Wichita is full of foodies, and, as it turns out, Im not the only one with an opinion about Wichitas dining scene.
Since I started reviewing Wichita restaurants back in 2000, Ive developed a stable of local pen pals who regularly e-mail me with tips, stories and reviews and participate in my bi-weekly online dining chats. When my Dining with Denise Neil blog launched two years ago, my number of pen pals quadrupled, and I suddenly had a community of assistants, most of whom I knew only by their Kansas.com handles.
Weve decided to use their knowledge for food good.
Today, we are introducing our Wichita Eagle Dining Panel. It consists of Wichitans I have gotten to know through the years, both electronically and in person, who know a lot about food, wine and eating out.
I met with this group a few weeks ago at Caffe Moderne, where we got to know each other and talked about how the new panel would work. The group includes people of all different ages and backgrounds, and could have stayed there all night, sharing stories about things weve eaten. We had the easy camaraderie of people who share a passion.
Starting today, the panel will provide regular mini-reviews of restaurants in Wichita. Ive asked them to visit places I probably wont get to when Im reviewing restaurants. I try to visit places that have opened in the past six months, so panelists will make it a practice to visit Wichita classics, little-known holes in the wall or places I never made it to.
Our goal is to publish a panelist review once a week or so, either in the Go! section, in Sundays Arts & Leisure section or on my Dining with Denise blog at blogs.kansas.com/dining.
We start today with Jeff Christensens review of Sake Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi at 650 N Carriage Parkway, a restaurant Ive heard great things about but never reviewed.
Jeff works at a local bank and is one of my most faithful pen pals. Hes a passionate cook who faithfully e-mails me whenever he notices a new restaurant, tries a new restaurant or cooks a new masterpiece. I met him in person last year after he successfully won a chance to accompany me on a review meal in a silent auction at a local charity event. He and his wife, Stacy, joined me on my review visit to Luca Italian Kitchen, and they were as fun as they were helpful.
Now, meet the rest of the dining panel.
Occupation: Quality assurance
Food background: Ching always has been interested in eating out and likes to share her dining adventures with others as part of her blog, brubakers.us, which she updates along with her husband, Brian.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: Redrock Canyon Grill, Bonefish Grill, The Flying Stove, Wasabi, Caffe Moderne, Taste & See
Occupation: Financial consultant
Food background: Jeff grew up cooking and loves to try new things.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: Kanai, Ya Yas Eurobistro, Cafe Bel Ami, Tys Diner, Mana Wok, Little Saigon, My Tho
Food background: Audras family didnt dine out much when she was growing up, so when she became an adult, she became fascinated with trying out all kinds of food. Her favorite cuisine is Asian.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: Asian Bistro, N&J, Thai Tradition, Casa Martinez (Derby), Kababs, Sumo, Il Vicino, Yen Ching
Occupation: Quality assurance coordinator
Food background: Natasha is an accomplished home cook, and her passion for making food led her to learning about food in restaurants.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: Bocconcini Italian Eatery, Luca Italian Kitchen, Kanai, Bella Vita Bistro, Metro Grill, The Flying Stove, and Sit @ Thai Bistro
Occupation: City planner/Maize
Food background: When Kim was growing up, her father, Greg, always had the family try different kinds of food. Kim now is an avid home cook with a passion for local eateries.
Favorite restaurants: Le Monde, Taqueria El Paisa, Metro Grill, DeFazios, Connies, La Galette, Hana Cafe, Mings
Occupation: Employee Education Coordinator for NestEgg Consulting, and president and chief executive of The Social Running Series
Food background: Andy, a big fan of ethnic food, has done volunteer public relations work for local restaurants hes passionate about. He became interested in dining years ago after having bad food followed by good food, he said, and learning that there was a difference. He has a blog about eating called The Dad Foodie (thedadfoodie.blogspot.com).
Favorite restaurants: Chesters Chophouse, Little Saigon, Sakura, Bocconcini Italian Eatery, Usuluteco, Picassos Pizzeria, Artichoke Sandwich Bar
Occupation: Editor, director of publishing for DietsInReview.com.
Food background: Brandi always has enjoyed the experience of dining out, especially on nights shes too tired to cook. Shes famous for her guacamole.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: Kanai, Old Mill Tasty Shop, Bella Luna Cafe, Copper Oven, Sweetly Scrumptious, Pumphouse
Occupation: Owner of Russell Consulting Inc.
Food background: Glaine is a former restaurant owner who worked in the business for many years.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: Chesters Chophouse, Le Monde, Scotch & Sirloin, Pho Chopstix, Redrock Canyon Grill
Occupation: Administrative assistant
Food background: Audra attended the University of Kansas and worked for nearly five years in the service industry as both a cocktail waitress and a bartender. Her parents both worked at The Lazy R in the 1960s.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: My Tho, Scotch & Sirloin, DeFazios, Bagatelle, Taco Rio
Occupation: Blissfully retired
Food background: Sigrid has been interested in food and cooking since she was a child, growing up in the Chicago area, and her passion was solidified when she got a chance to travel and eat in other countries. She dines out three to four times a week and loves ethnic food.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: Zaytun, Ya Yas Eurobistro, Bocconcini Italian Eatery, Neighbors Bar & Grill, Thai House, N&J, Byblos
Food background: Phil and his wife, Stephanie, love eating out, especially at local restaurants. They started the blog Chain Free Eating-Wichita, KS (chainfreeeating.wordpress.com) in 2010. Phil has a particular passion for barbecuing and grilling.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: Palateria La Reyna, Manna Wok, Usuluteco, Tanyas Soup Kitchen, Pig In! Pig Out!, Sport Burger, Kanai
Food background: Passionate about eating out. Co-founder of Chain Free Eating- Wichita, KS blog.
Favorite Wichita restaurants: Same as Phils.