What’s so special about Restaurant Week? For starters, you get to dine at 32 of the city’s top restaurants for only $25 for two lunches or one three-course dinner. That gives you the perfect opportunity not only to go to your favorite eatery but also to check out a restaurant you’ve been thinking of trying—but haven’t yet.
To entice you even further, we asked the chefs at six restaurants to let us in on a menu item they’ll be serving during the week. Find out some of the dishes you can look forward to on this and the following pages. As the event draws closer, we’ll post the complete menus chefs have created for the week at desmoinesrestaurantweek.com.
Besides feasting on fabulous fare during Restaurant Week, you also could win a trip for two to Bermuda. Donated by the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, the package includes airfare, lodging and more. See desmoinesrestaurantweek.com for details.
On The Menu
Splash Seafood Bar & Grill
One of the best things about Restaurant Week is the promise of a complete dining experience: three courses, no sharing necessary. During the week, restaurateurs remind us how energetic, appetite-rousing and civilized it can be to enjoy a first-course plate of one’s own. A great case in point: the Splash Salad at Splash Seafood Bar & Grill. Tender spinach arrives tossed with ingredients combined in unexpected yet harmonious ways—Gorgonzola, roasted corn, sweet candied walnuts and ever-irresistible bacon—all tossed with a cranberry-champagne vinaigrette. The only downside: Once you try this one-of-a-kind find, you’ll be hard-pressed to settle for a rote dinner salad again.
Seared Salmon With Saffron-Dill Sauce
Many chefs use Restaurant Week to shine the spotlight on what distinguishes their cooking style. On the menu at Des Moines’ quintessential corner bistro is seared salmon with saffron-dill sauce, a dish that underscores chef Enosh Kelley’s mastery of French sauces. The wonderfully fragrant sauce is made of fish stock, reduced cream, fresh dill and Pernod, along with what Kelley calls a “bouillabaisse-ish” touch: saffron. Flanked with small red potatoes and confit cherry tomatoes, the dish is light enough for summer, yet decidedly indulgent enough to know you’re enjoying something true to France.
Homemade Tagliatelle With Tarragon Cream Sauce and Crab
Café di Scala
A recent tour of Café di Scala’s basement led me through the optimally cool wine cellar and into the old mansion’s inner sanctum: the pasta workshop. I was struck by the simple beauty of this rustic yet neat-as-a-pin room, where the restaurant’s famed fettucine, tagliatelle and cavatelli are handcrafted from the most basic tools and ingredients. During Restaurant Week, diners can enjoy this simple beauty on the plate when they order one of chef Phil Shires’ fresh pasta selections. In this dish, tagliatelle—colored and flavored by fresh carrot juice—anchors the recipe, which also stars crabmeat, caramelized leeks and roasted tomatoes. A tarragon cream sauce brings it all together.
Cubans and Cigars
One look at the menu of this Latin America-themed restaurant, and you’ll know that chef-owner George Formaro and his team have no desire to burden themselves with the gospel of authenticity. Dishes like Nacho Daddy’s Mac & Cheese and the Tijuana Trainwreck say, “Let’s take this Latin theme and have a little fun with it, shall we?” Taste the fun with Cubans and Cigars, a signature dessert featuring cake rolls shaped like cigars, complete with custom cigar bands. A chocolate brownie crumbled with powdered sugar (to look like ashes) and a scoop of coffee gelato complete the edible vignette.
Tally’s Restaurant Bar & Catering
“We served our mushroom risotto last year for Restaurant Week, and it was by far the most popular dish,” says Tally’s chef-owner, Robert Sanda. Diners looking for a repeat performance will be happy to see the favorite on the menu again this year. Sanda stirs three varieties of mushrooms—shiitake, crimini and portobello—into the risotto, which he also flavors with shallots, roasted garlic and fresh sage; a little cream and Parmesan cheese enrich and embolden the mix. Although the dish is hearty enough for meat-eaters, its homemade mushroom stock and gluten-free profile prove that vegetarians and gluten-free diners can partake in Restaurant Week with aplomb.
