J.C. Nichols’ vision for the Spanish-inspired Country Club Plaza was sparked by a college summer trip. While touring the Continent by bicycle he fell in love with the charm of the Old World, Spain in particular. Now almost 100 years after its conception, the Plaza has a Spanish dining destination similarly inspired, brimming over with tapas, sangria and paella—República.
At 4807 Jefferson Street in the space formerly occupied by Ingredient, the latest installment of Kansas City’s own Bread & Butter Concepts is now open for business. Anyone following the K.C. dining scene will be familiar with at least one or two of their other concepts: Gram & Dun, Taco Republic (and the Truck), Urban Table, Ingredient and BRGR Kitchen + Bar. All of their establishments look great, and they certainly got the look right at República.
The décor is clean and modern with a few rustic flourishes, the generous space a little dark and cozy. It may not have bullfighting and flamenco, but at times the noise level is comparable to such Spanish events, a testament to the exuberant atmosphere.
The only miss—the servers have to wear rather ridiculous fedoras. The hats just seem out of place in an otherwise well thought out space. Fortunately, our servers were able to function with impunity, and sheepy-creamy Manchego and those wonderful Marcona almonds.
The flatbread is represented in Spain and at República by the coca. It’s basically a pizza originating in the Balearic Islands, but the Italians already claimed that word. We tried the mushroom coca, a long oval crust topped with sautéed mushrooms, charred fennel and onion, tangy dollops of goat cheese, and sweet tomato jam. The level of sweet categorized this as a dessert to me, but I know many people enjoy sweeter savory dishes. Out of curiosity and a love of all things “duck’” we ordered the duck leg confit with Spanish mole wing sauce. Let’s just say that a bunch of American guys doing a Spanish interpretation of a French dish—well, it speaks for itself.
With such an enormous coastline, a great variety of seafood finds its way into the cuisines of Spain. Even though we’re landlocked in the Midwest, it’s not difficult to find some satisfying representations of seafood here. Fans of octopus won’t want to miss one of the simplest and best octopus dishes in Kansas City. A generous portion of plump tentacles, finished on the grill, served over a bed of fingerling potatoes, pickled apple and lovely charred bits of Meyer lemon. Tasty, and it’s a great value.
If you’re looking for a little wow factor, try the tuna plancha. Traditionally, foods cooked “a la plancha” are cooked atop a griddle or sometimes roasted on a plank. Here skewers of ahi tuna and heirloom cherry tomatoes have been seared then placed under a little glass and infused with flavorful wood smoke.
I think the “plancha” here may have been the wooden plank that served as the clever serving platter. The tuna was accompanied by a pleasantly sweet and spicy XO sauce, but everyone at the table forgot to eat it with the tuna. We were all too interested in tasting the freshly smoked tuna.
If your appetite goes beyond a small plate or two, República also offers tapas grandes (the big plates) and a selection of special daily paellas. The tapas grandes include items like a rabbit frito, whole roasted fish and a lamb shank, but with so many interesting small tapas to try, we never made it to the large selections.
If there is only one dish that comes to mind when thinking of Spain, it would be paella. At República they offer two paella selections daily, priced per person with a two-person minimum. The service staff warns you that the paella takes about 35 minutes to cook, so if you’re interested, order closer to the beginning of your meal unless you have plans for a Mediterranean-paced dining experience.
Before I discuss paella, I need to share a few bits of information for the curious, especially for the food nerds. Like a good risotto in Italy, paella requires a very specific type of rice. The best rice for paella is Bomba rice, a short-grain rice cultivated in the eastern parts of Spain that the Spanish consider a necessity for paella. The cooking technique for paella differs from making risotto because the liquid is added all at once, instead of in small amounts at a time as in risotto. The Bomba rice has the fascinating ability to absorb two to three times its own volume of water without bursting, and the individual rice grains tend to hold their structure extremely well after cooking, endowing the finished paella with a texturally pleasing mouthfeel (not mushy).
At República, the paella is served tableside, the dish presented in the pan in which it was cooked. That’s actually important because while cooking, the paella forms a crust of toasted rice, the socarrat, on the bottom of the pan, which is scraped off when the paella is served. The crunchy bits are considered a textural necessity for a good paella.
During our visit they were featuring a savory air, land, and sea combination of P.E.I. mussels, chorizo, chicken and Anaheim peppers. The flavors melded into a cohesive—and filling—dish. We all cleaned our plates.
For a streamlined experience of República, try the República Express, an $18 three-course lunch featuring one cold tapa, a plato (choose from a selection of various bocadillos (sandwiches) pork, oyster, tuna or Merquez sausage, or the paella of the day) and a choice of dessert. Of the desserts, my choice would be the refreshing and light olive-oil ice cream. It is served with an intensely flavored grapefruit sorbet, crunchy fried salted almonds, grapefruit segments and a chewy bite of turrón, the Spanish version of nougat. It’s a conclusion to a meal that although not an actual visit to Spain will leave you with the echo of castanets in your ears and a sunny warm feeling inside.