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)


Blogger Lucy said...

My husband and I recently dined at Chef's Kitchen and at the end of the meal we were happy, full and talking about when we will be back!

Yes, the tables are laminate and there are paper napkins. But how much does that really matter? The servers were nicely uniformed and the dining area had a nice warm feel to it. My main complaint was having to stare through the open space from the dining room into the kitchen at the sloppy and unorganized servers station. But that was a small price to pay in comparison to the excellent service and entree's we received.

I ordered the Ribs. And oh' my gosh!! They were the best ribs I have had in a long time. Talk about fall off the bone perfection! The BBQ sauce is just as good! Watermelon flavored BBQ! Just try it. I know you'll go back for more!! My husband ordered Pasta Primavera, he ate every bit and loved it! Which was very shocking. He always has to find something wrong with the pasta when we are out for dinner (both of his parents are from Italy) but not that night at the Chef's Kitchen!!

This restaurant also offers Sandwiches and Pizza's!! If I remember correctly the sandwiches were no more than $8.00 each and they had 3 different sizes of pizza's. But don't quote me on this:)

I do not work at Chef's Kitchen, I do not know the owners, any staff or have any connection to the establishment. I didn't even know it was there until some friends were telling us about it.

Our bill was $40. We had 2 entree's, 1 appetizer, 1 extra side and 1 soda. Oh, and also 2 "thanks for coming cookies".

IMHO, I just don't think it is fair to give this restaurant such a poor review when you have only tried 1 type of dish. So, maybe Steak isn't their thing. But I think Chef's Kitchen is worthy of another shot. You just may be surpised on how juicy the chicken is or how delicious their pasta dishes are, or how wonderful those ribs taste.

We loved the Chef's Kitchen and will definitely go back!!

11:14 PM  
Blogger Campbell & Lewis said...

And that is the beauty of public restaurant reviews: the differences of opinion that will be proven right or wrong only by the customers and the ultimate success of the restaurant. We will try it again in the future and we will be fair--reporting what we find from the customer's point of view, good or bad.

We are delighted you had a good experience. We want to have the same experience at every restaurant. But, this is a value judgement--Is the experience worth the cost. In the case of Chef's Kitchen, that question remains unanswered. But, the public will answer it.

Thanks for commenting . . . good eating!

"A" and "D"

5:51 AM  

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