By Laura J. Cummings
KC American Bistro
University Village Shops
19810 Village Center Dr., Estero
Increase your Culinary IQ (& treat your tastebuds, too!)
Quick: What’s your favorite American food? Pizza? Burgers? Grandma’s apple pie? I’m willing to bet you didn’t think of anything on the KC American Bistro menu. How about wild mushroom bisque, warm Medjool dates, glazed duck breast…or Moroccan spiced lamb chops? Didn’t think so!
In truth, American cuisine represents the incredible diversity one would expect from a land of immigrants. Each region of the nation offers its own, tasty contributions to “American” food. At KC American Bistro, every dish invites an educational journey into the culture that inspired it. And Chef-Owner Keith Casey (KC himself) is more than eager to share his wealth of knowledge about indigenous foods from around this great country.
“In cuisine, there’s a lot of history and culture behind it,” says the chef, who seems equal parts historian, philosopher and culinary alchemist.
With the recent opening of the bistro, just a stone’s throw from Florida Gulf Coast University, it seems Chef Keith is well-situated to extend the educational opportunities in our community. While the price point might exclude most college students, anyone interested in increasing their culinary IQ would be well advised to learn from this “professor.” Chef Keith studied at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and trained under top chefs: Larry Forgione, considered the “Godfather of American Cuisine” and initiator of the “Farm-to-Table” movement, and celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi, creator of “Hawaiian Fusion” cuisine and founder of Roy’s Restaurants.
Casey was a corporate chef for Roy’s, opening restaurants around the nation, before venturing out on his own with the original KC American Bistro in Naples in 2009. Ten years later, loyal patrons from South Lee County are applauding the opening of a much grander KC’s in Estero.
If you thought this “American Bistro” would be, in any way, similar to an American bar-and-grill, you’d be dreadfully wrong. The ambience is elegant here: white table linens, modern decor, trendy lighting fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows to view the lighted fountain at night. A brand new building at University Village Shops offered Chef Keith the blank canvas he desired to create a classy atmosphere where the food takes center stage.
The bistro’s menu draws from the history, culture and ethnicities of the five U.S. regions: The Heartland, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and Pacific. From “The Heartland” come premium meats like lamb, beef and buffalo. Northeast favorites include Cape Cod Lobster Sliders, while the Pacific heralds Euro-Asian cuisine.
The wine list also highlights various regions of the USA, offering wines from Napa Valley and Northern California wine country, along with Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Washington’s Columbia Valley. Fine wines from around the globe also are available, and suggested pairings are listed for each entree on the menu.
As a creative culinary genius, Chef Keith is constantly trying new things and concocting new ways to spotlight regional cuisine, as evidenced in his daily specials. The menu itself is fairly simple, but everything on it is done exceptionally.
“Restaurant life is something that chooses you,” asserts the chef. “When I’m here, I don’t even feel like I’m working. It’s a passion, and it’s a desire. You’ve gotta want it. Desire is what moves you.”
Wild Mushroom Bisque
Start your meal with a cup of wild mushroom soup to complement the freshly baked bread served with tasty, truffle-honey butter. There’s just no comparison between bland cream-of-mushroom and this full-flavored bisque made with roasted shiitake mushrooms and white truffles, finished with chive-infused olive oil. It’s a must-try!
Red & Gold Beet Salad
At first glance, we mistook this petite beet salad for a dessert! The presentation is lovely, incorporating both red and gold beets, separated by a thin layer of honey-laced goat cheese for a punch of flavor. It’s finished with microgreens and apple cider vinaigrette.
Pumpkin Seed Encrusted Salmon
Think seafood and fall flavors don’t mix? Think again! This might be the tastiest salmon dish we’ve ever eaten. It’s so popular, it stays on the menu year-round. Wild-caught, river salmon sourced from the Pacific Northwest is crusted with roasted pumpkin seeds and served with creamy, cider beurre blanc.
Cracker Encrusted Black Grouper
This “signature dish” is inspired by the fishermen of Chesapeake Bay. Chef Keith calls it a “hearty version of fish and chips.” Fresh-caught Black Grouper (the “Cadillac” of grouper) is encrusted with simple, Ritz crackers — the likes of which are readily found on fishing boats. It’s served with thyme-roasted fingerling potatoes and a zippy Napa Cabbage slaw.
Hoisin-Glazed, Fire-Roasted Kurobuta Pork Chop
We’ve never had a pork chop so tender and delicious! Kurobuta is a heritage breed, also known as “black hog,” that Chef Keith refers to as the “original, unblemished species of hog.” It originated in Japan but is now raised on select farms in the U.S. This Asian-inspired entree is served with Shrimp Fried Rice and wok-charred vegetables.
Salted Caramel New York Cheesecake (& more)
Save room for desert! New York-style cheesecake gets kicked up a notch with ribbons of salted caramel. Those looking for something rich and decadent can turn to the Chocolate Ganache Tart, while the Limoncello Mascarpone Cake is creamy and delicious!