A quick two-day trip to Kansas City seemed reasonableuntil I discovered how many great new places have opened. If I lived there, I'd be a regular at Aesthetica (1817 Wyandotte St.; 816-421-5455), a new design shop with wickedly well-chosen odds and ends like Bella Cucina condiments and blown-glass bowls and vases by Infinity. As I stood reading mock diary entries about a love affair that are scribbled on the wall, the clerk asked, "Do you want to have some fun?" Of course I did. So he put on a CD called Femmes de Paris and played "These Boots are Made for Walking" in French. Nearby, the new Hammerpress (1919 Wyandotte St.; 816-421-1929) stocks retro-cool stationery with slogans like "Strangers Need Coffee." I barely had time to drop my shopping bags in my minimalist suite at the Art Deco Hotel Phillips, built in the 1930s and recently renovated (from $120; 106 W. 12th St.; 800-433-1426), before I was off again.
But I did more than just shop; I ate extremely well too, and not just barbecue. Bluestem (900 Westport Rd.; 816-561-1101), created by Colby Garrelts and his wife, Megan, the pastry chef (both formerly of Tru in Chicago) is an intimate 14-table restaurant that could hold its own in any city. The chestnut soup with farro, Brie and lardons sounded dicey, but it was delicious: chestnut puree with artisanal Brie (not the bland supermarket kind), and chewy bacon bits. At Fervere bakery (1702 Summit St.; 816-842-7272), Fred Spompinato makes some of the best ciabatta and olive-rosemary bread I've ever tasted. And I even found glamorous-looking chocolates in a shop at the back of High Cotton furniture shop (118 Southwest Blvd.; 816-842-1300). Former pastry chef Christopher Elbow started selling candieslike a dark-chocolate dome infused with fresh mintthere last year.
I couldn't leave Kansas City without eating barbecue. "Burnt ends," or charred brisket bits, are a KC specialty, and the ones at five-year-old Fiorella's Jack Stack are fabulous: juicy, smoky and topped with a tangy tomato-based sauce (101 W. 22nd St.; 816-472-7427). I learned a restaurant doesn't have to be old to serve killer barbecue.