Gravy Boat

When a restaurant is located in a museum, it has a completely different vibe than if the museum actually is a restaurant, as is Chappell’s in North Kansas City. In the case of the much-loved Rozelle Court, the enclosed atrium inside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, executive chef Dwight Hawkins and his crew have the creative challenge of putting together an entirely new menu each day, to be served — cafeteria-style — at lunch or for dinner on Friday nights.

For the past eighteen months, the 41-year-old Hawkins (who came to the museum from the Adam’s Mark hotel, where he served as executive sous-chef) hasn’t brought just his own tastes to the made-from-scratch soups, sandwiches, entrées and desserts. He’s let his “young and enthusiastic” apprentice chefs rise to the challenge as well.

“They have a lot of creative ideas, which is great,” says Hawkins. He also takes inspiration each time a new exhibit opens in the gallery — though the resulting artistry shows up during receptions and parties more often than in the Rozelle Court’s offerings. “We have used the art shows as a theme,” Hawkins says, but Rozelle Court has “certain standbys, like the Key lime pie. Our patrons actually get angry if we ever remove it from the dessert selections!”

An art museum should have artistic cuisine, and Rozelle Court’s lunch choices (which range from $6 to $7 for a meal-sized salad to $9.25 for an entrée) are no exceptions. One day last week, diners could choose from three salads and two soups and, for the main course, oven-roasted halibut coated with mustard and coriander seeds or curried chicken.

Over at Union Station, which houses the Science City museum and, through September 9, a traveling Titanic exhibition, Pierpont’s Restaurant is floating a culinary tribute to the great luxury liner.

Using the first-class dining room menu from the ship’s final night, Pierpont’s presents one salad, four entrées (among them a filet mignon Lili in a buttery wine sauce and Colorado lamb chops with fresh mint, date-nut risotto and spring ratatouille, both for $15) and a dessert.

This isn’t the first time chefs in the area have tried this trick. Two years after the success of the 1997 James Cameron film Titanic, the Elms Resort in Excelsior Springs offered — for a single night — the entire final-night menu, a nine-course spread that included oysters à la russe, consommé Olga, poached salmon, filet mignon Lili, roasted lamb with mint sauce and asparagus salad with champagne saffron vinaigrette. That feast cost $65.

The individual dishes at Pierpont’s are more of a bargain, although I was startled that the attractive dish of crispy green asparagus stalks scattered with bits of fresh red pepper was so unmemorable, despite the promise of the champagne-saffron vinaigrette. The chicken lyonnaise was superb, however, and visually elegant, served with a mound of taupe mashed potatoes flavored with Asiago cheese and a scattering of fried morels.

Even better was my friend Dennis‘ choice: the poached salmon, blanketed with a velvety mousseline sauce lightly flavored with dill. It was high art.

But the featured Titanic dessert didn’t match its elegant description (“chocolate painted eclairs with French vanilla ice cream and seasonal berries”). What arrived was a single custard-filled and perfectly ordinary éclair served with a spoonful of fresh berries, no ice cream and a halfhearted drizzle of chocolate sauce. It was so disappointing, my heart sank.

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