Des Moines Restaurants

Friday, December 30, 2005

Jimmy’s American Café
1238 8th Street
West Des Moines
Lunch: Monday through Friday 11 a.m-5 p.m.
Dinner: Sunday Through Thursday, 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday dinner till 11 p.m.
Brunch: Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m; Sunday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Jimmy’s American Café has always been somewhat of a mystery – the place is always packed but several trips for both lunch and dinner indicate the crowds and apparent loyalty has to be based on something other than a great dining experience. Menu prices are high considering the quality of the food served. Dinner entrees are $14 for chicken and $24-26 for higher end beef dishes. A full rack of back ribs is $21 and pasta dishes are in the $15 range.

“A” has eaten at Jimmy’s on several occasions for both lunch and dinner. Lunch has generally included a dish that features Jimmy’s signature chicken fingers, a deep fried presentation of moist, meaty tenders served with honey mustard dressing. Dinner outings have sampled prime rib and pasta entrees. “D” has only experienced lunch at Jimmy’s and that lunch will be the main issue in this review.

Before we launch into our experience, “A” would like to caution diners ordering the prime rib, if you like it medium rare, order it rare. “A”’s request for medium rare brought a plate that was medium and then some, lacking in flavor and bordering on tough. The cut also was very fatty.

The décor at Jimmy’s hasn’t changed much in several years – it is sort of pubby-clubby – comfortable booths and tables. The only thing that is mildly irritating is the white paper used for table toppers. We would rather have a nice laminate top table rather than the stiff white butcher paper. Thankfully, our server was not compelled to write her name upside down with any of the crayons residing in a cup in the center of the table. Wait staff is adequate although we had the distinct impression, our server would rather have been elsewhere doing something more enlightening – like knitting milk bottles, for example. There were no inquiries about our meal once it was served, no offers for refills on iced tea and the check presented without so much as a “thanks”.

“A” ordered the chicken fingers on greens salad and “D” decided to try the grilled salmon salad. The chicken fingers on greens lived up to prior experiences however many of the greens in the salad base were well past their prime. There is just no excuse for serving greens that are slimy and finding crisp nuggets of lettuce that didn’t taste like they had sat in an open refrigerator were far and few between.

There is something amiss when you can smell your lunch before it arrives at the table and we don’t mean that in a good way. Both of us could smell the salmon on “D’s” salad almost when it came from the kitchen. Being a good sport and a kindly person, “D” ate some of it and said, while it was not spoiled, it wasn’t really as fresh as it should have been. Again, the greens used as the base for the salad were also past their prime.

Aside from marginal food and indifferent service, we had one other real surprise during our luncheon at Jimmy’s. A party of four was seated in a nearby booth and one member of the party brought in her dog to lay at her feet while she ate. Maybe we missed a new law on the books that permits something other than service animals in restaurants but we think not. If it is too cold or too hot to leave your pet in the car, leave it at home or eat at a drive-in. Lest we judge too hastily, perhaps this woman owned one of the rare seeing eye Yorkshire Terriers one hears about so often. Let us simply say that dogs do not belong in restaurants…cats maybe and perhaps the occasional Cockatiel but definitely not dogs!

If you’re in the mood for dining with crowds of people on really marginal food served by indifferent wait staff, Jimmy’s is just your cup of tea.

Rating 1
Quality; marginal
Service: poor
Value; moderate
Recommended: no

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Trostel’s Greenbriar Restaurant and Bar
5810 Merle Hay Road
Johnston, IA
Phone: 515-253-0124
Dinner beginning at 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Lunch is served daily from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Twilight menu 5-6:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday

Trostel’s Greenbriar is one of those great restaurants where you can go comfy or to celebrate a special occasion wearing your best bib and tucker. The menu offerings include the usual line up of steak, chicken and prime rib as well as fish, pasta and seafood. Trostel’s also has escargot en croute, elk, rack of lamb and duck a l’orange as a welcome addition to the more traditional line up of fare. Table settings at the Greenbriar always include crisp, white linen table cloths and napkins, fresh flowers on the table and very nice levels of lighting throughout the restaurant. Seating during the summer months is also available on the very pleasant patio.

While our review is limited to our dinner experiences, Trostel’s also has a complete lunch menu offering meal sized salads, chicken, beef, fish entrees and sandwiches.

The biggest problem you will have at The Greenbriar is deciding which of the many offerings to try. Appetizers include the aforementioned escargot en croute in addition to seared ahi tuna, smoked pork tenderloin with chipotle cream, crab stuffed mushrooms with béarnaise sauce and chili pomegranate barbeque beef short rib, just to name a few.

All dinners are served with soup or salad, vegetable, bread and choice of baked potato, garlic mashed, rice pilaf or steak fries. Most entrees are in the $15-18 range with the menu topping out at $43 for the filet mignon and lobster combination. Most of the steaks, rack of lamb and prime rib are $18-30. The bread basket is always a surprise with an unusual artisan loaf included with the sourdough or boule. Salads are generous, crisp and beautifully arranged on cold plates.