Restaurant Week Participants
Written by Tom Perry
Photos by Duane Tinkey
524 E. Sixth St., 244-0261
Regarded by many as a steadfastly reliable choice for a memorable dining experience, Alba continues to impress with flavors and ambience. Chef Jason Simon and his team have set the bar high since opening in Des Moines’ East Village in 2008. Both the lunch and dinner menus offer some of the city’s most inventive plates in a smart setting. The seasonal twists on contemporary American cuisine dovetail deftly with superb cocktail and wine lists.
6587 University Ave., Windsor Heights;
World-class contemporary French cuisine, embellished by the heartland’s finest available ingredients, elevates Baru 66 to a lofty perch in Central Iowa. The menu may change with seasonal availability, but chef David Baruthio’s passions for excellence and honoring his native France are constant. Another constant is the applause from the region’s most discerning diners. Baru 66 is one of those special places worthy of being called exceptional.
2724 University Ave.; 557-1924
An Ingersoll Avenue mainstay, the grande dame of Des Moines’ bistro scene has been serving classic and contemporary French cuisine for more than a decade. A lively spot, chef Enosh Kelley’s Bistro Montage brims with confidence. Seasonal specials and the prix fixe menu are magnets for loyal regulars. The desserts here are swoon-worthy. At lunchtime (Tuesday-Friday), the kitchen lavishes careful attention on a satisfying array of crepes and salads. Check out the seared salmon that will be available during Restaurant Week on page 6.
401 Locust St.; 284-1267
Contemporary Midwest cuisine gets the star treatment here. The kitchen is committed to using products from local growers and producers whenever possible. The Iowa corn chowder, a regular menu item, is blue-ribbon-worthy. Located inside the historic Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel, and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this downtown restaurant celebrates comfort food and American standards. Out-of-town guests rave about how the food exceeds expectations for a hotel eatery.
Café di Scala
644 18th St.; 244-1353
Tony Lemmo’s Café di Scala has a charming, romantic energy all its own. A century-old Victorian mansion in Des Moines’ historic Sherman Hill neighborhood provides the backdrop for contemporary Italian cuisine that honors Lemmo’s Calabrian heritage. Chef Phil Shires was a James Beard “Best Chef-Midwest” nominee this year. As would be the case in Italy, fine wine is essential here. Both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines have recognized Café di Scala’s attention to detail. See the homemade tagliatelle dish Shires will be cooking up for Restaurant Week on page 8.
1003 Locust St.; 248-1780
The flavors and ambience, smart and uncluttered, have made Centro one of those perfectly comfortable places for a lunch or a dinner, whether it’s a laid-back outing or a bit more formal. Bearing the imprint of founder George Formaro, the menu offers an array of Italian-inspired choices, including pizza baked in coal-fired ovens. That pizza is available for half price on Monday nights. Weekend brunches offer everything from steak and eggs to crab cake benedict. Sidewalk tables go quickly.
City Center Lounge–Des Moines Marriott Downtown
700 Grand Ave.; 245-5500
Offering everything from sliders to steaks, the City Center Lounge in the Great Room of the Des Moines Marriott Downtown specializes in carefully prepared American grill fare, including steaks, chops and fish, and handcrafted cocktails. The emphasis at dinner is on giving patrons plenty of choices in comfortable surroundings. The lounge’s 5-10-20 menu caters to guests facing time constraints.
Cityscape Lounge-Holiday Inn Downtown
1050 Sixth Ave.; 283-0151
Come for view. Stay for the food. Last year’s million-dollar renovation provided the Holiday Inn with new main-floor windows that provide fantastic views of downtown. To make the food worthy of the vista, chef Kris Van Tuyl was hired to run the kitchen. Van Tuyl has upgraded the dining room to the point that it’s become a destination for locals. During Restaurant Week, his pork brochettes (see page 2) will be one of the tempting options on the menu.
