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Archive for Thursday, August 22, 2013

Prepare to relax, savor at the most intimate restaurant in Lawrence

August 22, 2013

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Savannah Greiner, left, and Kellie Fagg enjoy an Asian fusion inspired dinner by chef Melinda Roeder at Cafe Beautiful, 730 Massachusetts St., Suite B, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013.

Savannah Greiner, left, and Kellie Fagg enjoy an Asian fusion inspired dinner by chef Melinda Roeder at Cafe Beautiful, 730 Massachusetts St., Suite B, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013.

This Vietnamese bun featuring sesame-marinated rice noodles with local greens, basil, mint, carrots, bean sprouts, candied pork slices and crushed peanuts is one of many flavorful dishes that patrons of Cafe Beautiful expect to enjoy during their dining experience.

This Vietnamese bun featuring sesame-marinated rice noodles with local greens, basil, mint, carrots, bean sprouts, candied pork slices and crushed peanuts is one of many flavorful dishes that patrons of Cafe Beautiful expect to enjoy during their dining experience.

Melinda Roeder, owner and chef of Cafe Beautiful, 730 Massachusetts St., Suite B, roasts corns as she prepares another course during a meal Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013.

Melinda Roeder, owner and chef of Cafe Beautiful, 730 Massachusetts St., Suite B, roasts corns as she prepares another course during a meal Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013.

Cafe Beautiful, 730 Massachusetts St., Suite B,  is a by appointment only Asian fusion restaurant serving couples and small groups by owner and chef Melinda Roeder.

Cafe Beautiful, 730 Massachusetts St., Suite B, is a by appointment only Asian fusion restaurant serving couples and small groups by owner and chef Melinda Roeder.

Cafe Beautiful, 730 Massachusetts St., Suite B, contains several guestbooks where diners have left their thanks after enjoying an Asian fusion inspired dining experience by chef and owner Melinda Roeder.

Cafe Beautiful, 730 Massachusetts St., Suite B, contains several guestbooks where diners have left their thanks after enjoying an Asian fusion inspired dining experience by chef and owner Melinda Roeder.

Through the unremarkable door at 730 Massachusetts St., up a creaky staircase, past the Hookah House and to the right, there’s another door you can’t enter without ringing the bell.

On the other side is one of the region’s most unique dining experiences.

At Cafe Beautiful, chef and owner Melinda Roeder schedules, shops, cooks and serves — one party at a time.

It’s not an underground restaurant — the location, while discreet, isn’t a secret, and you don’t need an invitation or membership to dine there. What you do need is a reservation, a couple of hours to relax and an open-mindedness about food.

“The focus is definitely on intimacy. I only like to do one table at a time — just to slow life down somewhat,” Roeder says. “It’s just a great night to sit back and not make any decisions.”

Jay and Pamela Joachim, of Baldwin City, have dined at Cafe Beautiful several times and have another reservation later this month.

Jay Joachim said they enjoy the intimate atmosphere, and the opportunity to talk to the friendly chef herself as each course comes out.

“We think that part of dining is the dining experience, not just food,” he said, adding, “but Melinda’s really an incredible chef.”

•••

Roeder serves parties of one to 14, often recruiting an extra server or two to help with the largest groups.

The food she serves is Asian fusion with an emphasis on seafood, which she flies in to ensure it’s fresh. Into that mix, Roeder throws seasonal items and local produce, which she picks up at the farmers market or even friends’ gardens. The current cost of a multi-course dinner is $70 per person, she said, and diners bring their own wine, beer and even playlists if they want.

Cafe Beautiful doesn’t have a menu. Meals are different for every party, every night. After talking with diners about allergies and dietary restrictions, Roeder said, she plans the courses and shops for ingredients, usually the day of the reservation.

“As soon as I know what can’t happen, then it’s endless possibilities,” she said.

Jenny and Robert Hill, new parents who just moved to Lawrence, celebrated their six-year wedding anniversary at Cafe Beautiful this month.

Jenny Hill found the restaurant on Yelp.com, and she said it had great reviews but she wasn’t sure what to expect. She was surprised when instead of ordering from a menu, Roeder — with whom Hill discussed her “long list” of dietary restrictions ahead of time — had the full meal prepared.

“She had already worked around all of my food allergies perfectly,” Hill said, “and everything was still super delicious, which is a rare occurrence for me.”

For the special occasion with the baby at home, Hill said, it was neat to be the only customers there.

“The atmosphere was very intimate, and very peaceful and calm,” she said. “It was a very romantic dinner experience.”

•••

On a recent evening, Roeder greeted a couple at the door, leading them through the softly lit room, past the fireplace and an Asian screen to their table-for-two at a picture window looking down on Massachusetts Street.

Votive candles flickered as Roeder opened and poured their wine. Over folded napkins and porcelain chopstick boxes, the couple talked and laughed as each dish came out of the kitchen.