“A” is particularly fond of Trostel’s beef dishes. Steaks and prime rib are superb, thick, well trimmed cuts full of flavor and almost fork tender. This is another restaurant that cooks its beef to the correct level of doneness so the diner does not have to second guess whether medium rare is going to arrive rare or medium – it will be a beautifully pink medium rare, as requested. The duck is also excellent, as is the rack of lamb. Trostel’s tempura fried shrimp are among the best “A” has ever enjoyed anywhere. Shrimp are also available charbroiled or Cajun style.

“D” enjoys the Broiled New Zealand Orange Roughy as well as the filet of salmon served with Hollandaise. Fish is beautifully prepared – always moist and flaky and full of flavor. Greenbriar also has grilled halibut steak served with a lemon dill cream sauce as well as a potato crust baked salmon served with saffron chive butter. Both are excellent dishes.

For those wishing to spend less and eat a lighter version of the full menu, Trostel’s offers their “Twilight Dining” menu, Monday through Thursday from 5-6:30 p.m. Most of the entrees on the Twilight menu are in the $14-16 range.

The presentation of all the food is among the best in Des Moines, but the desserts are artistic masterpieces of the almost too pretty to eat variety. However, the awe is short lived when either chocolate, tiramisu or crème brulee is involved so dig in.

All of the wait and bus staff at Trostel’s are seasoned professionals who go about their jobs without intruding at all on your dining experience. Meals are well paced so you do not feel like you are being rushed, nor are courses presented at too slow a pace.

The only word of caution we would offer regards the lounge area. If you have to wait for a table and the smell of cigar smoke bothers you, you may wish to wait for your table elsewhere. Whether it is an impromptu dinner out or a special occasion, head for Trostel’s Greenbriar for one of Des Moines’ most pleasant and delicious dining experiences.

Rating: 4 Absolutely!
Quality: Top quality
Service: Top quality
Value: Top value
Recommended: Absolutely!

Chuck’s Italian American Restaurant
3610 Sixth Avenue
Des Moines, IA
Phone: 515-244-4104
Hours: 4:30 – midnight, Monday through Thursday
4:30 till 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Chuck’s Italian American Restaurant is one that enjoys icon status in Des Moines but we’re not quite sure why. The arrangement of the restaurant is like a rat maze which some probably feel is part of its funky charm. There are some areas of the place where there is an odor in the air that is akin to a musty basement.

The pizza kitchen is in a window area off the alleged non-smoking section. Wait staff places orders for pizza there and pick it up to be served – more about that later. Perhaps it is due to the Topsy-like environment at the restaurant but the smell of cigarette smoke is pervasive, including the non-smoking area.

The evening we ate at Chuck’s, the dinner hour was just beginning and the one server in our area seemed flustered and overwhelmed that three tables were seated almost simultaneously. We were given menus to review but requests for iced tea went unanswered until a third request was made. The menu is huge – everything you might want from steaks and chicken to pasta and pizza.

“A” ordered Chuck’s famous pan fried chicken and, while the chicken is nicely prepared, the inclusion of the back of the chicken remains somewhat of a mystery. If it is just so it looks like more than you get somewhere else, for the measly bit of meat on the piece they would be better off to throw it into the stock pot and use it to make soup. “D” ordered a sausage and pepper dish from the appetizer men which arrived swimming in oil. Dinner salads are laughable. Iceberg lettuce is served on what passes for a bread plate in most restaurants. The salad tastes as though it has been sitting too long in a refrigerator that has something bad in it. French fries that came with the chicken were unremarkable and unmemorable.

About the pizza – the crust is very thin – so thin you could probably read a book through it. The application of tomato sauce is miserly with cheese and other additions falling in to the adequate but not generous arena. What we noticed throughout the evening was the number of pizza’s that came out of the oven with badly scorched crust. We saw several tables that had ordered pizza ate most of it but left the badly scorched pieces on the plate, declining a take home box for the burnt remains.

The other issue with the pizza window is its proximity to other diners. During our visit, several of the wait staff languished in the area while waiting for pizza’s to come out of the oven. Servers visited with the pizza cook about everything from their marital problems to who wasn’t pulling their fair share on that particular shift. Perhaps some would say it adds to the quirky “flavor” of Chuck’s but we found it an intrusive and unwelcome element of our dining experience.
To sum up our review of Chuck’s based on our own experience compared with the recommendations of others, it is a restaurant that is like lamb meat; you either love it or you hate it with nothing in between. Unfortunately, we would have to say our visit fell into the “hated it” arena. This establishment may well be one that has rested on its laurels for too long. Serious consideration should be given to what can be done to bring it back to what people expect from a place run by a family with such a distinguished name in the Des Moines restaurant world as Bisignano.

