of spice but one ingredient is missing
by Mike Taylor
The Red Vine
Cajun Restaurant and Jazz House, 1700 E. 18th St., opened
six months ago with a lot of hoopla. With the backing of the
Jazz District Redevelopment Corp and the Greater Kansas City
Local Initiative Support Corp., the owner got the financing
to start a second locally owned restaurant in the still-struggling
18th & Vine District. Both the spicy Cajun food and the
Red Vine's live music were supposed to help liven up the neighborhood.
A waterfall and vine-covered lattices greet diners in the lobby.
The New Orleans ambience evokes the Garden District more than
the French Quarter with high, narrow windows, brick walls and
burgundy colored arches separating the main dining room from
the bar. High ceilings and widely spaced tables make the 280-seat
room more intimate. Black marblesque tabletops flecked with
gold give the rich and spicy dishes an even more dramatic and
Red Vine Cajun Restaurant's signature dessert, Sweet Potato
Cheesecake. (photos by Jessica Chapman)
I'd have thought Dixieland or swing tunes would add to the
atmosphere but I heard "cool jazz" on one visit and
no music at all on another. The live entertainment starts after
The appetizers ($5.95 to $10.95) are mostly seafood dishes along
with chicken tenders and Macs Fire Wings. Emily and I
tried Blackened Bayou Alligator ($7.95) and Shrimp & Crab
Au Gratin ($9.95). Emily didn't care much for the chunks of
firm and chewy alligator. I liked it but not the sweet, thick
barbecue sauce served with it. The shrimp and crab casserole
disproved the taboo of combining seafood and cheese. This satiny
textured concoction combined them perfectly with a spicy bite
that followed the other flavors.
The thick gumbo over rice also inspired sinus-clearing sniffles.
Thick enough to be more stew than soup, the gumbo had pieces
of chicken, shrimp and sausage in just about every bite.
I'm mystified by my attraction to hot, spicy food. Rationally,
I shouldn't put something that burns in my mouth intentionally.
But somehow the burn intensifies accompanying flavors and makes
the foods taste better. As long as it doesn't bother my stomach,
I'll enjoy the spicy heat
That proved the case on both my visits to the Red Vine. I had
the Blackened Redfish ($15.95) and Crawfish Etoufee ($14.75).
The light, delicate fish came flaky and moist, appearing "harmless"
initially. By the time I finished the first bite, the "blackening"
spices had lit up my mouth but I kept going back for
more of the perfectly cooked fish. The thick "mud puppy"
stew served over rice provided a more complex taste experience.
The spiciness joined an earthy roux made from bacon fat along
with celery, green peppers and onions. I was surprised by the
generous amount of crawfish in the dish.
The same proved true of the Jambalaya ($14.25), which Emily
had. It came studded with hunks of white chicken meat and Andouille
sausage along with celery, onions and peppers in a spicy broth.
On our other visit, she was less impressed with the grilled
salmon ($17.95). After one bite, she said, "It's no big
deal." I had a taste and agreed.
All the entrees come with a mundane house salad but any kind
of bread costs extra. A basket of "knotted" rolls
costs $3.25. The cup of Gumbo instead of a salad costs an additional
$1.50. Considering the price of the entrees, I also found it
tacky that they served packets of non-dairy powder instead of
real cream to further enhance their distinctive chicory flavored
We visited the restaurant on two Saturday nights, arriving
between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. both nights. They supposedly start
serving dinner at 5. On one visit well after six, we walked
into an empty place. The other time, a smattering of the tables
had diners. Neither time did the Red Vine staff act ready to
serve customers. Incompetent service dampens the whole experience.
Emily constantly chides me for my quick harsh judgment about
waiters, waitresses and bartenders when we go out. She thinks
I should be more sympathetic and give them more of a chance.
But on our first visit, she wouldn't let me stay to have coffee
and try the desserts. After mixing up our entree order with
someone else's, the waitress didn't return with my Redfish for
more than twenty minutes. She left the Jambalaya while going
to get the salads, then going back to get the right dressing
and so on and so on. We went to the bar to refill our water
glasses. She more than used up the sympathy Emily said I should
have by the time she finally brought my dinner.
On our other visit, the server provided adequate service but
not a presentation appropriate to the food's quality or price.
A simple thing like serving and removing dishes adjacent to
diners rather than across the table would add a lot of class.
When I'm spending more than $50 for a dinner for two, I don't
expect to hand someone plates I want removed. And with Cajun
foods, water glasses have to stay filled.
No doubt18th and Vine needs places that attract people. A Cajun
restaurant fits into neighborhood. But the Red Vine will have
to kick up its service a whole lot of notches. If a restaurant
isn't busy on Saturday night at dinnertime, before long it won't
ever be busy again.
The Red Vine Cajun
Restaurant and Jazz House
1700 E. 18th St., Kansas City, MO
Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.;
Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m.;
Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Ratings: (out of four stars)
Key: $-under $10
$$-$10 to $20 $$$-over $20