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The Blue Moose, Topeka
Lunch Service Pictures
Lunch Service at The Blue Moose
The Saturday before Mother's Day, my mom happened to be in town. I invited her to come out to lunch with me. My first choice of restaurant no longer offered Saturday lunch service, and my second suggestion was Tuptim Thai, but she wasn't sure her stomach could handle Thai food in spite of my reassurances about spice levels. Somewhat against my will we settled on the Blue Moose.
I’ve been to the Blue Moose before and have always come away a little disappointed. The food is not bad, but there is always something that is just off. With their elegant décor and menu prices I have always expected more than what I received. Possibly, as my husband often suggests, I set my expectations too high. I’m not saying it is bad food, don’t get me wrong. I’m saying it should be better.
The staff was all smiles when mom and I arrived. However, they also all seemed overly distracted in proportion to the number of occupied tables. We were able to get a seat quickly but then waited about fifteen minutes before we saw a waiter.
We spent the time on small talk and looking around at the mostly empty tables. The waiter very professionally took our drink and appetizer order. He left and then returned with water, but not my coffee and cream which he said he’d be back with. A few minutes later he returned with my coffee but no cream. I had asked for cream when I ordered the coffee and asked again after he finished taking the rest of our order. I then waited a few minutes for the cream, but when none seemed forthcoming took a sip of my coffee. It had a scorched aftertaste to it as if it had been on the burner for a rather long time.
Twenty minutes or so passed and a different waitress brought out my salad and immediately disappeared before I could question her. By this time I was out of coffee…so desperate was I in my need for caffeine that I had drank every drop of the bitter scorched brew. I sipped my water and ate my salad while pondering the traditional order of service.
Typically, the appetizer should arrive before the salad, but perhaps things are different at The Moose. I morosely picked through an abundance of iceberg lettuce, lightly sprinkled with red cabbage, and stringy carrots that had obviously come out of bag. The menu had described the salad as “mixed greens”. This had been topped with tomatoes and cucumbers that were much fresher. All the while I longed for more coffee and watched my mom look around for signs of the appetizers. The high point of the salad was the croutons which I also suspect came out of a bag.
Fifteen minutes of picking at my salad led to the arrival of our original server bringing the appetizer, Fried Pickles. The menu described this appetizer as, “A mound of thinly sliced pickles dipped in a special Blue Moose beer batter, and fried to a golden brown, served with roasted garlic ranch dressing.” I again requested coffee and he apologized profusely before rushing away. The pickles were satisfactory and matched the menu’s description. The batter was crispy and a dark golden hue…I suspect there’s some panko in the batter which contributed to the crispiness. The pickle inside was cooked perfectly.
Before I had a chance to eat more than half a pickle, our entrée’s arrived. This annoyed me slightly. I do like to actually eat my appetizer prior to receiving my entrée because one or the other is going to get cold, and at The Moose prices I expected better timing from the kitchen. The entrée was served by our original server from whom I asked for more coffee and for creamer. He apologized again for forgetting both and rushed off. This time he promptly returned with much fresher coffee, and some cream in a small silver pitcher. My need for caffeine satiated at last, I set to work on dismantling my entrée’.
I had ordered the “Lemon Chicken Saltimboca”. As soon as I tasted the Saltimbocca at The Blue Moose I knew I wanted to rescue it. Not just recreate it, but bring it to life and make it the way it could be made. First, and perhaps it is only a typo, it is spelled incorrectly on the menu and actually has two c’s. Perhaps the misspelling is intentional because saltimbocca is generally made with veal instead of chicken. Typically this would be marinated in white wine or oil, or brined in salt water. I detected no sign of a marinade unless perhaps it was brined very briefly. I could also not detect any evidence of lemon.
The menu explained their take on a saltimbocca as, “Tender pan-seared chicken breast stuffed with Parmesan cheese and spinach then wrapped in prosciutto and sage. Served over creamy spinach rice pilaf, zucchini and a buttery chicken jus.” I wouldn’t go so far as to call the chicken tender. It was slightly over cooked and dry. Thank goodness for the au jus. The chicken would have been a disaster without it and I wish there had been more of it on the plate.
That being said, most of the flavors were there. The combination of the sage and parmesan was outstanding especially when paired with the bacon goodness of the prosciutto. The seasoning was slightly off. One of the roulades was over salted and the other was not salted at all that I could tell. The result was a slightly unbalanced dish. It had great potential, but, as is so often the case at the Blue Moose, fell just short of the bar. It did inspire me to create the recipe featured further along in this hub.
Oddly, the star of the dish was the rice. It was similar to a risotto in texture. It had a slight creaminess that I attribute to parmesan and was full of diced shallots, celery, carrots and freshly wilted (if slightly overcooked) spinach. It was perfectly seasoned.