Rating; 1
Value: Low
Quality: Poor
Service: Bad
Recommended: No
Best Alternative: just about any other Italian Restaurant in Des Moines

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Urban Grill
3651 86th St
Urbandale, IA
Phone: 515-278-1016
Open daily Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m.
Close at 10 p.m. except Friday and Saturday, close at 11 p.m.

“D” and “A” are always on the lookout for comfortable, great, neighborhood restaurants and a trip to The Urban Grill certainly filled the bill. The restaurant is owned by the same people that have Nick’s Bar and Grill in Clive and Skip’s, on Des Moines southside. Despite the fact that the building used to be a Hardee’s, once inside the diner is surrounded by comfortable, dark paneling and a choice of seating at either booths or tables. Just one little note of caution, although it wasn’t a major issue, if it is cold, you might want to avoid the table by the front door if incoming breezes bother you.

We were greeted promptly and cordially by the hostess and immediately offered a table. We opted to have a glass of wine in the bar which we found to be very comfortable – pleasant music played over the sound system but was not intrusive, wine by the glass was reasonable and pours were generous. When we finished in the bar, we were graciously ushered to our table for dinner.

Our server brought water and took orders for beverages while we perused the menu choices. There are no tablecloths or placemats but each place setting includes a generously proportioned napkin. Lighting is pleasantly romantic without being dark. In fact the entire restaurant has a pleasant, warm glow throughout. Each table also boasts a good peppermill-- a welcome departure from the server that interrupts your conversation to offer “fresh pepper” from a mill the size of a small city in Rhode Island.

The menu has something to suit every taste and appetite – prime rib and steaks, several chicken dishes, fish and seafood, pasta and meal-sized salads abound. On our way to the table, we saw a hamburger on its way to a lucky diner. The burger looked plump and juicy and was topped by a beautiful cascade of golden onion rings. “D” ordered orange roughy and “A” decided to try the prime rib. Both of us had salads which arrived on large oval plates, cold, crisp and tossed with their dressing, rather than the cold metal cup of dressing on the side. “D”s’ roughy was beautifully prepared – white as snow, flaky and moist with a side of well prepared mixed vegetables.

In many restaurants we order our beef rare and receive it cooked medium rare. At The Urban Grill such tactics are unnecessary. “A”’s prime rib was ordered medium rare and it arrived perfectly prepared. A generous cut of excellent beef was presented which was full of flavor and extremely tender. French fries were crisp and plentiful but the beef was so good, the fries were an afterthought for “A”.

Service at The Urban Grill is excellent – cordial, knowledgeable and not the least intrusive. Dishes from completed courses are quickly and quietly removed, water glasses are refilled and inquiries about our satisfaction were well-timed.

Both of us were completely satisfied with our dinners and left no room for dessert.

“A” had lunch with a friend at The Urban Grill. The lunch menu offers a wide array of salads and sandwiches as well as some pasta dishes. “A” ordered a Cobb Salad and a dining companion had the rarebit burger and fries. The Cobb Salad was an excellent mix of crisp greens topped with lots of chicken, bacon, hard boiled egg and avocado along with a generous helping of blue cheese crumbles. The rarebit burger was prepared as ordered and the cheese sauce was rich and velvety.

Prices at lunch and dinner are reasonable, especially when one considers the size of portions and the excellent quality of the food. Lunch salads and sandwiches are $6-9 and dinner entrees ranging from $9 to $20. Both lunch and dinner experiences at The Urban Grill were memorable and will certainly merit many return trips in the future.

Rating: 4 Yes
Value: Good Value
Quality: Excellent
Service: Superb
Recommended: Yes

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tursi’s Latin King

Bob and Amy Tursi, Owners
2200 Hubbell Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50317

Where to begin? The beginning, of course. “A” and “D” went to the Latin King for the first time for dinner on a Saturday afternoon about 5 P.M. We had been there previously for lunch (which was delightful) and wanted to experience dinner before writing a review.

The large, almost always crowded parking lot at the east side location tells you this is a popular and successful restaurant. The entrance, a courtyard design with a long ramp invites you through the overhead vines to the main door. The moment you are through the door, the greetings are profuse and sincere. These are real people who are genuinely pleased that you have come to their restaurant. The owners, Bob Tursi and his wife, Amy Tursi, are there with a friendly smile and a warm invitation to the table. Tursi has a sparkle in his eye that reflects hospitality and tells you he loves being a restaurateur; it also absorbs everything that is going on in the restaurant. As “A” and “D” were being escorted to the table, Bob was heard to say in passing to a member of the staff, “A little spill on the family’s table over there” and it was immediately attended to with speed and precision. Bob seems to be in every room of the restaurant and in the lounge, always making sure the customer is comfortable, served and happy. The Tursi’s honor the title of ‘Host.”

