The Pursuit of Pasta
words by EMILY & STEWART LANE | photos by ANNA PETROW
Emily Lane: Chef Michael Smith appears to have it all. He’s a James Beard awardwinning chef and has multiple restaurants in Kansas City with a fiercely loyal base of patrons. But he’s given us another reason to clamor for his food, this time surrounding us with the rich, warm flavors of Italy at his newest concept, Farina. He and his wife, Nancy, were inspired by their love of all things Italian – the pastas, the cured meats, the cheeses, and the wines – and decided it was time to share those tastes with us.
Stewart Lane: Think about a plate of homemade pasta. To the untrained eye, there is nothing easier than pasta. It’s fast, only a few ingredients, and you can cover it in any sauce and call it a meal. However, nothing could be further from the truth when you delve deeper into making the perfect noodle. Then matching the proper sauce to the noodle can take on an art like a fine sommelier. Farina speaks to the soul of Italian traditions but with a distinctly “Michael Smith” slant that paints with an entirely new set of colors on a very old canvas.
EL: Farina has made its home in the space that was formerly Kemper at the Crossroads (a branch of the Kemper Museum) but those who miss the art space can take comfort in the stunning art that has been selected for the walls of Farina. Large abstract paintings, by Robert Quackenbush, line the walls where seating vignettes are created with soft banquettes and dark wood accents. If you’re feeling more social, you can snag a seat at the oyster bar and watch the swift hands of the staff preparing plates of fresh raw seafood. Or cozy up the cocktail bar and have Berto Santoro create one of his innovative drinks for you to imbibe. No matter what you choose, you’ll be well cared for during your meal.
SL: The oyster bar is one of my favorite parts of Farina; seeing the fresh oysters on display or catching a glimpse of the preparation of the Osetra caviar dish is a gratifying experience. Chef Smith plays with complex, savory flavors of raw fish to create dishes with lingering tastes melding on your tongue. Some of the dishes we enjoyed were the Madai snapper, with celery, radish, and miso-aji amarillo vinaigrette, and Ahi tuna, with orange, cucumber, crispy onions, and ginger tahini sauce, both beautifully enhancing the delicate fish.
EL: Not unlike Michael Smith’s other nearby restaurant, Extra Virgin, there are many ways to make your way around the Farina menu. As always, we find it’s best to order a wide variety of things and share. There are small-plate options, salads, pastas aplenty, and main proteins, all worthy of their own article in this publication, not to mention the massive wine list, which is well curated by Nancy.
SL: From the antipasti, we enjoyed the grilled octopus with farinata (garbanzo flour croutons) and Sicilian date relish. A triumph of intense char-and-grill flavor with the tender octopus complemented the bright vinegar bite and sweetness of the relish. A musthave snack was the cacio e pepe fritelle, somehow encompassing the flavors of a bowl of pasta into a crispy-fried morsel dusted with Parmesan.
EL: Chef Smith presents two different sides of pasta with his Farina menu; the classics, aptly named the “Four Kings of Rome,” and his Pasta Atipica, or atypical. This is not the night to watch your carbs, because you’d be remiss not to try something from both pasta menus.
SL: The “Four Kings of Rome” are menu staples, and for good reason. There’s rigatoni all’amatriciana, with preserved tomatoes, red onion, pepper flakes and guanciale; tender long tubes of bucatini coated in egg, Parmesan, and pancetta for the carbonara; a simply elegant and peppery spaghetti for the cacio e pepe; and the classic tagliatelle, with a beef and pork Bolognese. These traditional pastas only have a few components that demand the highest quality ingredients paired with flawless execution.
And then there are the Pasta Atipica, the dishes unique to the vision of Farina. The caramelle pasta features little packets stuffed with crescenza cheese and finished in a savory Marsala mushroom sauce. Jetblack noodles with the briny flavor of the sea in the squid-ink spaghetti with swordfish are heightened by sweet, sun-dried yellow tomatoes, saffron, and Calabrian chiles. This is pasta in a way you’ve probably never experienced.
EL: The “Secondi” portion of the menu features entrees such as pork roast, aged ribeye steaks, veal scallopini, and Alaskan halibut. Chef Smith keeps the menu changing with the seasons, and you’re sure to find the perfect protein with artfully chosen accompaniments.
So when you’re seeking the well-educated combination of what is comfortable and what will make you curious, Farina has the answer. With welleducated staff, a warm and inviting atmosphere, and a respected chef who is living out his culinary dream, Farina will welcome you and care for you, time and time again.
Farina is located at 19 W. 19th St. in Kansas City and is open Tuesday through Saturday beginning at 5:00 p.m. Reservations recommended. farinakc.com