Archive for October, 2010
Jeff needed to work in Iowa, so he reviewed the list of 2010 James Beard finalists and was surprised to find five finalists scattered amongst the potential nominees. One was a “lunch-only” place (Proof) one a pastry shop (La Mie) and two were full service restaurants located in downtown Des Moines, where Jeff was working (Centro and Lucca.) The fifth, Lincoln Café took some research. Tucked into a storefront in historic Mount Vernon, Iowa, it was two and a half hours east from Des Moines. Who would have thought that fabulous food was overflowing in the middle of America?
Jeff decided on a dinner at Centro. Des Moines was enjoying an unseasonably warm week and their comfortable sidewalk patio was buzzing. Late on an October Tuesday evening, the hostess was just able to squeeze him in! Boy was he lucky! The menu is structured to feed everyone. Need a salad? Check. Crave a pizza? Check. Want some appetizers, pasta or a sandwich? Check. Hungry and need a full-blown meal? Double check. Jeff started with the enjoyable and tangy Caesar salad (sorry Michele!) with house made croutons. Because of the late hour, the Chicken Prosciutto pasta beckoned and turned out to be a fabulous choice. The wood fired grill gives the dinning room a distinctive aroma and it was put to good use with the moist chicken breast pieces. A tint of sage enveloped the whole presentation, the sauce was creamy and the LaQuercia prosciutto (Iowa made from naturally raised, heirloom bred pigs) was heavenly. Dessert sounded great, but it was too late and he knew better than to try and tackle one solitaire.
After work, Jeff stayed in Des Moines long enough to enjoy their interesting art museum (Des Moines Art Center) with the main building designed by Eliel Saarinen and additions by I. M. Pei and Richard Meier. This intimate space houses a decent representative contemporary collection and most especially of interest to Jeff, Edward Hopper’s, “Automat.” Just as he finished reading about the wide collection of pieces in their downtown sculpture gardens, it was time to hit the road. Jeff was headed to the eastern edge of the state for his next meeting. Mount Vernon, it turns out was a fifteen minute detour and so he planned on an early dinner.
You would not expect to find a restaurant of the caliper of Lincoln Café in a town of this size. There are scores of these quirky old towns all over America. If you sneeze, you’re likely to miss it. That would be a shame. Jeff only wishes he could have spent more time there. Probably to insure another visit to the Lincoln Café for a second meal!
The chef, Matt Steigerwald apparently worked at restaurants on the east coast before following his true love to Iowa. Here, he found farm fresh ingredients and willing taste buds weary of fast food. Jeff arrived shortly after their 5:00 opening and already, most tables were full. They offered their remaining four-top table, but he suggested the bar stool to save them space. It proved to be an excellent vantage point from which to enjoy the culinary show.
The menu is slim, but not the reason the Lincoln Café pulls in a crowd. On the chalk board are the specials, derived from the fresh ingredients the chef just recently secured. Jeff started with beet soup. Smooth, creamy and just the right amount of kick, this was a perfect precursor of what is to expect. Dinner was a remarkably flavorful duck breast served over a crispy corn polenta with pureed arugula sauce. (Three specials were available, also offering roast chicken or an intriguing hanger steak entree.) Dessert was pumpkin pie, but nothing like mom ever made. Light and flavorful with spice ice cream, blueberries and chocolate sauce for a perfect ending to a welcome trip detour. By the time he left to resume his trip east, all tables were full and the wine bar next door and the bench outside housed folks eagerly waiting for the next available table. No reservations and no alcohol service are available at the Lincoln Café, only great, great food; and why else do you go out to eat?
With a full stomach, Jeff was able to complete all of his business tasks and avoid eating fast foods. Quite an accomplishment indeed! Want good food? You don’t need to go to New York or Chicago. Iowa will do just fine.