Comfortable tables and chairs; the booth tables are fixed to the floor and those of us with more girth (most of Iowa) probably will not be able to adjust the ‘table-to-tummy’ distance. The décor is authentic Italian family history, not the faux-Italian nonsense in places like the Bucca de Beppo’s. You know this restaurant has stood for something for a long time and it is proud of its heritage. The restaurant has a variety of different rooms, some large, some intimate. The lounge is spacious and has tables for dining, if desired. A fully-stocked bar and lots of attentive bar service is provided.

As soon as we were seated, the quiet, totally professional services began. Water glasses were filled with a friendly smile, and never were allowed to empty; yet, the service is unobtrusive and seamless. The very engaging wait person—a true, experienced professional—welcomed us and took our order for glasses of Chianti which arrived almost immediately. Other servers were waiting in their sections for diners to arrive and, interestingly, were observed to endlessly straighten napkin placements, arrange the shades on the table lamps, align glasses, and otherwise take professional pride in their tables. These are older, experienced professionals and it is clear that service means something and is important at Tursi’s Latin King.

The menu is large and intriguing with a sufficiency of choices for anyone. It includes an array of appetizers and features the house specialty, Antipasto, along with an interesting Shrimp Angela. Both are excellent, prepared perfectly and generous. Choices include a large variety of dishes in main categories of Pasta, Veal, Beef, Fish and Seafood, Chicken, House Specialties, Salads, and Desserts. There is also a Family Menu that offers full-dining combinations for larger groups and parties. The menus are ‘fully-furnished’ to say the least.

One of the signature dishes is Chicken Spiedini featuring marinated pieces of chicken breast, char-broiled with Amogio, a special, Latin King marinade. “A” and “D” had both enjoyed this dish for lunch previously and can recommend it absolutely.

The variety of dishes is planned to meet almost all tastes—there are, for example, three chicken liver dishes which are almost never seen; also, for the non-explorer diner, there’s fried chicken. The fish and seafood dishes include a number of shrimp dishes, as well as walleye pike, salmon, and orange roughy. Veal dishes abound! And, of course, there is a Steak DuBurgo, as well as other steak choices.

Salads were excellent—fresh, crisp, cold—and the creamy parmesan dressing is superb.

“A” ordered the Chicken Sorrentina and Filet Mignon Marsala. It was accompanied by a unique potato croquette, crispy outside and moist and flavorful inside, an imaginative addition. The chicken breast is done with Prosciutto and a light tomato sauce with melted mozzarella cheese. The filet mignon was perfectly prepared, a precise medium-rare, and the beef was full of flavor and tender. “A” gave the dish great compliments and rated it as high value for around $20.

“D” ordered the broiled Walleye Pike with fresh vegetables. This produced a delicious, large 10-ounce filet, broiled to perfection and exquisitely flaky and moist. The broccoli was vibrant green, al dente, and excellently prepared. Superb dish for about $16.

Dessert had to be Tira-Mi-Su and it is decadent and delicious. Our server deftly sold us on trying it and she was right: the best in Des Moines! Large portion, perfect for two people with some left over. Also, cappuccino and espresso are served.

Service is absolutely professional and flawless; experienced and solid. Everywhere you turn, the smiles are genuine and the warmth is real, not scripted or rehearsed.

Rating this restaurant requires that we accept it for the class of restaurant is in and not for how it compares to small, boutique restaurants, such as Sage or Mosaix. This is a large, family-oriented, high-volume restaurant that does not pretend to be gourmet or bistro-like, although it clearly has a Master Chef and staff in the kitchen. It serves superb food and focuses on the customer and service with a goal of delivering value and enjoyment. Among its restaurant type, it is head and shoulders above the rest and is a Five Star from beginning to end. Whether a large gathering, dinner for two, lunch, or a stop in the bar for a glass of wine and a sandwich, you won’t find better than Latin King.

Rating: 4 Absolutely! 1 = No 2 = Maybe 3 = Yes 4 = Absolutely!
Quality: Top quality
Service: Top quality
Value: Top value
Recommended: Absolutely!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tumea and Sons

1501 Southeast 1st St
Des Moines, IA 50315

There is a little treasure just south of the I-Cub stadium in Des Moines called Tumea and Sons Restaurant. Every city in the world should have a place like this in their neighborhood. The place recently received a needed facelift in the form of fresh paint, wallpaper and new upholstery on the booths. The wonderful pictures of the family still adorn the walls along with maps of Italy, but they are more artfully arranged than the past, rather scattered display.

Tumea’s has a large bar area which is also the smoking section for dining. There are generally lots of regulars coming and going at the bar and in the restaurant throughout the evening creating a pleasant, almost familial buzz in the place the moment you walk through the door. The non-smoking area is a combination of booths and tables and chairs that can accommodate an intimate party of two on up to a very large group. The wait staff is cordial, professional and non-intrusive. There is piped in music—Dean Martin, Al Martino and others of that ilk but, like the wait staff, it is not intrusive and does not interfere at all with conversations.

