Wichita wine lovers: Get out your calendars

Wichita loves its wine, and in coming weeks, Wichita will have several chances to demonstrate that love.

The Wichita Center for the Arts at 9112 E. Central is is putting on three wine classes through October and November. The first is from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and will feature wine expert Whitney Post talking about grape varieties, wine vocabulary and more. Attendees also will be able to sample six wines. Post will offer the same class from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 19.

And on Oct. 22, a class from 6 to 8 p.m. called Entertaining with Wine will include tips about planning parties that include wine. It’ll also include six samples. Tickets to the classes are $45 for Wichita  Center for the Arts members and $55 for nonmembers. Enroll on the Wichita Center for the Arts website.

Also on Oct. 8, Larkspur Bistro & Bar at 904 E. Douglas will be putting on a wine dinner featuring Foley Family Wines. It’ll offer five courses and four wines and will cost $65 a person. It’s a 7 p.m. For reservations, call 316 262-5275.

Later this month, on Oct. 24, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will put on its annual fundraiser. The fourth annual Wichita Wine Opener will be from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at Abode Venue and will feature wine tasting and food from several Wichita restaurants, including Larkspur, Freddy’s, Oeno, YaYa’s Euribostro and more. Tickets are $60 per person at this website.

Time to make Midwest Beerfest dinner reservations

The Midwest Beerfest’s signature event — its grand tasting inside Century II on Sept. 21  – is still more than a week away. I’ll be writing about it in detail for the Sept. 20 Go!

But if you want to attend the equally beer-rific events that precede it on Friday, Sept. 20, you’ll need to act soon. The Beerfest also puts on three beer dinners that happen concurrently at venues around town, and they usually sell out. They’re fun, informative, and each one costs $55 a person.

Last year, I attended a New Belgium beer dinner at Larkspur, and it was delicious and delightful. I met some fellow beer fans at my table, and its always fun to taste food that’s been expertly paired with beer by people in the know.

This year, the Boulevard Brewing Company will put on a dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton Wichita Airport. Another one will be at the Wichita Marriott and will feature beers by Smithwicks  and Guinness.

And Larkspur’s beer dinner will be hosted by Peace Tree Brewing Co. out of Knoxville, Iowa, with Dan McKay, vice president of Peace Tree.

Each beer dinner features guests hosts from the breweries.

The multi-course menus for the dinners can be viewed at on the Beerfest website.

Get tickets by calling 316-682-5502 or by visiting www.midwestbeerfest.com

Midwest Beerfest too big for old venue

Organizers of the Midwest Beerfest realized they had a problem during last year’s event — but it was a good problem.

The event, which each fall fills Century II’s Exhibition Hall with vendors serving up samples of more than 350 beers from around the world, drew a massive crowd last year. It was so massive, in fact, that it was hard to move around. See the photo I snapped here as evidence.

So the 12th annual Midwest Beerfest, scheduled for Sept. 22, will move to the much bigger Expo Hall. The date, beer fans will notice, is earlier than normal. Typically, the Beerfest takes place in October. But scheduled conflicts at Century II necessitated the date change.

Last year's Midwest Chickenfest contenders.

The event, as usual, will include food from local restaurants as well as a chicken wing contest, which the public can participate in.  This year, organizers also have added a “Reserve Room,” which will feature higher-end, higher alcohol-content beers plus food from the DoubleTree by Hilton Wichita Airport. Tickets to that room are an additional $25 and must be reserved in advance by calling 316-682-5502.

The day before the grand tasting, on Friday, Sept. 21, three different beer dinners will be staged: A Free State Brewery dinner at the Wichita Marriott, an Empyrean Bewing Company dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton Wichita Airport, and a New Belgium Brewing Co. Dinner at Larkspur. The dinners will be at 7 p.m. and are $55 a person. The menus are available online at www.midwestbeerfest.com. 

Tickets to the Sept. 22 Grand Tasting are $40 and can be purchased at Century II’s WichitaTix box office, by calling 316-219-4TIX or online at www.wichitatix.com.

Take mom out for Mother’s Day

Larkspur offers a brunch buffet only on Mother's Day each year.

I’ve rounded up my annual list of restaurants putting on special meals for moms on Sunday.

It has the usual list of hotel buffets and restaurants offering all manners of brunchy overindulgence.

I wrote the story when I was hungry, and I was most intrigued by the special Mother’s Day menus being offered at Bella Vita Bistro, which is offering dishes such as an andouille-stuffed pork loin and prosciutto and basil-wrapped chicken breast, and by the special brunch menu Sabor is serving up. Biscuits and chorizo gravy? Yes and yum.

Diners also will want to pay attention to the fact that Larkspur is offering a Mother’s Day buffet. This is the only time of year they join the holiday buffet foray.

Peruse my list and make your Mother’s Day reservations pronto.

Weekend of eating: Loaf Off, Palette to Palate

Chef Don Lucero with his winning loaf, which he cooked in an angel food cake pan.

The amount of eating I did this weekend is shameful, but it was all in the name of charity. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself (and my scale) this morning.

It started Saturday with the Fourth Annual Loaf Off, a meatloaf competition that was a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation of Kansas. My co-judges and I sampled 15 different meatloaves prepared by both home cooks and restaurant chefs (Tallgrass Country Club’s Ben George and the Hyatt’s Paul Freimuth among them).

The competition was at The Anchor, 1109 E. Douglas, tasters crowded both sides of the bar so thoroughly, it was difficult to move around the bar. In the end, we could not resist the meatloaf prepared by Don Lucero, who’s the chef at Via Christi hospital on Harry and also happened to win last year’s competition. (Clearly, the man knows his meatloaf.)

My tray of samples. The winning loaf has the bright yellow mango on top, near the bottom left.