Save your money…buy good food!
http://www.centrodesmoines.com/ 1007 Locust Street Des Moines, IA 50309 515-248-1780
http://lincolnwinebar.com/ 117 First Street W. Mount Vernon, IA 52314 319-895-4041
We’ve tried to dine at Chinato a number of times, but unfortunately found it fully booked. After the new restaurant buzz had died down, we simply forgot. Luckily, the idea of lunch at Chinato popped-up on a beautiful Friday afternoon. We arrived LATE and the place was surprisingly empty. According to the hostess, the lunch crowd had already gone and we had the place to ourselves. Regardless, we were made to feel welcome and treated with excellent service in a friendly, congenial manner. None of this would matter however, if not for superior food and Chinato has that in spades. We love the other Zack Bruell restaurants and this edition measures up well.
Michele started with the tomato-bread soup, a rich flavorful start followed by skate wing alla Milanese, conversely light and delicate. Jeff began with the arugula salad with the surprising addition of julienne pumpkin, pumpkin seeds and roasted turnips! The addition of goat cheese and balsamic made this a real treat. Amarone (dry Italian red wine) braised beef served over creamy polenta and spinach was a different choice for him, but fully enjoyed. Together we shared the creamy and tasty Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Cake.
Deep down inside, we knew this would be a wonderful meal. Meal after meal after meal at Parallax, Table 45 and L’Albatros has raised the bar for Cleveland dinning. Chinato easily joins this illustrious crowd and we couldn’t be happier. Try it. We know you’ll enjoy the diverse and interesting menu selections.
List Status: Existing
Remember: We Twitter and Tweet as JeffMicheleEat!
http://chinatocleveland.com/ 2079 East 4th Street Cleveland, OH 44115 216-298-9080
Jeff was in Denver to attend the Energy Star Partner’s Meeting and took the opportunity to sample some mile-high food. What a treat. He had not expected such wonderfully prepared meals using such unexpected ingredient combinations. After visiting two of the city’s finest, Jeff can’t wait for a return trip.
Rioja is the James Bead nominated restaurant that has attracted a lot of national “buzz” for the city dining scene. Chef Jennifer Jasinski has created a menu with a decided Mediterranean bend and visual punch. Jeff started with the Watermelon Salad. A combination of yellow and ruby watermelon was served over a heart-of-palms puree and shiso (Japanese mint herb) vinaigrette. Just when you thought this might be boring, slightly spicy grilled shisito peppers were arranged over the cooling watermelon for a spark of controversy and an interesting palette tease.
Dinner was an easy choice. Colorado lamb prepared two ways. First a perfectly grilled lamb “T” bone and secondly house made lamb merguez (North African style) sausage patty. Couscous was deep fried into a crispy pocket and caramelized fennel sat along side. A tomato coulis accent and lemon yogurt sauce accompanied this vivid combination of flavor and textures.
Without Michele sitting on the other side of the table, dessert did not need to be chocolate, so Jeff took the opportunity to enjoy their Meyer Lemon Sabayon Tart that was prepared with a delightful pine nut corn meal crust and a side of lemon ice granita and ice cream with pine nut brittle. Jeff really enjoys lemon desserts and this was among the best.
Fruition, the other Denver restaurant with the national reputation was booked solid, so based on a recommendation from the hotel lobby bartender, Jeff tried TAG the next evening. What a surprise! If given a choice of only one meal in Denver, he’d recommend this place. That choice is primarily because of the inventive and amazingly tasty duck. The duck was separated into a quartet of boneless pieces with the confit scattered around, both served over grilled haricot vert and shitake mushrooms. The lilikoi (a type of passion fruit) mustard sauce sealed the deal and brought the dish together in an amazing way. It took immeasurable self control to avoid lifting the plate and licking it clean!
The appetizer and dessert were equally rewarding. Mozzarella and locally grown Rocky Ford Melon was topped with a spiral of La Quercia Prosciutto and oven roasted tomatoes. Perfect! Jeff’s non-chocolate dessert was Banana Crème pie with burnt orange sauce and Tahitian vanilla whipped cream. (Shaved chocolate was sprinkled over the top – don’t tell Michele!)
When planning a trip to Denver, Jeff never expected to encounter such delightful food. Now he can’t wait to return and try some of the other local hot spots. If you’re traveling there, consider doing the same.
http://www.riojadenver.com/ 1431 Larimer Street Denver, CO 80202 303-825-2588
http://tag-restaurant.com/ 441 Larimer Street Denver, CO 80202 303-996-9985