The menu is full of Southern Italian favorites including Brashiole, Italian meat stuffed and rolled, served over pasta and Pastachena, a dish made with mostaccioli, meatballs, and hardboiled egg served casserole style. The usual round up of dishes like Scampi, Fettuccini Alfredo and spaghetti and meatballs also appear on the menu along with a big selection of chicken and veal dishes. Portions are generous but if you think you can squeeze in a little extra, try the onion rings as an appetizer. They are among the best in the city. The calamari is also exceptional—crisp, sweet rings served with a nice aioli type sauce. Salads are not exceptional—iceberg with your choice of dressing; the creamy parmesan is the house special and it is good. Hot homemade rolls are served with all dinners and they are delicious, but eat them while they are still warm for maximum enjoyment.

“A’s” favorites here include Tumea’s fried shrimp, chicken DeBurgo and their spaghetti. The fried shrimp are quite large, dipped in a very light batter and fried to a beautiful crisp finish. The chicken deburgo is a nice alternative to the steak version, which Tumea’s also has on the menu. It is served in a good and garlicky wine sauce that is not so rich that it overwhelms the delicacy of the chicken. Tumea’s spaghetti marinara is just a delight. The steaming mound of pasta is never overcooked and the sauce is a nice rich, fresh tasting tomato version seasoned with just the right amount of Italian spices.

“D” is particularly fond of Tumea’s veal dishes, all of which are well prepared using quality veal—pale white and fork tender. Veal Asparagus is a dish that is created with love balancing the delicate veal scallops with perfectly cooked fresh asparagus in a lemon and wine sauce.

Tumea’s offers desserts including their famous ‘peaches,’ a cream filled cake concoction that does look like a peach. Most of the time dinner is so satisfying, dessert is not a high priority. The casual, laid-back atmosphere at Tumea’s creates a comfortable environment for lunch or dinner and is especially enhanced if papa Joe Tumea happens to be in the restaurant. Always the genial host, he stops at each table to inquire about the meal or share a funny story or two. On a recent trip, “D” ordered Veal Asparagus but the meal delivered was Veal Marsala. The error was called to the attention of the waitress who apologized profusely. She rechecked the order she placed with the kitchen and found she had, indeed, ordered the Asparagus. No matter—the correct dish appeared within minutes, again with apologies. Before “D” took the first bite, the manager appeared, apologized for the error and his meal was on the house. This was a gracious and unexpected gesture in today’s world that appears so often to have little care for customer satisfaction.

If you are in the mood for good southern Italian food in a comfortable, homey atmosphere that doesn’t cost a king’s ransom, head over to Tumea’s.

Rating: 3 Yes
Value: Good
Quality: Good
Service: Good
Recommended: Yes

Jesse’s Embers

3301 Ingersoll
Des Moines, IA 50312

“A” has only eaten at two restaurants in that allowed – no, make that encouraged – diners to enter through their kitchen. That gesture by your host at Jesse’s speaks volumes about the pride you sense everyone has in the restaurant. The view of the kitchen isn’t just what they want you to see – you see the prep tables, the dishwasher and the cooking area, excluding the grill which is in the main dining area. Your welcome to Jesse’s begins as you walk past the kitchen – the dishwasher and prep cooks all offer a “hello” as you pass through to the dining room.

Décor in Jesse’s is comfortable, leaning to what we can only describe as an outdoorsy guy motif. Lots of framed Maynard Reese originals deck the walnut paneled walls. Booths line one wall of the restaurant with the remaining seating at tables for two or four. Jesse’s however, is not about décor, it is about great food!

Once inside, your host, Rob Roush, who is Jesse’s son, will promptly welcome you and offer seating in the restaurant. If the restaurant is full, there is frequently room for you to wait at the bar where Rob will make sure you are comfortable until a table is available. The bar is well stocked, the pours are generous and service is attentive without being obsequious. As far as ambience is concerned, the only downside is that Jesse’s is a restaurant that allows smoking. You notice the smell when you arrive, however it is not oppressive and the food is so good that “A” and “D” are willing to tolerate it for the dining experience. If you have to wait for a table at Jesse’s about the only place to wait is in the bar as there is virtually no waiting area per se.

