The French know how to live and I make it my mission to try and do the same. So I spend as much time as I can in local French haunts. It’s my chance to escape the American highways, sports bars (not that I really go often) and take a step back to enjoy the slow-pace of French life. Living in Spain for so long and living so close to the French border, I found myself spending long weekends and summers on the French Riviera. Exploring the small seaside towns, popping into tiny cafes, visiting local vineyards and immersing myself in the culture and lifestyle. Westport Café & Bar is one such place that transports me to small towns like Menton or Grasse, when I’m a bit ‘homesick’ and need a touch of France in my life.
Walking in, the sexy space gives bisous to you by way of the exposed brick, copper accents and a black and white checkerboard floor. A quaint collection of vintage French newspapers and magazines stationed on the wall complete the cozy space. The bar might be my favorite part of the restaurant, though. It’s dark, moody and exudes that French confidence I love so much. I used to enjoy saddling up and watching the bartender in action. A bit of absinthe? Why not?
In winter, I adore sitting by the window and watching the snowflakes fall from inside this cozy oasis. Add a bottle of Bordeaux and I’m amazed I haven’t tried to move-in permanently. Owner and General Manager Kevin Mahout and Executive Chef Romain Monnoyeur are from a region near Lyon, France have brought their expertise and good taste to Westport. Having both attended the culinary school Lycee Hyacinthe Friant in Poligny, France, they traveled the world working in some of the best kitchens such as Alain Ducasse at the Dorcester in London and Thierry Marx at the bistro, Le Caillebotte. They absolutely know what they’re doing.
It’s not any one thing that makes Westport Café what it is. It’s a whole experience. Replicating the essence of a small cafe in a small village in France is a tricky thing to do, especially when positioned in a neighborhood where cheap beers and shots are the main draw. Westport Cafe has nailed it though. Every time I walk in, I’m met with genuine hospitality and and I can relax knowing I’ve made it to my little sanctuary. Of course though, the cuisine is the way to my heart. Here, it’s built of classic, simple dishes that are anything but; often, the simplest of flavors are the most complex. Enjoy their pandemic-friendly patio while our Midwest weather allows and imbibe outdoors. Come for Happy Hour and try one of everything. The Pea Ravioli in a lemon brown butter and Grana Padano sauce, is just the right amount for yourself (or to share). Don’t expect a light sauce, it’s thick and smothers the ravioli like a gravy. The P.E.I. Mussels can be ordered in a coconut curry, fennel and cilantro broth or have it mariniere style. Pair them with Pommes Frites for an extra special experience. I don’t recommend adding the truffle oil as it can sometimes be a bit heavy-handed, but always add the egg yolk to anything you can.
Last time I was here, I ordered off the dinner menu because I had to try their Beef Tartare. I can’t help myself. Balsamella, French cream cheese, pistachio and cornichons served with roasted bread (insert egg yolk here) is perfection in every.damn.bite. It is magnifique and I find myself craving it at 3pm on a random Wednesday because it’s so memorable and I don’t even like pickles! Imagine if you do!
If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, order their Steak Frites. You can’t get more classic French than this: Bearnaise, maître D’ butter and of course their epic pommes frites. Personally, I adore their Salmon Fettucini with seared and smoked salmon, dill, creamy wine sauce, tobiko and sesame – it’s a combination of cultures and I inhale it in less than a graceful way but you cannot blame me! The Crouque Madame is made with comte, ham, crème fraiche and sunny eggs. I prefer the French-o-Fish on homemade brioche, tempura cod, thai basil, mint, cilantro, tzatziki and pickled red onion; I have tried to recreate this a few times (and I’d like to think I’ve gotten close) but it’s just so much more fun to enjoy it there.
Even now, I am sat here on the patio on a beautiful Kansas City fall afternoon. It’s 75 and sunny, I’ve finished one of their Sunday crepes with Gruyere, heirloom tomato and arugula and have a glass of rose in hand. The crepe is pretty perfect, it’s crunchy where it needs to be yet soft and light in general. I devour it and debate ordering another. Their General Manager, Nicolas, is speaking French with Kevin (I could listen to him ALL day), and there is laughter and ooo’s and ahh’s as dishes come out of the kitchen. Couples are starting out their Sunday Funday with Westport Café’s Frozen Mai Tai and the cool breeze is stirring the string of small French flags that line the patio. Chef is making crepes in the window- the red curtains framing him, creating a portrait come to life. Art you can eat. That’s my type.
It’s charming and sweet and absolutely perfect for any occasion; weekend hangs with friends, happy hour or a romantic dinner to impress your lover. I haven’t much of a sweet tooth, but I highly recommend their Profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce as well as their Madeleines baked ‘ a la minute’ with fresh lemon curd and jam. They are a small sweet way to end a decadent meal without being too heavy.
L’appétit vient en mangeant – appetite comes with eating, as the French say. French writer, Rabelais, used it in his book, Gargantua. He wrote, “L’appétit vient en mangeant, la soif s’en va en buvant,” translated as ‘appetite comes with eating, thirst goes away with drinking’. So let your appetite be your guide and come enjoy the ambiance that Westport Cafe has created so well. You won’t regret it.