Hot and sweet chili-garlic edamame. Butternut squash coconut curry soup, with sweet pepper, fresh cilantro and a curried-cashew crunch. Fruit salad with North Lawrence blackberries, raspberries and blueberries scattered among fans of thumbnail-sized peach slices as thin as fork tines. By 10 p.m., the 8:30 reservation was finishing up a compact, sophisticated version of Vietnamese bun — a cold rice noodle dish with slivered vegetables, basil, mint and candied pork — and had more courses to go, including a sweet corn crabcake, yellow fin tuna tower, curry-dusted steelhead trout and local blueberry sorbet.

Roeder said she’s had 38 engagements in her restaurant since she took it over from chef Ken Suken less than two years ago.

There’s a short stack of leather-bound guestbooks on the mantel, filled with hand-scrawled thanks for everything from anniversary dinners to special dietary accommodations to memories with family and friends.

Roeder, formerly a chef at Mariscos, was a regular at Cafe Beautiful before she bought it. The stories in those guestbooks and the tailor-made cooking are why she loves it.

“It was just an answer for creative freedom,” she said.

Comments

jonas_opines 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Did Chef Suken open up a new location, leave town, retire, or something? Just curious.

Always loved eating there, but left Lawrence while Suken was still running the place.

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shanep 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Mel is an amazing Chef, and as hospitable as they come. We ate at Cafe Beatiful about 6 months ago and can't wait to go back! This is a must try for all foodies.

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Beth Ennis 7 months, 3 weeks ago

would have liked a phone number or a link to make a reservation. I heard about this place from a friend a few years ago. They no longer live in town, but they absolutely loved it! I would love to surprise my husband with an evening there. I will go to yelp and I'm guessing I'll get the contact info there. Still wondering why the LJW didn't print it though.

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nugget 7 months, 3 weeks ago

One of those Yelp reviews is mine. I've eaten there three times under Chef Mel, headed back for #4 soon. It's hands down one of the finest dines in the region and has no equal in the price category that I've found if you include Lawrence, Kansas City and Topeka. I run a large community web site for a living and can tell you there's always two sides to the story for forums and review sites and one of them is rarely told.

Here's what I will tell you about Megan D.'s Yelp review from a lot of experience with Yelp and online communities:

The positive Yelp average is something like 80% for all reviews on the site by all members, all reviews, globally. The individual in question has a total of 12 reviews in 2 1/2 years: 7 one-star ratings, 4 five-star ratings, 1 four-star rating. That's pretty unheard of to be that out of balance on Yelp. People I know on Yelp would ignore this individual as unreliable, unstable, mostly angry. In addition, the individual is anonymous (I'm not, on Yelp, am on LJW). Many of the reviews are one-liners. Not enough description to have value. I have over 200 reviews and only managed five total 1-star ratings. My professional opinion is this individual maintains an account simply to trash businesses out of anger. Not defending CB, they may well have been asked to leave, but I'm betting there was a huge contribution on the dining party's part that involved more than food and is not getting told. Likely the most desirable result for both parties.

Someone above summed it up correctly. You don't base evaluations on Yelp on one review or reviewer. You base it on the total average. There are some businesses either so bad or so good that Yelp cannot have an impact on them. In this case, sorry, this reviewer only proved to many how unstable she is.

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ldvander 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm a Beer and Hot wings kind of guy, but I have no aversion to any kind of food. A Date took me to Cafe Beautiful and it was pretty damn amazing! At first I felt a little nervous like I was out of my element but after meeting the chef and settling in it was warm and comfortable and completely enjoyable. Far exceeded any expectation!

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farmgal 7 months, 3 weeks ago

No offense taken. Thanks, I missed that.

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farmgal 7 months, 3 weeks ago

What a unique idea for a business. Are they very expensive or about the same price as eating at any other good eatery in Lawrence?

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bmoody51 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Lawrence's finest restaurant....BY FAR. We have eaten there on several occasions and have introduced friends to the experience. This rivals any place anywhere for quality and ambiance. The article does not even mention Cafe Beautiful is in Wilt Chamberlin's old apartment. We have never had an inkling of a bad experience there. As I told Mel, "She has the ability to take foods I really don't care for, and make them not only edible, but "ask for seconds" good."

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PhilChiles 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Ok, I just went back to Yelp and checked out her other reviews, and I rest my case. The woman who says she was kicked out is truly a picky eater. Chipotle got one star too, as did several other businesses. Apparently an Italian restaurant in Olathe threatened to call the cops on her party. People like to abuse Yelp because it makes them feel important, so you gotta take those negative reviews with a big grain of salt.

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cowboy 7 months, 3 weeks ago

What is up with the LJW , we get mobile when not on a phone , hello , somethings wrong folks

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FarneyMac 7 months, 3 weeks ago

The commentariat probably wouldn't like it because it's not Olive Garden, but Cafe Beautiful is one of Lawrence's finest treasures. I was apprehensive when Chef Suken left, but Chef Mel is just as amazing as well. Reilly a world-class dining experience. Lawrence is lucky to have her, and we will certainly be back next time we're in town.

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Brock Masters 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Read the Yelp,reviews. One is very interesting if true.

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