When you do get to your table you are in for a real treat as the wait staff at Jesse’s are all seasoned professionals, many of whom have worked there for years. They are definitely not of the “Hi, my name is Bethany and I’ll be your service person tonight” school. They do not tell you their name, but they do offer a menu, fill up your water glass, bring your drinks, and serve your food promptly and professionally. One person will bring your menu and that same person will be with you through every course of your dinner before bringing your check. They also remember everything you ordered – none of the “let’s see now, who had the whitefish?” you get at restaurants where a plethora of staff are part of your meal event. You know the ones I mean, where “Biff” brings the menu, “Barb” takes your order, “Brad” will bring your wine, and “Quasimodo” is the runner bearing your food from the kitchen. Not at Jesse’s – one table, one wait staff person. They keep an eye on you without being the least bit intrusive. Water glasses are promptly refilled, dirty dishes are cleared and inquiries are made about another drink or glass of wine without interrupting the flow of your conversation.

The menu is not huge but offers enough variety to please virtually every palate. Beef is, of course, the main event. Steaks ranging from a seven-ounce small filet mignon up to a sixteen-ounce center cut New York Strip. The grill is in full view of the restaurant and it is clear that the cooks know how to prepare a superb piece of beef. Steaks are almost fork tender and cooked to absolute perfection. One of Jesse’s signature dishes is London Broil, which is available as either a sandwich or an entrée portion. If you ever are craving a really great hamburger, head for Jesse’s. Their Emberburger is a full eight ounces and, again, is cooked on the grill by masters.

Jesse’s portions are generous but, if you think you can squeeze in a little something extra, their onion rings are grand. They are hand-sliced and prepared with their own special breading mix. Once you start eating them, it is difficult to stop. Unlike so many of the heavily breaded rings one is often served, these really taste like onions!

Jesse offers a full rack of smoked loin back ribs. These are not the ‘meat-falling-off-the- bones’ steamed variety served in so many establishments. They are full of smoky flavor, meaty and are not soggy. The barbeque sauce is baked on the ribs so it does not appear as a ‘slathered on at the last minute’ addition. The salad preparation area is also in full view of the diner providing a glimpse of the mounds of fresh crisp greens and accompaniments used. Salad dressings are all delicious, particularly the house special, creamy garlic. And they make their own incredibly good, handcrafted croutons.

From the kitchen, Jesse’s beer-battered shrimp and lobster tails are stuff of which dreams are made. The batter is almost tempura like -- crisp and fried to a delicate gold. The lobster and shrimp meat is fresh, firm and sweet. Fish offerings include Orange Roughy Florentine, Charbroiled Yellow fin Tuna, Halibut, Walleye served broiled or fried and baked Whitefish, and all are done with a Master’s touch.

All dinners include salad, bread and your choice of baked potato, cottage fries, French fries or pasta salad. My personal favorites are the cottage fries – thin slices of new potatoes cooked till they are golden brown and have just the right amount of crunch.

Sides of asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, spinach and wild rice are available for a modest additional cost. The menu also includes entrée sized Greek, chicken and shrimp salads for those so inclined. Servings of all food items are generous with prices for most entrees below $20. The restaurant also serves lunch with many of the dinner items on the menu in smaller portions at a reduced price.

The wine list is not big or exceptional however prices by the glass or bottle are very reasonable. Jesse’s pour by the glass is generous, and full bottle prices are in the $18-30 range.

Desserts – “A” is sure they offer something but every meal ever eaten at Jesse’s has been so satisfying that dessert was the last thing on “A’s” mind.

“A” and “D” have eaten at all three Jesse’s locations but the original place on Ingersoll is still our favorite. It has a kind of funky charm and warm welcome that just isn’t present at their other locations. Besides that, how many times do you get to see the kitchen of the restaurant where you are dining?

Rating: 4 Absolutely!
Value: Top Value
Quality: Superb
Service: Superb
Recommended: Yes

Friday, December 02, 2005

Trostel's Dish

12851 University Avenue
Clive, IA

Wow! This is a restaurant that has all five of its stars already in place. The decor is Chicago chic . . . even New York chic. The service is excellent. The bar is alive and exciting.

But . . . the food gets the top billing at this unique palace of gourmandise. The array of tapas is bountiful and highly original. The dishes and presentation live up to the eponymous name of the restaurant. And then there are the flavors . . . Superb culinary creations of flavor-induced masterpieces of fresh ingredients conducted by a master chef and assembled into delights that dazzle on the plate and the palate.

The wine list is a Des Moines treasure. Even the little-known Las Rocas de San Alexandro, an obscure Spanish Garnacha from Calatayud to which Robert Parker gave a 93 rating, stating "may be one of the best wines in my experience." The Fess Parker sirah is out of this world . . . and the prices are fair and reasonable.

Perhaps the best part (at least an attractive part because everything here is "Best") is two people can share six or seven incredible tapas selections, several great wines, a very generous desert (try the chef's signature chocolate cake), all served with professional attentiveness without obsequiousness or banal chatter . . . and spend about $70-80 . . . absolute top value!

This is a restaurant to sample liberally and frequent often. There is energy and joy and superb food; clearly management is totally dedicated to the customer having a great experience. This is restaurateuring as it should be done . . . and to have this delight in Des Moines is a diner's delight and privilege.

