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FINE DINING DOES EXIST – with handmade pastas and local ingredients at Siena Tuscan Steakhouse

RATING: 3.5/4 🌕🌕🌕🌗 – based on taste, presentation, and service.

The Ambassador Hotel stands out amongst other hotels in Wichita. Centrally located in the heart of downtown Wichita, you can witness from its exterior the opulence that lies within. With a quick glance from the street you notice tall, dark windows that shine with exuberance. But upon closer examination, you’ll see past the sleek curtains to find yourself in a warm and modern Tuscan Steakhouse: SIENA. For Wichita, you won’t find a finer dining experience.

Surprisingly, we weren’t there for the steaks. We were there for the pasta. Newly appointed head chef, Josh Rathbun, invited us to come try his new menu, which highlights handmade pastas. He hails most recently from Denver where he held an acclaimed role as Sous Chef for Mercantile Dining & Provision. In 2015, Zagat highlighted him as one of the 30 chefs under 30 who were redefining the industry.

Chef Rathbun has worked in highly-regarded restaurants around the world, and has moved back to his hometown of Wichita to raise his family and bring his knowledge and skills to the forefront of dining in the ICT. Josh also helped bring the Douglas Avenue Chop Shop to life as their initial head butcher. He has forged relationships with many local farmers and producers to bring their fantastic products to our plates at Siena.

For dinner, we opted for a tasting menu, served family style to split amongst our group. And although there is an option to add wine pairings to the tasting, we chose to split a bottle of Meiomi, a 2015 pinot noir from Sonoma, seeing as half of our party was either breastfeeding or currently aiming for another future spawn – better to keep it steady with one glass. Admittedly, I am not much of a wine aficionado, so I went purely off our knowledgable server’s suggestion.

We moved on to our antipasto, where I ended up really enjoying the Pork & Peppers. A large pile of blistered shishito peppers dressed in a sort of Asian-inspired sweet & sour sauce adorned with crispy globulars of pork belly and crunchy marcona almonds. This dish features locally grown peppers from Home Grown Kansas Farms. This is not a dish for the faint of heart, as it’s said one in every ten peppers have the heat level beyond a jalapeño. I was lucky enough to have only eaten milder peppers with gusto, as my husband was the lucky winner with one that tested his limits. I could eat this dish again and again!

We also sampled a grilled peach and burrata salad which features Meadowlark Farm’s succulent signature stone fruit. Many components of this dish were sourced locally such as arugula from Jimmy Vo’s Kan-Grow Farm and grilled ciabatta from Sharon Entz’s Crust & Crumb Bakery. I really appreciate the extra effort Josh puts in as a proprietor of local ingredients to feature on his menu.

But we came for one thing and one thing only! THE PASTA!! The Chef was kind enough to prepare many small versions of the pasta dishes, so we could try them all. Sure, you can go to any old standby Italian restaurant for fresh pasta, but none will have that magical “al dente” feeling that these pastas have. You can tell Chef Rathbun proud to bring old world tradition to give us a unique experience.

My favorite dish overall was the Rabbit Saltimbocca, resting on a bed of rich and creamy cavatelli with peas and greens. While saltimbocca is traditionally a veal dish, Chef Rathbun played to his advantages and skillfully rolled rabbit that was acquired from local Rare Hare Barns. The roulade is crisped on the outside and served sliced to showcase the perfection of which the protein was cooked, which definitely involves sous-vide. Rathbun also approaches his heritage chicken dish similarly, making the protein from Good Shepard Poultry Ranch impeccable.

If you really want to make yourself feel some type of way, try the Gnocchi or the Short-Rib Ravioli. Each of these dishes highlighted pasta pillows that bring on the comfort. The gnocchi was crisped on the outside, but tender and fluffed on the inside. Needless to say, I was impressed to finally get to know what the mouthfeel of perfect gnocchi was like. And the Ravioli? Well, you’ll just have to go and try it to understand my loss for words. Excuse me while I drift away into my Tuscan dreamland of a carbo-loaded countryside.

Looking back, I feel I made a mistake by not ordering dessert, but I found myself somewhat incapacitated from eating so many rich dishes. I thought if I ate dessert, I would definitely would have turned into a deep-fried Zeppole myself. I have no doubt that the desserts are just as good as the rest of our meal was, and I will be back for just that: Dessert.

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