Gaslamp Grille lights up dining

by Joe Stumpe | photography by Naama Marcos

Serious food? Check. Stylish setting? Check. Stuffy atmosphere? Sorry, but the owner of the Gaslamp Grille & Lounge says the latter isn't part of his vision for the Rock Road restaurant.

We're trying to present terrific food and a diverse selection of beverages in a casual setting, Whitney VinZant said.

Nevertheless, the striving for quality is evident as soon as you step in the front door. To the left is a glass-walled cooler where the Gaslamp's prime rib is given extra aging before being cooked for customers.

The dry aging process brings more flavor to the steak, VinZant said, neatly summing up a rather complex physical process. It can also make them more tender.

It's also something you generally only find in big-city steakhouses. But step through the curtains framing the dining room the effect is a little like stepping onto a stage and you'll see there's much more than steak to recommend the Gaslamp.

To the right is a raw bar brimming with fresh crab legs, shrimp and oysters stacked on ice. (Yes, the person working here gets his or her shoes damp). To the left, a long wet bar backed by aquariums and manned by friendly bartenders like Jennifer Nguyen, who's happy to mix your favorite cocktail or introduce you to another you've never had before.

On a recent day, she made an Absinthe cocktail for a visitor. It was nearly as much fun watching the preparation pouring the anise- flavored Absinthe through a sugar cube, setting the cube on fire, then dousing the flame with a little water as it was to drink. Nearly.

That task finished, it was time to take a look around the Gaslamp. For anyone who's been in the building in its previous incarnations as the Shadow and the Grape (and isn't that everyone in Wichita?) you won't recognize the place. The main dining room has been remade in a kind of 1920s speakeasy-meets-contemporary design, with dark wood, high ceilings, chandeliers, white tablecloths and a grand piano (for entertainment on weekends).

Up a marble staircase is a private party room that's proven so popular the restaurant has hired a special events coordinator. For good measure, it gives out onto a balcony offering gorgeous views of the sunset.

A downstairs patio presents a completely different, sports bar feel, with flat-screen TVs, a pool table and high-top tables.

VinZant and his director of marketing, Corey Gonzalez, said the Gaslamp building had been on their radar since the days when they drove past it on their way to Mt. Ka upan High School. The two worked on several of VinZant's previous restaurants, including Mike's Wine Dive and the Jimmy's Egg chain, before VinZant brought his longtime friend on board full-time for the Gaslamp.

As with any restaurant, the Gaslamp is only as good as its food.

The appetizer line-up is full of classics given their own twist by the Gaslamp kitchen. Like blue crab cakes served with pear jicama slaw and a sweet chilie beurre blank (browned butter). Pan-seared foie gras and a sea scallop accompanied by an apple bacon puree and balsamic reduction. Oysters Rockefeller, topped with crab meat, pancetta (cured in the same cooler as the prime rib) and spinach, finished with Hollandaise sauce.

Lobster bisque and soup du jour are other options for starters, along with several dinner salads.

The menu pairs seafood with starches and sauces in a number of enticing entrees. Lobster tail is removed from the shell and served in a creamy white wine-spinach mixture accompanied by sauteed sweet potato gnocchi. Cedar planked salmon is served with a vegetable-barley pilaf, topped with a deconstructed taboui salad and accompanied by tzatziki sauce. For lighter appetites there are entree salads.

VinZant doesn't want the Gaslamp pigeonholed as a steakhouse, but it's hard not to see steak as the main event, from the peppercorn-encrusted filet to the Tri Tip Oscar (topped with crabmeat and bernaise sauce) to the K.C. strip (accompanied by cognac demi glace) to the dry-aged ribeye. Also prepared on the grill are free-range chicken and duck, the latter lapped by a port wine demi glace and root vegetable cassoulet.

Dessert if there's room is a gran marnier souffle. As it's prepared from scratch, you'll want to order it with your entree for a timely arrival.

VinZant set the Gaslamp's prices low enough to keep it from being viewed exclusively as a place for special dates, anniversaries and other occasions. Items from the raw bar can be ordered by the piece, and lighter entrees range in price from $11.98 to 17.99.

I've opened 15 restaurants, VinZant said, I've never had one where people came in and said this is the best food they ever had. It happens five or six times a night.

For that, VinZant gives credit to his kitchen, headed by executive chef John Conklin. We have so much talent in our kitchen, he said.

We have people who come in and say they don't want to see a menu, they want us to create a meal for them. And we do it.

Gaslamp goodies

There's a special just about every day of the week at the Gaslamp:

Monday  Pairing for Pairs: appetizer, two entrees, dessert and select bottle of wine for $59 per couple; $5 martinis.

Tuesday  Boomtown chardonnay, Bonterra merlot and five more wines for $6 a glass.

Wednesday  $3 house pours, including Jose Cuervo, Dewars and Beefeater.

Thursday & Friday Bubbles and Legs': two crab legs and glass of Domaine Chandon Brut for $14; 50-ounce pitcher of seasonal mixes like Sapphire Sangria for $15 (Thursday only).

550 N. Rock Road,
Mon-Thurs: 4-10 p.m. Fri - Sat: 4-11 p.m.
Bar Open Later

live  |  shop  |  dine  |  play  |  home  |  magazine  |  calendar  |  about  |  your turn