"A" ordered six tapas over two visits: caesar salad, shrimp tempura, martini steak, pomme frits with truffle oil, cracker-bread pizza, and the Graziano sausage. "D" tried shrimp seviche, calamari, tilapia, prosciutto-wrapped Medjool dates, sauteed spinach and crab cakes. All were exquisite and each was a mini-festival of flavors. Food prepared this well is rarely found, even in the 'star' gastrodomes fronted by world-celebrity chefs. Both "A" and "D" believe the best restaurants in this hemisphere are found in Montreal, and Dish's food creations are every bit an equal to the best of Quebec's French-inspired two and three-star restaurants. Dish has a very skilled and talented chef and kitchen staff.

On both occassions, service was near-impeccable: fully-attentive and nearly transparent, leaving the dining experience at the direction of the customer not the server. If there is a small improvement to be made, it is having the kitchen food runners know exactly which diner gets which dish--and in what order--as there are so many different selections to come to the table. It looks to "A" and "D" like the best servers in Des Moines are competing to join Dish.

"A" and "D" try not to overly linger with one or two tapas selections and a glass of wine, thereby unfairly stretching an evening into hours at the expense of waiting diners and the restaurant's 'turns' of the tables. That is a tempting way to dine here, we are certain. But, this is a serious restaurant and deserves a bit of consideration from the diners in return for the tremendous consideration from the staff and management. We spend time in full enjoyment of the food, but then move to the bar for another glass or two of great wine and the attentiveness of a superb bar staff. And take a look at the astounding way the back-bar shelves are suspended on thin wires . . . fascinating!

Dish has live music several evenings of the week. The sound system dishes up some really great tunes--Dean Martin, Sinatra, and the ilk--yet conversation is never impaired by the sound levels. The energy here is uniquely crackling while elegantly understated . . . matching the decor and the ambience and what has to be one of the sharpest and most astute sensitivities to restaurant design and operation in Des Moines.

Rating: 4 Absolutely! (Ratings: 1 No; 2 Maybe; 3 Yes; 4 Absolutely!)
Value: Top Value
Quality: Superb
Service: Superb
Recommended: Yes

Alternatives: None with creative food this good. If, however, you can't get a table, Mosaix is a great alternative and only a short drive from Dish.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Chef's Kitchen

1903 Beaver Avenue
Des Moines IA 50310

We tried this restaurant for the first time on a Tuesday evening about 5:30 P.M. We were seated without a wait and the hostess was very pleasant and willingly explained the house specialty and the evening's special offers. A large vase containing fresh-baked cookies sits on the long, full bar as you enter which, as an amuse bouche, seem to promise good things to come. Several diners were seated already munching on a "Welcome" cookie. On second thought, maybe they are "Thank You for Coming" cookies, sort of an alternative to mints.

There are a number of booths lining the perimeter of the room and tables in the center, somewhat close together. We chose a table. The chairs are comfortable, straight-back, dark wood without arms. The 'no arms' feature is great for plus size customers, as are the movable tables in the booths, allowing for adjustment to fit people with more girth. The tables are a laminate top, and that's where the first surprises came: no tablecloth; paper napkins; knife and two forks but no spoon; a minimalist table setting. The bar takes up about a third of the restaurant and is a classic long, straight bar with stools; attractive and well-stocked.

The menu is fairly extensive, and clearly the specialty is steaks. The menu showcases at least six cuts ranging from $21 for the petit filet to $28 for the larger cuts, and $24-26 for the house specialty, the requisite Des Moines Steak De Burgo. Other entrees include several seafood choices, pasta selections, pizza, lighter offerings and a children's selection. But the emphasis and star-billing clearly is on steaks. And that is what "A" and "D" both ordered.

"A" is a medium-rare rib-eye lover and ordered it with French fries and a garden salad with creamy garlic. "B" is a medium-rare 'almost any cut is great,' but ordered the petit filet with sauteed vegetables and a salad with a balsamic vinegarette. A glass of Chianti was ordered for both.

The server was genial and efficient. Thankfully, he did not introduce himself or offer some banal rehearsed script. He was pleasant, professional and appropriate, but stumped when "D" asked for a real cloth napkin. He could only suggest a large paper towel as a substitute for the school cafeteria, one-ply napkin that comes standard with the table set-ups. Service was adequate: not great, but not obsequious; acceptably attentive, but not fawning; basically functional, but not overly helpful. A routine15 percent gratuity job.

The salad was good; a generous variety of crisp, fresh greens with tomato and even a hot pepper. The balsamic vinegarette was different--thick and packed with flavors. The creamy garglic, homemade and luscious. Good salads. Excellent dressings. So far, so good.

