Soiree Steak & Oyster House feels right at home at 18th and Vine, the neighborhood’s colorful murals and celebration of history spilling onto the restaurant walls adorned with vibrant paintings of Jackie Robinson and Ray Charles.
The space is open and breezy, with massive windows allowing sunlight to flood in. Depending on when you visit, there might be jazz pouring out over the speakers or being performed live on Soiree’s stage, which plays host to an array of local favorites, including the J. Love Band and Arnold Young Trio. (Sunday Jazz Brunch is a golden opportunity to enjoy both a soulful menu and a spirited soundtrack.)
For those whose exploration of 18th and Vine hasn’t gone far beyond its museums, Soiree presents a lively, entertaining entry point. Bold and flavorful? Maybe not as much as you would expect from a restaurant taking its cues from the Deep South and Cajun cuisine, but chef Anita Moore’s food is still satisfying, with moments of real brilliance.
Take, for instance, the steakhouse wings, smoked and then fried to perfection. Served naked with a tangy house-made bourbon barbecue sauce, they make you wonder what all the fuss with their buffalo sauce-covered cousins is about. Moore’s skill with sauce also shines in her remoulade, a spicy, nuanced take on the condiment that accompanies Soiree’s crab cakes. Although their flavor is spot-on and each cake packed with meaty chunks of crab, their texture is a bit of a letdown. With no crust in sight, there’s no crispy contrast to savor alongside the soft interior of the crab cakes.
The condiments are again the highlight when the server brings out a loaf of bread still warm from the oven with a silky, sweet butter. Its ingredients are a secret (yes, we asked), but it pairs deliciously with the Slap Yo Daddy, one of Soiree’s cocktails. Made with Rittenhouse rye, bitters, and a spiced sweet-potato syrup, it comes topped with a marshmallow, a little charred around the edges and gooey when you take a bite. Many of the other cocktails exhibit a similar Southern flair, while a handful of beers, whites, reds, and sparkling wines round out the drink offerings.
The restaurant loses a bit of its direction with the namesake steaks and oysters. The menu features a 14-ounce ribeye, the popular Jazz District strip and a tenderloin, all with a classic side of potatoes and veggies, while oysters are available on the half shell, fried or charbroiled by the half dozen. They’re enjoyable enough, if less compelling than other plates.
Soiree leans back into its roots with the Creole Chicken and Shrimp, a blackened chicken breast with creole shrimp, a garlic herb mash and Southern green beans, and a decadent fried-seafood platter, teeming with catfish, jumbo shrimp, oysters, and crawfish tails. Unfortunately, the crust coating everything works better in some cases than others. The sheer quantity overpowers the relatively mild taste of the crawfish and oysters, and it’s not bold enough to stand up to the catfish filet that comes with the dish. The shrimp, however, are a delight, plump and expertly cooked, best enjoyed slathered in the restaurant’s horseradish-forward cocktail sauce. The plate comes with a few hushpuppies bursting with flavor, a chunk of corn and crispy potato and sweet-potato fries, unexpectedly one of the highlights.
For dessert, Moore serves up cobbler (her peach iteration has become a fast favorite among Kansas Citians) as well as bread pudding and other creations, including sweet-potato cheesecake. The balance of spice and firm crust make the slice memorable.
Although some items fall short of expectations, you’d never be able to tell from the reaction in the dining room, which is filled with laughter and satisfied diners. Regardless of its few missteps, the restaurant succeeds at bringing people together for food, music and memories—as all the best soirees should.