Club.

Wade’s replacement, chef Adam Courtney, so far is preparing hard-to-forget dishes in the gorgeous restaurant, which has the benefit of a sign and a window facing busy Waco.

ON THE MENU: The menu already has undergone a revamping just since the restaurant opened this fall. It now includes a selection of high-end appetizers, inventive salads and sandwiches, several steaks and a half-dozen fish dishes. It feels a little limited, especially when compared to the original menu put out in November, which included about 30 now-axed dishes made with ingredients such as lobster, oysters, Ahi tuna and scallops. Plus, when we visited on a recent Friday night, the kitchen wasn’t offering any specials, unusual for a restaurant of AVI’s caliber.

DON’T MISS DISHES: That said, nearly everything we tried at AVI was outstanding and different enough from what’s prepared in other high-end Wichita restaurants to be memorable.

Courtney, who has lead the kitchens at the former Spartan in the Wichita Art Museum, at Oeno and at The Candle Club, is sending out food with simple preparation but complex flavor.

A recent meal was near perfection, from start to finish. We started with the jumbo lump crab cakes ($13), two hockey-puck-sized mounds of real crab served atop a spicy roasted tomato garlic aioli. Our only complaint was that we wanted more sauce. Otherwise, the crab cakes were perfectly pan fried and fresh.

Another nice touch was the fresh bread served before the meal, brought out with spicy butter and a head of freshly roasted, sweet garlic for spreading. It was a nice accompaniment to one of the most interesting dishes we ordered — a grilled Caesar salad ($8, $12 with grilled chicken) with a somewhat ridiculous appearance but a ridiculously delicious flavor. The dish was made of an entire head of romaine lettuce, sliced down the middle lengthwise then grilled. The grate marks were still visible, and the grill infused the lettuce with an amazing smoky flavor. It was topped with generous amounts of shaved Parmesan, a tangy Caesar dressing and lots of croutons. The salad was an unwieldy monstrosity, though, and Arnold explained that it was usually made with just the hearts of romaine rather than a whole head. Either way, we ate it all.

We had no complaints at all about our entrees. The 8-oz. filet ($28) was cooked to medium-rare perfection and seasoned subtly enough that the quality of the beef shone through. The creamy, cheesy polenta served on the side was a highlight of the meal and was so rich and decadent, it seemed like dessert.

The blackened red snapper ($26) was another treat, delicately cooked and served over jumbo lump crab and a bacon hash with a side of plump grilled asparagus. And the pork chops ($18) were beautifully presented bone-in with a wonderfully tangy mustard sauce and an unusual parsnip puree.

We also sampled two desserts, both prepared by Courtney in-house. One was a decadent chocolate cake that had a deep flavor but was a little dry. The other was an out-of-this-world cheesecake made with goat cheese and a rich gingersnap crust.

AMBIENCE: Gorgeous. The new space has two levels. The bottom features a two-story stone fireplace, and the upper level looks over it. Both levels feature tables and private inset booths. The attractive bar is on the upper level, and the lighting is perfectly dim. Some might find the cavernous space to be uncomfortably loud, especially on a busy night.

PRICE RANGE: Expensive but not outrageous. Appetizers are $8 to $14. Sandwiches are $7 to $9. Steaks average about $27. Entrees are $16 to $26.

SERVICE: Excellent. Our waiter was informed, attentive and experienced.

Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.

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