words by JESSE LITTLE | food photos by ANNA PETROW
Kansas City is often referred to as the “Paris of the Plains” for its similarity to the wild party- like atmosphere of Paris, France, in the roaring ’20s, so to say Le Fou Frog is a Parisian bistro is a misnomer. This friendly, cozy restaurant-bar is the type of place you would find down by the Old Port in Marseille, not Paris.
Chef and proprietor Mano Rafael and wife, Barbara, met in New York City when she applied as a part-time bartender at L’Auberge du Midi, a restaurant owned by Mano and his brother, while she was pursuing an acting career. Mano comes from a chef family: his mother and uncle were both chefs in his native Marseille. Barbara, a Kansas City native, is a graduate of the Lee Strasberg School of method acting in New York. Working together, they discovered they had a lot in common and worked well together. When the
rent tripled in New York, they decided leaving for either Marseille or Kansas City was the answer. After visiting Barbara’s hometown, Mano fell in love with Kansas City and recognized there was not a restaurant in town with that modest, unassuming Provencal bistro feel.
The rest, as they say, is history. In 1995, the search began for a location. Barbara suggested the Plaza or Brookside, but Mano was certain the plain little-tan-block building, formerly a tavern, one block east of the River Market was the place. Mano even designed a bar that looked like one he knew of in Marseille. In 1996, Le Fou Frog opened and was an immediate success, despite being surrounded by mostly closed warehouses. In the early years, it became a destination restaurant for the many loyal customers that comprised its base; however, now with the renaissance happening in the River Market area, it is walking distance from the new residential developments. As it begins its third decade, Le Fou Frog continues to develop many new fans and friends.
The ambitious menu includes classic French cuisine that includes perennial favorites, such as: SOUPE À L’OIGNON GRATINÉE, a traditional French onion soup sweetened with port wine enriched with veal stock; QUEUE DE HOMMARD SAUCE VANILLE ET CHAMPAGNE, twin Maine lobster tails in a butter sauce of champagne and vanilla; and STEAK AU POIVRE, Kansas City strip encrusted in black peppercorns flambéed in Cognac with a sauce of veal stock, Madagascar green peppercorns, and cream, served with French fries. These three dishes will redefine your expectation of what onion soup, lobster, and steak with fries should taste like. The daily chalkboard includes 20-plus seasonal French offerings and dishes from other cuisines, which can include Dover sole, served whole and boned table-side; fish du jour; and elk, bison, and kangaroo; which all show the extreme depth of the talent in this kitchen. If the selections seem overwhelming, courteous servers are happy to carefully explain any item in detail and walk you through your choices. It is highly suggested to take your time and have fun, but if you are in a hurry, do tell your server; all items are cooked to order, and some take longer than others.
The selection of cocktails and bubbles is extensive and well made. You can even live your Moulin Rouge moment with glasses of green absinthe or choose from the fine selection of French wines. The bistro routinely presents patrons with special events. Come celebrate Bastille Day, a three-day celebration of French independence with two floorshows performed nightly by the staff and friends; or celebrate the holidays with Noel in Provence, a 13-course meal celebrating the Christmas foods and traditions in Provence. Plan to spend the entire evening savoring four- star food in a fun-filled atmosphere. Whether you dine indoors or on the Provence patio, enjoy your evening with exceptional cuisine and superior service.
The success of Le Fou Frog is attributed to Mano, the exceptionally talented chef, Barbara’s charming theatrical talent in the dining room, the kitchen staff and its Chef de Cuisine, Fatmir Paplekj, who has been with Le Fou Frog since he was 17, and the funny, talented, long-tenured dining room staff. Daily, the serving staff hosts a pre- opening tasting of new menu items, daily specials, and any new wines.
Barbara says to work here you have to be kind, smart, and funny, and if you are talented in the arts, it’s a plus. Everyone here is treated like family: it starts with the staff and extends to all who walk through the door. Customers never know when Barbara will announce, “Attention! Attention! Mesdames et Messieurs, for your dining pleasure… ” and your waiter, hostess, or pastry chef precedes to serenade you with song. These are talented people, and if you are a regular, they know your name, what you drink and eat, and your favorite table. They clearly enjoy entertaining, having a good time, and sharing their passion for food. So grab a cozy table, join in the festivities, and become a new friend, in an atmosphere that is relaxing and totally unpretentious.
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