The zucchini, along with a few random carrot cubes were poorly plated. Some vague effort to align the zucchini along the side of the plate had been attempted but it looked like either the employee responsible for plating forgot what they were doing or the plate had a bumpy ride out of the kitchen. I didn't understand the carrots at all; they seemed to have been tossed on the plate as an afterthought or perhaps even an accident. The zucchini slices were under-seasoned, which was a shame as they were perfectly grilled.
My mom chose the Herb-Grilled Chicken Sandwich, took a few bites and immediately pulled everything off of the bread and turned it into a salad. A more apt name for the dish might have been “Arugula Sandwich” because it arrived with a huge mound of arugula all out of proportion to the size of the chicken breast. The chicken breast was served paillard style, meaning it been pounded to nearly a quarter of an inch thin but was strangely smaller in diameter than the bread. The amount of chicken on the bun was probably less than a quarter of a chicken breast. However, mom reported that it was well cooked and well flavored. She enjoyed the basil pesto aioli a great deal. She ordered sweet potato fries with the sandwich and seemed to enjoy those after salting them. Once again the seasoning was a tad off.
We rounded off our meal with crème brûlée, and more coffee for me which arrived this time without prompting. Crème brûlée is my all-time favorite dessert, if it is on the menu anywhere I feel obligated to try it. The glaze on top was perfect, just the right color and thickness, and consistent most of the way around the dish. This was topped with a few fresh blueberries. I cracked through the crust and dipped a spoon down the side of the dish. The custard was slightly broken and watery. They had at least used some vanilla bean, but it was not well integrated. The custard seemed overly sweet to my palate as if someone had gotten a bit heavy handed with the sugar.
Based on this luncheon, I came to the conclusion that the Blue Moose likes to act fancy and charge fancy, but fall just short of gourmet. My other visits have led to the same conclusion. I like to give a restaurant a few chances before I make up my mind. I understand that everyone can have a bad day. Sadly, consistent mediocrity is what I expect when I dine at the Blue Moose.
- 2 Chicken Breasts, Boneless and Skinless
- 1 Cup White Wine, Pinot or Chardonnay
- 1/2 Cup Olive Oil, Classico
- 3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
- 1 Lemon, Large (zest and juice)
- 8 Slices Prosciutto
- 8 Sage Leaves, Large and Fresh
- 2 Cups Spinach, Fresh
- 3 Ounces Parma sean Cheese, Freshly Grated
- 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
- Create the marinade by pouring the wine and olive oil into a shallow dish or gallon sized baggie. Add the Kosher Salt, garlic, the zest and juice of the entire lemon.
- Rinse each chicken breast in cold water. Pat dry with a paper towel. Then pound the chicken very thin, less than 1/4 inch until it is slightly opaque.
- Place the chicken in the wine and olive oil marinade. Cover and refridgerate for a minimum of one hour. I let mine soak overnight.
- Cut each chicken breast in half and begin assembling the Saltimbocca.
- Lay out two thin pieces of prosciutto so that they overlap slightly. Place two large sage leaves across the center of the proscuitto.
- Lay the chicken on a sheet of plastic wrap and top it with a thin layer of fresh spinach, just enough so that the meat is entirely covered.
- Top the spinach with a layer of the Parmesan cheese, about 1/4 cup for each roulade.
- Roll the chicken, spinach, and cheese tightly into a log.
- Place the chicken onto the proscuitto so that it is pointing the opposite direction of the way you rolled the chicken and so that the "seam" of the log is facing down in the center of the proscuitto.
- Wrap the chicken in the proscuitto much like you would a burrito, fold the sides in and then roll so that the entire chicken is covered. Set aside and let these rest about five minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 275 degrees farenheit. Then, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in an oven-safe skillet that you can and let the skillet get nice and hot over medium high heat on the stove top.
- Once the skillet is warmed, place the saltimbocca in the skillet so that the seam of the proscuitto is facing down. Sear the chicken on all sides, rotating every frew minutes to get an even sear.
- Once an even sear is achieved turn all the chicken so the seam side is down and place in the 275 degree oven for seventeen minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
- Remove the saltimbocca from the skillet and plate immediately. Allow it to rest 5 to seven minutes before slicing or serving.
Selecting the Wine
I chose Luna di Luna’s Chardonnay Pinot Grigio for this recipe because I think it is a fantastic wine pairing for the chicken and prosciutto. I stumbled across it one day in the Italy section of my liquor store. I found the idea of a Chardonnay Pinot Grigio blend too interesting not to sample. It is a delightful wine with a nice pear undertone like one would expect out of a good Pinot Grigio. It is just slightly dryer than a Pinot and has a nice citrus finish that worked beautifully with the concept of the lemon chicken saltimbocca.
