Eating with Chef Jasper Mirabile
Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen me mentioning a meal I recently had at Jasper’s in Kansas City, MO. Some of you may have even gotten the chance to see the picture I took of some of the amazing food Chef Jasper made for us. Others probably saw the repeated comments that at any moment, I was sure I was going to burst. Despite the worries about my own mortality, that meal was sooooo worth it.
Jasper – The Tradition
To set the stage for this meal, I should let you know that the Mirabile family has been serving up outstanding Italian food to hungry Kansas Citians for over fifty years. It all began in 1954 when Leonard Mirabile opened Jasper’s with his son Jasper. According to their website, back then you could get a three course meal for seventy-nine cents. (I can only imagine how fat I’d be if I could still get Chef Jasper to cook for me for seventy-nine cents… Yikes.)
Since 1954, Jasper’s has seen a lot of change. For instance, they moved from their original location on Wornall to Watt’s Mill on 103rd and State Line. They have also gone from a neighborhood restaurant to one of the most decorated restaurants in the country, earning a Mobil Four Stars for dining excellence, the AAA Four Diamonds and DIRONA award (among others). The restaurant has also seen a third generation of Mirabile, Jasper’s sons Leonard and Jasper, Jr., enter the restaurant business.
Chef Jasper – The Culinary Icon
However, Jasper’s is more than a restaurant. If there is a food event in Kansas City, Chef Jasper is probably there. He teaches numerous classes all over the Kansas City area, on such varied topics as making mozzarella to teaching kids the joy of cooking. He has cookbooks. He has a radio show on AM 710. His smiling face can be found in any Hen House market. He works with cheese producers to evangelize good, artisan cheeses. He helps local food producers. He knows everyone.
In other words, there may be no single name more synonymous with food in Kansas City (which is saying a lot, since Kansas City is starting to establish itself on the culinary map.)
Jasper’s – The Menu
And there I was with Mrs. WellDone at Chef Jasper’s invitation eating the best (and by several pounds of food the largest) meal I have ever eaten.
For reference, here’s the menu:
- Lobster cappuccino with pancetta and foam
- Shrimp Scampi alla Livornese Over Polenta
- An “Appetizer” of Eggplant Othello and Lobster Ravioli
- Half a loaf of good Italian bread
- Caprese Salad with Mozzarella Made Tableside, Heirloom Tomatos Chef’s Wife Grew, Basil, and a Homemade Balsamic Reduction
- A Pasta “Tasting” Consisting Of
- Pasta Nanni with Prosciutto, peas, romano, mushrooms, and tomato sauce
- Gagootsa sauce (Italian gourd) sauce over ditali pasta
- Rigatoni with a Melon cream sauce
- For our entrees:
- Five hour slow roasted pork shank
- Chicken Saltimbucco
- For dessert:
- Peach Napolean with Chef’s mama’s pastry cream
- Death by Chocolate
- After Dinner Drink:
- Homemade Amaretto
- Homemade Limoncello
- Homemade Anisette
- House Wine
With a menu like that, I don’t even know where to start describing everything. It was all amazing. However, in the interest of space, I will limit this article to the two times in the meal when the food was so good I lost the ability to speak English. (Later, I’ll talk about more of the food and maybe sniff out a recipe or two.)
Pasta Nanni – The First Moment of Silence
The first time I lost the ability to speak was when I took the first bite of the pasta nanni. It came served on a long plate with three individual sections, one for each of the pastas on the tasting menu. I didn’t know what it was, and frankly, I was far more excited about the gagootsa sauce. However, I think the nanni was closest to me, so I started with it.
Mere words defy the flavor of the pasta. I can tell you there was salty Prosciutto, earthy tomato, sweet peas, savory mushrooms, and rich cream. But those are just words. They cannot convey how perfectly those ingredients worked together. The saltiness of the Prosciutto was perhaps the lead flavor, but the tomato sauce and the peas wouldn’t let that flavor dominate. Then there was the touch of cream, giving the dish just enough richness to take it from great pasta to something magical.
As a side note, I have two regrets from the evening at Jasper’s. The first was that I shared any of that pasta with my wife and the second was that I saved some it for later. See, our entrees arrived with the pasta course, so there was other pasta, pork osso buco and my wife’s chicken to eat. All the while, the pasta nanni got cold and while it was good when I got back to it, it was nothing compared to when they first brought it out. Plus, I think my wife ate all the Prosciutto. Which is a crime in some places I think.
To this day, I still want more. I will not consider my life complete unless I can go back to Jasper’s and eat that pasta again.
Chef Jasper’s Chicken – Pure Bliss
The second moment of bliss so intense words failed me was when I ate my wife’s chicken dish. When she ordered chicken Saltimbocco, I laughed.
When I saw it on the menu, I didn’t think it was anything special. It’s a Roman dish of chicken breast, ham, a little cheese, and some tomato sauce. Traditionally, it’s rolled, but Chef Jasper says that it dries out the chicken too much so he left it unrolled. There’s also a sauce made from lemon, stock, white wine, butter, and sage. But still, when I saw it on the menu, I wasn’t excited. I came for the big, the fancy, and the impressive dishes with hard names to say (ie osso bucco.)
Don’t get me wrong, the pork was fantastic, but the chicken Saltimbocco was unreal. It just worked. The chicken was moist and the ham was perfect for adding a bit of salt, a bit of pork fat, and a bit of flavor. The tomato sauce was gently nestled on to the chicken and added a nice bit of earthy tomato taste. Then there was just enough cheese to top the dish to add a bit of extra saltiness and keep the dish together.
Then there was the sauce. That slightly citrusy, slightly tangy, slightly sagey butter-lemon-sage sauce. To be honest, I shouldn’t like the sauce. Citrus and wine together are about my least favorite sauce pairings, but there was I soaking it up with a piece of bread.
More than the ingredients, that dish worked because of the artistry. You can probably find a frozen dinner with the same ingredients as that chicken Saltimbocco, but you probably can’t find a hundred chefs in the world who could make them absolutely sing like Chef Jasper. I just can’t get over how there should be nothing special about an unrolled rolled chicken dish, but in a master’s hands, it was simply sublime.
Like the pasta, I would say that I wouldn’t consider my life complete unless I went back and had that dish it again, but I took care of it already. So that part of my life is complete. Though I am kinda jonsing for it again.
Chef Jasper Mentioned Melon Pasta Special
Also, I should mention the Rigatoni melon, which was the completely odd, but absolutely fantastic pasta dish with a sauce of melon, parmesan cream, and a little bacon. If that sounds familiar, you might have seen Rachel Ray make it in her magazine, though Chef Jasper assures me his was the better version because of the bacon. I refuse to argue against either Chef Jasper or bacon.
What amazed me was that dish its utter potential for chaos. When you mix sour/salty parmesan cream with sweet melon and salty/fatty bacon, you should have a mess on your hands. However, in the hands of a master, that combination was something both my wife and I loved.
And so that just part my meal with Chef Jasper. I plan to talk about so many other parts of that dish and everything I learned from talking with him. But for now, I need to go. I hear some pasta nanni calling my name.
The logo was taken from Jasper’s website.