Reservation for One: Bar Medici

Bar Medici in the Crossroads. All photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

Anyone who has traveled to Italy is likely familiar with the Italian tradition known as the aperitivo, which means “to open” the appetite before dining. Consisting of a bitter, herbal drink, usually low in alcohol, served with a few light dishes to take the edge off your hunger, aperitivo in Italy usually takes place at the end of the workday and goes until, or sometimes even through, dinner.  

Often compared to the American “happy hour,” the art of aperitivo goes much deeper than cheap food and drinks. It is more about the ritual of winding down with friends or family at the end of a long day, catching up with the people that matter the most before dinner. Its benefits are more social, than financial.

The spirit of Italy’s aperitivo is felt in the newest bar from Exit Strategy partners David and Noelle Manica and Christian Moscoso. Bar Medici opened at the end of last year inspired by the culture and cuisine of Florence, Italy, and the art of the aperitivo. Located on the ground floor of the Reverb apartment complex in the Crossroads, this new cafe is in the same building that houses Mercury Room on the top floor. Its small, but luxurious, dining room and full bar marks their first space specifically built to serve food from lunch to late night, seven days a week, with a kitchen team headed up by the culinary director, Mitch Fetterling.  

Crab Spaghetti

Past the host stand where a moody abstract painting from local artist Jennifer Janesko hangs, Bar Medici’s dining room, designed by David Manica and Hive Design, is swathed in the subtle colors of precious metals—muted gold, silver, and bronze. An artistic recreation of a map of 1847 Florence, Italy, hangs on the west wall. Small square bistro tables are set for groups of four, with two diners seated on soft banquettes facing the gauzy curtain-clad windows, and two diners on chairs with a view of the bar, which also provides additional seating. 

The practice of aperitivo in Italy took off in popularity in the late 1700s when a Torino distiller, Antonio Benedetto Carpano, first blended fortified wine with aromatic herbs and spices, creating vermouth. That makes vermouth a fitting start at Bar Medici, and there are plenty to choose from here. Order a round for the table, it will arrive on a tray with a small carafe of vermouth, a water back, rocks glasses full of ice cubes, and a bowl of Bauhaus-inspired round orange peels you can add as D.I.Y. garnishes. It is the perfect thing to enjoy while deciding what to eat next. 

If the “when in Rome” approach doesn’t appeal, there is also a full menu of a variety of crafted Italian-inspired cocktails, brightly flavored low-alcohol spritz, and several negroni versions to get the party started. Because there is so much food to enjoy here, I usually enjoy a vermouth or spritz to start and then skip straight to wine, as I find it more food friendly. The wine list is brief, offering all Italian selections, and the staff is happy to help you find one to pair with your meal should you need assistance.  

When it comes to food here, the classics are a great place to start. The Castelvetrano olives marinated with citrus peels and spices are the perfect thing to enjoy with your first round of drinks, then follow that with the house-made focaccia served with bright orange Calabrian chili butter. The soft, pillowy bread shines with the bright clear heat from just a swipe of butter. 

More substantial were the polpette—tender meatballs topped with a seasoned crushed tomato sauce, a sprinkling of Grana Padano cheese and served with crostini points. It’s hard not to love something like a meatball with red sauce. It’s so nostalgic, like a favorite childhood friend. 

Pork Chop

Also round, but a bit more elevated, were the porcini ciambella—small, savory cake-like donut holes dusted in a salty, umami-rich porcini mushroom powder and served with a rich, ooey-gooey white taleggio cheese sauce. I contend that we’ll always love anything we can dunk into a sauce, especially a decadent cheese sauce. 

The primi section of the menu had two of my favorite dishes. The bietola carpaccio comes with a healthy portion of fresh ricotta cheese flavored with just a hint of horseradish, topped with wafer-thin slices of quick pickled beets roasted until soft and stacked in a circular pattern over the ricotta. The dish is topped with chopped hazelnuts and celery microgreens for a little pop of contrasting color and texture, hitting all the right texture points. Wild beets are found growing in the sandy soil of the Mediterranean, so although this dish doesn’t read Italian, it is.   

The other hero for me is the granchio spaghetti alla chitarra, a long name for a long flat square noodle served with crab. This unique pasta is cooked to a perfect al dente chew, then tossed with a decadent crab bisque dotted with small pieces of crab. It’s finished with a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper flakes for some heat, grana Padano cheese, and green scallions. With the popularity of chili crisp noodles right now, this felt like the most decadent Italian version of that. The heavy cream muted the real heat in the dish, making it a magical, rich flavor bomb.      

Left: The bar at Bar Medici. Right: The Del Mare cocktail.

I have had the scaloppine dish from the secondi menu twice at Bar Medici, and my only beef with this dish is that there is no beef in it—or veal, pork, or chicken for that matter. Instead, it’s a play on words. Bar Medici’s scaloppine is a seared scallop dish served over a saffron risotto seasoned with unctuous n’duja and a side of charred broccolini, which is clearly stated on the menu. It’s a perfectly delicious dish; it’s just not scaloppine. Perhaps a set of quotation marks around the word would assist in letting people in on the joke. The first time I ordered it without reading the description and I sent it back to the kitchen thinking I had gotten the wrong dish. Scaloppine is traditionally an Italian dish that typically refers to pork, veal, or chicken, sliced or even pounded thin, dredged in flour, and sautéed in one of many reduction sauces. In a cuisine rooted in this much ancient history, I am not sure the use of the word scaloppine should be bantered about quite so easily.

While we have a lot of Italian restaurants in Kansas City right now, what sets Bar Medici apart is its incredibly intimate setting. A small, quiet spot is a real plus if you have important business to discuss over lunch or have a dinner date with someone you’d like to get to know better. It’s also important to note that not many restaurants with this caliber of food and drink are open seven days a week, or late night for a quick bite after the show, or dessert and a night cap on the way home. There’s room for more Italian cuisine in Kansas City and Bar Medici is off to a bellissimo start.

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