A taste of Tuscany

Chef Wade takes Siena back to Italian roots

Written by Joe Stumpe

It's late afternoon in Siena Tuscan Steakhouse, that slow time of day when the staffs of better restaurants meet to discuss how they can up their game even more. There's talk of wine, food, service and the best combinations of both.

Someone brings up a review of Siena that's recently appeared in print, which heaped praise on Siena and its executive chef, Jeremy Wade.

I don't know the guy, and I didn't even pay him, Wade jokes. Maybe not, but Wichita diners know Wade and his food from years of cooking in such places as Uptown Bistro, Lakeside Club and the Candle Club.

The Ambassador Hotel, where Siena is housed, brought Wade on board this spring. He hit the ground running, judging by the aforementioned review, and is now tweaking things after leading the restaurant through the holidays and week-long insanity that gripped downtown during the Garth Brooks shows.

Wade's starting point is the fact that The Ambassador is the state's only Four Diamond hotel, as designated by the auto club AAA. He's out to make sure the restaurant meets the same high standards for every diner, every night.

One goal is to earn Siena an Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator, a distinction currently enjoyed by only two other Wichita restaurants.

Another is to bring even more authentic Italian dishes to the menu to complement the selection of steaks and chops. One example  Sugo di Cinghiale, which is braised wild boar with pappardelle, pine nuts, fennel and tomato. This is the quintessential Tuscan dish, Wade says. Siena makes most of its pasta in house, which lets Wade concoct dishes like wine-braised beef cheek ravioli, served with mushrooms, asparagus and horseradish brown butter.

Wade is excited about a couple of seafood dishes as well. The salmon, served with chili-lemon butter and crispy Yukon potatoes, comes from a glacier-fed open ocean pen in British Columbia. Mediterranean BBQ'd octopus starts with octopus that has undergone a special tenderizing process. By the time I braise them, they're fork tender, Wade said.

Siena caters to a lot of business travelers and discerning local diners who travel. There are plenty of upscale choices, such as five and eight-course tasting menus that Wade creates to order. The unpretentious chef wants everybody to give Siena a try, and the appetizer menu is a great entry point for doing so, especially during happy hour. For $4 to $6 you can choose from meatballs in Sunday gravy, wine-steamed mussels and the Tuscan burger  Black Angus beef topped with Cambozola cheese, pancetta, caramelized onion and tomato jam.

Wade also plans to offer Sunday night dinners built around porchetta  pork loin roasted insidepork belly  and half-price bottles of wine. It'll be a great value, he said.

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