I don’t like beets, and I definitely don’t like Brussels sprouts. So the fact that I enjoyed both, immensely, during a recent visit to Siena Tuscan Steakhouse – the fine dining restaurant inside the posh new Ambassador Hotel downtown – says something about the kitchen skills of head chef Marshall Roth.
It’s not inexpensive. The entrees range from $28 to $44, so it’s probably not a place to take the kids on a Wednesday. But it is an excellent choice for foodies in the mood to splurge on some beautifully presented and expertly prepared food.
ON THE MENU: The menu consists of steak, pork chops, chicken and seafood dishes plus appetizers ranging from escargot to crab cakes to steak tartare. It also has a few pastas, but not spaghetti-and-meatball red sauce pastas. Think more of risotto, gnocchi and fancy mac-and-cheese. All dishes are made with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
DON’T MISS DISHES: Siena Tuscan Steakhouse has so many seductive dish descriptions on the menu that we had trouble knowing what to order, so we relied on the advice of our server. And the meal got progressively better as the courses continued to arrive.
We started with two appetizers – the lobster ravioli ($16) and fried calamari ($12). The calamari was best, lightly fried and coated with a perfectly seasoned breading. The dish was garnished with capers and bits of tomato, and the zingy sauce served on the side, our waiter told us, was a very old and very secret recipe Chef Roth had acquired. “I’d dip a tire in that sauce,” the waiter said, and it was an apt description.
We didn’t love the lobster ravioli, which was actually three lobster-filled pasta purses served atop an asparagus puree that was beautifully dotted with sweet peas and diced carrots. The flavor was OK, but the pasta was tough and the whole thing needed seasoning.
Our waiter persuaded us to sample the seasonal watermelon beet salad ($9), which was gorgeously constructed from a massive cube of watermelon topped with golden beets, pickled onions and a sherry vinaigrette. I dreaded the bite of the beets, but their earthiness was perfectly offset by the watermelon’s sweetness, and I voluntarily took several more bites. We also tried the Caesar salad ($7), which had a dramatic presentation but was almost too difficult to eat. It was more of a Caesar sandwich, actually, with whole pieces of toasted bread layered with piles of dressed romaine, all topped with anchovies.
Three of our four entrees were excellent, especially the 14-ounce prime KC strip ($36) – a Black Angus cut from Creekstone Farms, Roth’s Arkansas City-based butcher of choice. The meat was perfectly cooked, and the exquisite basil-y, shallot-y coating kept us eating until we were in a red meat coma.
Equally good were the scallops ($32) – three large, plump, seared scallops sitting atop a tomato risotto. They were melt-in-your-mouth amazing and seared to crispy brown perfection on both sides.
Our favorite dish – the veal picatta ($32) – also was suggested by the waiter. It was composed of three medallions of meat sitting atop a bed of white wine, capers and melted leeks. I didn’t even know leeks could be melted, but I’m so glad Roth did.
The entrees don’t come with sides, but you can order them to share, and I suggest you do. The three sides we tried were among the highlights of a meal full of highlights. My favorite was the lobster tarragon mash ($9), buttery mashed potatoes spiked with large chunks of lobster. The sauteed wild mushrooms ($6) were cooked to just the right, firm texture, and the caramelized Brussels sprouts with pancetta ($6) were salty and crunchy and truly the first Brussels sprouts I have sampled without suffering palate trauma.
Though we could barely move after this feast, we let the waiter talk us into the restaurant’s signature dessert – a decadent bread pudding ($7) topped with melty chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Somehow, we managed to finish it, too.
AMBIANCE: The dining room is new and gorgeous, flooded with natural light and appointed with red and black leather furnishings and coordinating carpet. It features an attractive bar with bar tables and affords a nice view of Douglas Avenue.
PRICE RANGE: Entrees range from $19 for a chicken saltimbocca to $44 for a 22-ounce steak. Pastas are $15. Side dishes average $8. Salads are $6 to $9. Appetizers are $10 to $16.
SERVICE: Our service was excellent. Our waiter was smooth, friendly and funny, and he paced the meal perfectly.