By Jill Wendholt Silva, CityScene KC contributor
If Remy Ayesh could create a restaurant to reflect her personality and style, it would be a rustic-yet-hip Italian concept with a hip-hop soundtrack.
Lucky for her, that concept already was in the works when she landed at The Crossroads Hotel, an upscale Italian steakhouse that opened at the end of November called Lazia.
The Crossroads Hotel is a boutique property at 2101 Central St., across the street from Lulu’s and The Jacobson. It is open for dinner only.
The building, which once served as Tom Pendergast’s offices and a Pabst beer bottling and distribution facility, is owned by Aparium Hotel Group of Chicago.
The restaurant’s name is a nod to Johnny Lazia, a 1920s mob boss and friend of notorious Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. The 78-seat dining room features wax-encrusted candelabras, distressed walls, mosaic tile flooring and a modern LED chandelier. There are two private dining areas and a wide-ranging wine list.
The soundtrack alternates between traditional rat-pack tunes, like Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me,” and classic hip-hop, think “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” by Outkast.
“Nothing racy or over the top,” Ayesh says. “We’re trying to be a balance between fun and very serious.”
While the menu offers hearty dishes — including handsome hunks of meat (an 8-ounce prime filet, a 10-ounce flat iron, a 14-ounce ribeye and a 24-ounce bone-in strip for two) or gut-busting red sauce rigatoni with Sunday’s meat gravy, sausage and meatballs — Ayesh also offers seafood and “pasta-focused” entrees with a “more feminine approach.”
Think seafood, like roasted branzino, a light white fish served with oregano aioli and an herb salad, as well as “The Pomodoro,” featuring maltagliati or “torn sheets” pasta with a sauce of browned garlic, grape tomatoes charred in the woodfire pizza oven, olive oil, basil and house-made ricotta.
Ayesh is sourcing from local farmers, ranchers and artisan food purveyors, and the servers are trained to be able to “tell the story” of ingredients and preparations.
For instance, The F***in’ Delicious Chicken is prepared using the sous vide method while the steaks are salt-cured with a house-ground seasoning mix that includes notes of bourbon barrel-aged smoked salt and pepper, wild-foraged black fennel and fried rosemary.
But diners can learn as much or as little as they’d like about the origin of the ingredients. The same goes for the wine. There are wines as affordable as $20 a bottle, but plenty of rare wines that are cause for celebration.
Ayesh grew up in Wichita and majored in journalism and Spanish at the University of Kansas. She trained in the culinary arts at the former French Culinary Institute.
She spent time under chef Ryan Hardy at Montagna inside The Little Nell in Aspen, Colo., — “where I learned everything I needed to know about running kitchens” — and became skillful at making cheese and charcuterie.
After working in Chicago and New York for nearly a decade, she returned to Kansas City for stints at The Oliver, Café Sebastienne and Repeal 18th before finding a good fit.
“I feel I have come full circle,” she says of her return to a hotel setting with a strong support team. “I think I landed where I’m supposed to be. It feels like I’ve been here forever.”
Ayesh’s executive chef duties include overseeing XR, a breakfast and bar-heavy menu that includes egg dishes and pizzas blistered in an Acunto wood-fired oven, and Percheron, a roof-top restaurant opening in spring offering a breathtaking view of the city skyline and casual games of bocce with a menu focused on craft beer, charcuterie and chilled seafood dishes.
She’s also in charge of banquets, special events and room service.
“I love being able to handle the different culinary facets. I enjoy the challenge,” she says.
But are there too many Italian restaurants clustered in the Crossroads?
“I encourage and promote all things Italian that come to town,” she says of the competition, which includes Lidia’s Kansas City and the soon-to-open Farina by Michael James Beard award-winning Michael Smith.
Lazia will also be participating in Kansas City Restaurant Week, which runs from Jan. 11-20. “It will be huge for us to break into the crowd that might be intimidated by the space or the menu,” she says.
Jill Wendholt Silva is an award-winning former food editor and restaurant critic who spent 30 years at The Kansas City Star. She freelances and owns her own consulting firm, Jill Silva Food. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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