I urge you to marinate with a wine that you would actually want to drink, not just some cheap wine, or worse yet cooking wine. The food you are making is going to take on the flavor of the wine, just like it will take on the flavor any herb you would cook with. Are you going to cook with cut rate two year old dried basil when you could use basil you just picked out of your garden five minutes ago? I didn’t think so. Think long and hard about your favorite pinot or chardonnay and consider how well it would work with this dish. Or try making the dish with several different wines and figure out which you liked better. I hope you’ll let me know in the comments section which wine selections you’ve used.
If you’re going to be cooking with wine, treat it as you would any other component of your dish. Each component should be tasted and sampled on its own, and then only joined together in a meal if they all those flavors meld together to become something greater than it would be on its own. Remember that you are making music for you pallet when you cook. Take the time and care to make a harmonious symphony of flavor.
Prepping the Ingredients
Tips for the Paillard
When working with chicken I try to eliminate as much surface contact as possible to keep my kitchen sanitary. So for any roulade (filled rolled meat) or paillard (meat pounded thin) I like to place the chicken in a gallon sized Ziploc bag. I leave the opening unsealed so that any air can escape. I place the bag on a hard, solid surface, like the kitchen cabinet and then proceed to flatten it by beating it with a hard object.
Much like my hero, Alton Brown, I am not a fan of uni-taskers so I usually use my rolling pin. You can of course use a meat mallet or even one of those meat tenderizing hammers, if you are careful. I aim for the center of the meat and strike it firmly with the rolling pin and then work my way to the outside of the meat. I then turn the meat 90 degrees and repeat the process. The goal is to get the meat evenly thinned.
There are a number of reasons to flatten meat in this manner. Flattened meat will cook more quickly and evenly than a large uneven cut like a chicken breast. Less cook time means the chances that the meat will be overcooked are mitigated, resulting in a much juicier and more tender chicken breast. The other obvious reason to flatten the meat is so you can pile it with goodies and roll it up in a roulade. The possibilities on what you can stuff the meat with are limited only by your flavor preferences and imagination.
Chicken is a fantastic candidate for the flattening process because it is the blank canvas of the food world. It takes on flavors well, and works with limitless flavor combinations. Besides, nobody likes dry and overcooked chicken clinging to the roof of their mouth.
If you didn’t want to go through the whole process of stacking ingredients and rolling chicken, you could pan sear the flattened and marinated chicken from this recipe over medium high heat on the stove top or (the more traditional method) on the grill for five to seven minutes on each side or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit…this is great to toss in a spinach salad by the way. Then you’d have a wine and lemon marinated chicken paillard, which sounds a lot fancier than what it is, and tastes juicy and succulent all by itself.
Great Article on Chicken Paillard
- How to Prep a Chicken Paillard | Serious Eats
I'm no culinary blowhard—half the time I can't retain the fancy-pants French cooking terms anyway. But I am big fan of paillard. For such an ostentatious term, one that seems like it should describe a ballet move or a European building, paillard is o
Assembling the Saltimbocca
A Quick Tip About Prosciutto
Prosciutto is a dry-cured Italian ham. It is generally cut very thin. So be gentle because it will tear easily.
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The Completed Saltimbocca
Map to the Moose
I miss the Brick Oven, which in case you don’t know or remember was the restaurant at the Wanamaker location before the Blue Moose took over the space. Thinking about their sea bass even after all these years makes my mouth water. The Brick Oven delivered what they promised on a scale The Moose seems unable to match.
In spite of the Moose’s underlying (and unfounded) arrogance I believe it has the potential to be a fantastic restaurant. If they showed just a little more finesse and passion in the kitchen, the technique would be improved. If they sourced better quality ingredients the flavors would be better. Here we are in the bread basket of the world with an outstanding farmer’s market downtown every Saturday and they’re trying to serve me salad out of a bag? It’s springtime in Kansas! Where is the freshness? Even something as simple as changing the garden salad to reflect the season would be a step in the right direction. How about mixing some fresh and tender baby spinach with some new peas and fresh basil, it could be that simple. I’d really like to see them add some local ingredients to their dishes when available and in season.
As for the staff, if they gave just a little more attention to detail and showed more concern for their customer their efforts would be much appreciated. A good wait staff offers refill on beverages without prompting. A proactive staff helps the kitchen by communicating the diner’s progress so that dishes arrive in a timely sensible order.
Those empty tables are a wake-up call that is not being heeded by The Moose’s management. The tables aren’t all empty yet, but there is a definite trend forming. Better get your antlers back in the game, Moose.