The Chianti was less than great, even a bit oxidized from the bottle being open too long. Stemware was minimal, the requisite three-ounce pour, not generous. The wine selection is mundane; prices are moderate, but for this quality of wines, perhaps a bit overpriced. Absolutely overpriced when the wine is oxidized. Good bartenders check the aromas before serving when pouring from long-opened bottles. Off wine can be used in the kitchen for cooking, which is far better than serving it to customers who will then (a) not order more wine, and (b) not come back to the restaurant.

The steaks were prepared beautifully by someone who understands medium-rare. "D's" filet was perfectly tender with a moist, red center and a great sear on the outside. The sauteed vegetables were flavorful and featured at least five different vegetable varieties in a rich medley. "A's" rib-eye was equally exact at the center, tender and bathed in a fragrant natural juice; the outside was superbly seared and looked like beef perfection. The French fries were good, but unremarkable. The presentations were briefly thoughtful. And that is where the positive aspects of both dishes ended.

The steaks were both picture perfect, but had zero flavor. The rib-eye derived some minimal flavor from the meat juices, but the steak itself was tasteless. The filet had great mouth-feel and texture, but it was like chewing bok-choy. You knew there was something in there, but you couldn't really pinpoint an actual taste.

And here is where the inevitable analysis of the Joy of the Table and the value began. Both "A" and "D" had been served a glass of off wine, a decent salad, no bread, a glass of water, okay fries, good vegetables and tasteless steaks, all with okay service. The bill was $70 with tip and we ate on a laminate table top with bad paper napkins. Not a whole lot here that is different from Perkins.

Chef's Kitchen is a cost-cutter. They've brought all the costs down, but have no problem with keeping the prices up. For $70, "A" and "B" can have a great experience with all the trappings and top-quality food at Trostel's Dish, or at Greenbrier, or at Mosaix, or at Sage, or at 35th Street Cafe, or at Bistro Montage, or at 43 . . . . or at any number of other restaurants. And, for flavorful beef: Jessie's Embers (the original location).

Rating: 1 (Ratings: 1 No; 2 Maybe; 3 Yes; 4 Absolutely)
Value: Low
Quality: Fair
Service: Adequate
Recommended: No
Best Alternative: Dish, Mosaix, Jessie's Embers (original)

Food, Dining and a Life of The Table

We are "D" and "A," experienced food critics, writers and diners. "A" is a published cookbook author, recipe creator, food writer, extraordinary cook and was a test kitchen chef for several major television cooking series. "D" is an avocational gourmand, an author and culinary publisher, and has cultivated a life of gourmandise on four continents, dining in many of the world's greatest restaurants. Both of us have extensive knowledge of various cuisines, techniques, specialty ingredients, U.S. and world wines, and the practice, service, lore and Joy of the Table.

Having each returned to Iowa from lives spent in the food meccas of the west and the east, we believe Des Moines to be one of the great treasures of American living and one of the developing culinary bright spots of the Midwest.

No Agenda . . . No Allegiance

"D" and "A" dine out often together in the Des Moines area, each spending their own money, not that of a local newspaper--mainstream or alternative. We are committed to nothing except the quality of the dining experience from the customer's point of view. We have no interest in advertising revenues, high-powered connections, positions in local society, or anything other than superb food, well-prepared and well-served at a reasonable cost for the experience. That is what we write about.

Diners Like You

Neither "D" nor "A" are known to local restaurant owners or chefs. For those few who do have a passing familiarity with us, it's only because we are fairly regular customers of their restaurants, returning often when the dining experience is worthy. We are similar to the Everyman or Everywoman of literature; representative and little different from any other customer who goes to a restaurant hoping only for "superb food, well-prepared and well-served at a reasonable cost for the experience." We are not into the 'foodie' scene and we don't seek out the companionship or recognition of local celebrity chefs or restaurateurs. We are in this for the food and the Joy of the Table, and we hope our experiences will help you to have great dining experiences in the Des Moines area--and avoid those less than great experiences.

The Rule of Quality

Both "D" and "A" are probably somewhat ruthless in their critiques, both of the dishes and the operation of the restaurants. We don't 'coat' the truth with a verbal 'sauce' designed to provide a mediocre restaurant with a soft landing, or give them a 'second chance' because of an 'off night.' If a restaurant charges $70 to $100 or more for dinner, it doesn't deserve an 'off night' and we probably won't offer a 'second chance' to merit a more positive review. Like you, we tend to measure the cost against the satisfaction. We do return to restaurants to compare the current and past experiences; after all, chefs come and go and menus change. But, there is always that wretched category of restaurants we describe as, "Let's try it again just to see if it's as bad as ever." Usually, it is.

Read . . . Enjoy!

Those are the basics. Over time, there will be an ever-growing number of reviews. In the meantime, have patience. Send comments to We are particularly interested in what restaurants you would like reviewed. The ratings are no nonsense, straight forward: 1 No; 2 Maybe; 3 Yes; and 4 Absolutely!