By Kevin Collison
Renowned Chef Michael Smith is celebrating his passion for Italian cuisine by opening a new restaurant in the Crossroads Arts District next door to his current namesake establishment.
“Farina by Michael Smith” will be located at 19th and Baltimore in space formerly occupied by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.
Smith said Farina is an opportunity to cap a culinary journey he’s referred to as ‘Finding Guido.” It began in 2013 with a visit to Italy where he and his wife and partner, Nancy, dined at the renowned Guido restaurant.
That experience was an epiphany for Smith.
“I wanted to compete more in the Italian arena, I love their food,” he said. “Sometimes you forget you want food to be delicious.”
Last July, the James Beard Award-winning chef shifted his menu to concentrate on modern Italian dishes, introducing a popular “Big Night” Thursday Italian food and wine tasting with a prix fixe menu.
Still, Smith felt a need to make a clean break from the fine dining aura associated with the restaurant he opened 11 years ago at 1900 Main.
“I thought Italian would be fun, but the trouble is, I’m Michael Smith and that’s not Italian,” he said.
His opportunity for a fresh start came at the invitation of Bill Lyons.
Lyons had purchased the building next door at 1901 Baltimore from the Kemper Museum after it closed its exhibition space late last year.
He persuaded Bill Haw Jr. to open a second Haw Contemporary Gallery in the east side of the two-story building. It’s expected to open in March.
That left the west half facing Baltimore available to be the new home of Farina.
“The building was attractive (to Smith) because the Italian concept could be enhanced by a physical space with more of an Italian flair to it,” Lyons said.
“‘Farina’ is Italian for flour, which is the main ingredient for pasta which will be on a lot of tables there. We’re going to build out a new restaurant and kitchen, and Michael and Nancy will operate it.”
Smith said the couple are delighted to be staying and expanding in the Crossroads.
“Nancy and I established roots in this urban area before it developed into one of Kansas City’s most vibrant destinations,” he said. “Our heart and soul are in the Crossroads Arts District.”
The new restaurant will be designed by Helix Architecture + Design and built by McCownGordon.
Smith said he wants it to be a welcoming place with a feel of Tuscany and Umbria.
“We want an environment that anyone can walk in and feel comfortable,” he said. “Wood floors, stone, warm colors and there will be all kinds of light, the whole west side is glass.
“Nancy and I are collaborating with Helix to create an environment echoing the distinctive vibe we cherish in Italy, especially the region that defines classic Italian landscapes.”
The 5,500 square-foot restaurant will be roughly the same size as the current Michael Smith. It will have seating for about 95 people.
The space also will include a cocktail bar that can seat 15, an oyster bar for eight and a private room that can host 25 guests. The restaurant owner hopes to have some outdoor seating along Baltimore as well.
The menu will include antipasti, fish, chops, seasonal sides and deserts. Smith will be executive chef and partner. Nancy Smith will be general manager, partner and wine director.
The current Michael Smith space will be become a private event space that can accommodate up to 95 people.
Extra Virgin, the more casual Spanish tapas restaurant operated by Smiths next door, will continue unchanged.
Lyons said Farina will share an entrance off 19th Street with the Haw Gallery.
“On your left will be great art and your right will be great cuisine,” he said.
The upper floor of the building is being designed to provide 8,000 square feet of office space. Lyons said it will be able to accommodate one- to three tenants.
The timetable for Farina calls for it to be open by Thanksgiving of this year.
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