Affäre restaurant introduces a summer bison menu

Chef Martin Heuser told me at least three times that the bison he just added to the lunch, dinner and lounge menus at Affäre, his Crossroads restaurant at 1911 Main, formerly led happy, stress-free, grass-eating lives on the Kansas prairie before, you know, being slaughtered.

I couldn’t resist asking: “Will eating bison with a stress-free childhood somehow make my life more stress-free?”

Heuser looked puzzled for a minute, then told me, “I hope so. Stress-free life makes the bison meat much more tender.”

And if you follow that line of logic: Tender meat requires less chewing, which is certainly less stressful on the jaw muscles, thus creating a more tranquil dining experience. Not as effective as Xanax, maybe, but certainly more delicious.

Bison meat tends to be more dry than traditional beefsteak — it has less total fat than beef — but Heuser takes care of that with his preparation process: “The bison we’re using is dry-aged for at least three weeks,” he said, “and I marinate it in either wine or beer before cooking.”

The wine is almost always Burgundy — it’s the reason that Heuser’s slow-braised Bourguignonne (using one of the less tender cuts of bison) is so succulent and moist — and the beer, used to prepare dishes like Affäre’s new brown-ale bratwurst, is Bison Brown Ale from the Little Apple Brewing Co. in Manhattan, Kansas. Heuser likes the ale so much that he is trading brats with the company to keep up the supply.

“The ale gives the brats a wonderful juicy, smoky taste,” Heuser said.

Why bison? “I’m a hunter,” Heuser told me, “and bison is the closest thing to game meat we can serve.”

Affäre is purchasing the bison meat from Ed Dillinger’s Lazy D Heart Ranch, in the Flint Hills, outside Westmoreland, Kansas. Dillinger offers only two-year-old male bison, or bulls, to his restaurant clients; the bison feed exclusively on native prairie grasses and are raised in a free-range setting. Hueser told me that he is using all of the bison meat in his dishes, ranging from soups to burgers, so that nothing goes to waste.

“I’m using European recipes and techniques on a classic American meat,” he added.

The new menus, which debut this week, feature the smoked-bison-brown-ale brat (with blueberry-corn salsa and fried onion rings) on the lunch menu, and a bison burger with Swiss cheese on an egg bun (with hand-cut fries) on the lounge menu. Bison dinner entrees range from the lusciously sweet  Bourguignonne (“Instead of the traditional bacon and mushrooms,”  Heuser explained, “I’m using Bing cherries”) to a breaded, fried bison schnitzel served with cream sauce and German potato salad.

A seared marinated bison steak en daube is served with apricot puree and chanterelles. Heuser’s version of “surf and turf” on the new menu combines open-faced ravioli with braised short ribs, seared scallops, baby vegetables and horseradish foam.

The bison menu will continue, Heuser said, “until I run out of items.”

“We’ll definitely be offering the menu until July 15 and then, after I tweak it a bit, through the summer.”

Categories: Dining, Food & Drink