Lucero, whose recipe included ground chuck, veal and buffalo, Italian sausage AND bacon, also won the People’s Choice Award. Today, he told me that he’s stepping down as a competitor in next year’s competition (gotta give someone else a chance) and join the judges’ panel instead. He generously shared his recipe for this year’s loaf, which you can find at the bottom of this post.

After I’d digested all that loaf, I headed off Saturday evening to Palette to Palate, an art and wine auction at the Drury Plaza Broadview Hotel that’s a fundraiser for KETCH. The event is only in its second year but has grown exponentially and was one of the most fun parties I’ve attended in a while.

Bid! Bid! Bid! Bid!

The giant ballroom in the Broadview was positively packed with people, all sampling wine and appetizers prepared by restaurants such as Luca Italian Kitchen, Larkspur, Harvest Kitchen/Bar, Cero’s, Bocconcini, Newport Grill, Corporate Caterers and more. When they were all nice and fed and watered, attendees bid on art, lots of wine and other fabulous packages in a live auction. (A chance to tag along on a restaurant review with me was among the silent auction items, and I spent the evening hovering around the bid sheet, bullying people into bidding MORE MORE MORE MORE.)

Thankfully, my stomach gets a vacation until March 31, when I’ll be a judge at Death By Chocolate.

Here’s Chef Lucero’s meatloaf recipe, which could feed an army. My suggestion is you divide it by one fourth to make a batch at home.

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Win tickets to A Night on the Red Carpet

The third annual “A Night on the Red Carpet” party is scheduled for Feb. 26 at Abode Venue, 1330 E. Douglas, and the Eagle has two pair of tickets to give away.

It’s a fun, black-tie optional party that this year will feature food from Carrabba’s, Larkspur and Luca Italian Kitchen plus drinks, a showing of the 84th Annual Academy awards, local celebrities on the “red carpet,” live music and a live and silent auction. Today, I was promoted to emcee of the party (eeeeep!!!!!) after Sierra Scott declared herself indisposed.

If you want to enter to win a set of tickets, visit the Kansas.com Facebook page and scroll down till you find the giveaway. All you have to do is hit “like” on the post. We’ll randomly choose winners at noon on Feb. 20.

The party doubles as a fundraiser for Episcopal Social Services. Tickets are $75 a person or $850 for a table of 10. More information about the party can be found at http://www.esswichita.org

The picture with this post, taken at last year’s party of me and my friend, Kim, is featured on the website about the event, I discovered today. The odd thing about this party: Although I always have fun, I leave having no idea who won the Oscars. Oh well. That’s why DVRs were invented.

Question of the week: What are your Larkspur memories?

A restaurant can’t thrive in a city for 20 years without creating a few memories for its residents.

Maybe it’s because it’s right across the street from where I work, but I have more than a few personal memories associated with Larkspur, which is celebrating 20 years of business starting this year. (Read my hot-off-the-editor’s-desk story about Larkspur here.)

I bid professional farewells to more than a few fabulous co-workers in that restaurant, including former symphony writer Chris Shull and movie reviewer Bob Curtright.

I watched my best friend Jaime’s new boyfriend (now husband) serenade her at Larkspur’s grand piano one night a few years ago.

I have spent countless lunch hours eating Metro salads and tirimisu by the window with Bonnie, and I let more than a few tears flow into my Sauvignon Blanc under the protective wisteria ceiling of Larkspur’s beautiful patio.

I know I’m not the only one. What are some of your best Larkspur memories? Share in the comments section below.

Happy birthday to Larkspur

Ty Issa has owned Larkspur for the second half of its 20-year life.

I spent my morning with Ty Issa across the street at Larkspur, reminiscing about the long run his popular downtown restaurant has had. They’re starting their 20th year of business this month, which is quite a feat for any restaurant.

To celebrate, Ty is putting on a customer appreciation party from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19. The event will be on the patio and in the banquet hall, and he’ll have free appetizers, drinks and music.

My dining story for this Friday will be about Larkspur’s big birthday, so before I went to visit with Ty this morning, I dug up the restaurant review we published when it first opened back in 1992. Very few of the original dishes remain, but it was a fun read. Plus, my late friend Diane Lewis wrote the review, and I can hear her voice in it. Thought you all might enjoy it. Keep reading.

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Larkspur’s new name, flavor

larkspursign.jpg 001Larkspur, the downtown restaurant at 904 E. Douglas loved by businessfolk and town painters alike, has changed its name and its menu — sort of.

The restaurant is now known as Larkspur Bistro & Bar, and it has a new sign to prove it.

Owner Ty Issa also has added several items to the menu. (And no, starfish is not one of them.)

The new lunch menu now features a bruschetta with feta tapenade, a triple deck club, a pepper steak and a fettuccine diablo. The new dinner menu now has a stuffed Idaho trout, a ribeye steak and a fettuccine Bolognese, among other dishes. He’s also updated the wine list and added some lower-price options.

Issa kept the Larkspur favorites on the menus, including the Metro salad, chicken pistachio and crab cakes, which he now will make using lump crab meat.

Just because I can…

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Just about now, the lunch in your stomach is starting to wear off and you’re thinking about reaching into your desk drawer for that little Butterfinger mini you swore you would not eat. (Oh, wait. That’s just me? Sorry.)

At any rate, it’s the perfect time for me to torture you with pictures of what I think are two of the tastiest desserts in town: Larkspur’s tiramisu and creme brulee. I’ve had a lot of tiramisu in this town, and I’m not sure anyone does it better than Larkspur. The creamy cheese sets perfectly around the spongy cake, and it all just… works. Same with the creme brulee, which features a crunchy sugar top and creamy custard center.

Any other nominations for killer Wichita desserts?