Cosi Cucina Italian Grill
1975 N.W. 86th St., Clive; 278-8148
A renaissance is blossoming here. Owners David and Bonnie Bartels, who first began operating Cosi Cucina 20 years ago, returned in February. As a result, the eatery, which blazed a trail locally when it fired up the area’s first wood-burning pizza oven more than two decades ago, is hitting the stride that made it an irrepressible fixture in this western suburb for so many years. Cosi Cucina is a romantic place with cheerful service and a menu that offers an appealing array of food and wine-by-the glass choices.
Creme Cupcake + Dessert
543 28th St.; 288-1050
Just off Ingersoll Avenue, Creme Cupcake is a smart yet decadent cocktail lounge that is also home to one of the city’s best bakeries. Yes, this is the establishment that won honors and national fame on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” in 2012. During Restaurant Week, Creme Cupcake will offer a variety of cupcakes and other desserts, plus drinks.
210 10th St.; 288-0268
French food can be fun. Django proves that every day, especially on Tuesdays, when low happy-hour prices for drink specials, oysters and charcuterie platters are in effect from open to close. Located in the Hotel Fort
Des Moines, this restaurant focuses on trotting out classical continental fare with confidence while giving a nod to more homespun creations, such as a burger that won mention as one of the best in the country from USA Today.
Dos Rios Cantina & Tequila Bar
316 Court Ave.; 282-2995
Dining at a Dos Rios sidewalk table can be a sublime experience, whether in the afternoon, in the evening or on Saturday morning during the Downtown Farmers Market. Legendary for stocking some tequilas almost impossible to find elsewhere in the United States, this Court Avenue eatery succeeds in taking traditional Mexican recipes and giving them a unique, contemporary twist. Everything, from the tableside-prepared guacamole to carne asada to tacos, is served in a cosmopolitan casual setting that keeps Dos Rios hopping.
2932 Ingersoll Ave.; 282-8085
Few would guess this new Ingersoll Avenue hot spot, with its outdoor seating, was once a Blockbuster Video store. Reclaimed wood from Central Iowa has helped magically transform the interior. Meanwhile, chef-owner Jason Simon, of Alba fame, has upped the culinary ante of the city with a wood-fired oven and a Mediterranean-inspired menu that celebrates Old World flavors in fresh, new ways. Craft beer can be found at the bar, along with cocktails that can be made with local spirits and Eastern flavors such as pomegranate, basil, mint and ginger.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
150 S. Jordan Creek Parkway,
West Des Moines; 457-2916
Carnivores will find plenty to love at Fleming’s. This handsome upscale steakhouse in the Lake District at Jordan Creek Town Center offers both wet- and dry-aged steaks. Featuring USDA prime beef broiled at 1,600 degrees, Fleming’s gets the highest marks for steaks cooked to perfection. Beyond the beef, the steakhouse is continually updating it menu, offering small plates, market-fresh seafood, a bar menu, homemade bread, hard-to-pass-up desserts and 100 wines sold by the glass.
The Gramercy Tap – Kitchen & Cocktails
400 Walnut St.; 288-9606
A sleek downtown venue with shady north-side sidewalk seating, The Gramercy Tap is focused and energetic. The menu is eclectic but well-contained, allowing the kitchen to pay careful attention to its specialties, including flavorful takes on pasta, seafood and duck. Some regard the restaurant’s burgers as the best around, and the bar is a prime location for innovative cocktails and craft beers.
303 E. Fifth St.; 244-1213
HoQ’s celebration of farm-to-table ingredients continues at full throttle. This popular East Village eatery, owned by chef Suman Hoque and his wife, Cynthia, is bright, cheerful and often bustling with diners. The imaginative Sunday brunch has a robust following. Dedicated to the motto “local farms, global flavors,” Hoq proudly touts the fact that about 90 percent of its main ingredients originate in the Midwest.
Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
6800 Fleur Drive, Des Moines; 287-0847
6075 Mills Civic Parkway,
West Des Moines; 333-5665
550 Bass Pro Drive N.W.,
If there’s any place that proves “a good time never goes out of style,” it’s the retro-snazzy Johnny’s, which has a proven track record at two local spots. A third Central Iowa location, complete with a 3,600-square-foot lakefront patio, recently opened in Altoona. Johnny’s, which preserves the legacy of two fondly remembered Des Moines supper clubs—Johnnie’s Vets Club and Johnny & Kay’s—is a place where patrons can enjoy updated versions of vintage favorites in plush and spiffy surroundings reminiscent of rotary phone days.
2815 Beaver Ave.; 255-5787
The newest space to accommodate French bistro cuisine is presided over by chef-owner Tag Grandgeorge, well-known among local food enthusiasts for his star turns at Chat Noir Café and the ArtHouse Restaurant and Gallery. His 42nd Street Le Jardin, which shared a roof with La Mie, was much appreciated before closing. This new Beaverdale location is cozy and modern. The food is dazzling, owing to Grandgeorge’s enthusiasm for working with fresh local ingredients. Le Jardin opens for dinner Wednesday through Saturday and brunch Saturday and Sunday.
420 E. Locust St.; 243-1115
Steve Logsdon’s Lucca enjoys rock star status for bringing maximum flavors home to its East Village dining room. The New Italian-inspired cuisine is clean and simple yet beautifully presented; the gnocchi is one of the restaurant’s sought-after signature dishes. With its sleek furnishings and exposed brick walls, Lucca never fails to attract a dashing clientele. Be sure to check out the new space upstairs.
900 Mulberry St.; 244-5000
Since opening this restaurant in May, executive chef Scott Stroud and chef partner George Formaro have been drawing diners seeking the flavors of Mexico and beyond. Located in downtown’s historic Fire Station No. 1, now the Des Moines Social Club, Malo has quickly become a lively spot. From classic Havana cocktails to inventive Mexican riffs on standard dishes, Malo is taking south-of-the-border food in some new directions. During Restaurant Week, Malo will offer “Cubans and Cigars,” its signature dessert; see page 10 for details.
1301 Locust St., Suite C; 244-0655
Chef Sean Wilson, a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist, is a drawing card for this adventurously intelligent restaurant. Dishes are inspired by the Mediterranean, and patrons will find menu items that are far from ordinary. Everything from the simplest cheese and charcuterie to the most complex molecular dish finds its way to tables here. Located at the edge of Western Gateway Park, Proof also offers beer, wine and inventive cocktails that would not be counted among Des Moines’ usual suspects.
Raccoon River Brewing Co.
200 10th St.; 362-5222
This high-energy fixture on the west end of downtown has been one of the favorite gathering spots for locals and visitors since 1997. The restaurant serves first-rate, thoughtfully prepared pub fare, including burgers made with premium Iowa beef, alongside highly regarded handcrafted house brews. Raccoon River Brewing is also home to regular specials, weekly live music and an upstairs pool hall with five tables. The atmosphere is lively yet comfortable, and the patio offers an inviting spot to enjoy nice weather.
Splash Seafood Bar & Grill
303 Locust St.; 244-5686
About the only thing missing from this long-standing go-to spot for top-shelf seafood is an ocean view. A consistent winner of awards from national organizations, including Wine Spectator and the Distinguished Restaurants of North America, Splash revels in everything coastal, from fish flown in from as far away as Hawaii to Maine lobsters to the oysters on the half shell. The clam chowder is exceptional, and a comfy raw bar provides a laid-back alternative to the upscale dining room. During Restaurant Week, start your dining adventure with the Splash Salad; see page 4 for details.
The Stuffed Olive
208 Third St.; 243-4456
The Court Avenue district’s new kid on the block brought an upscale yet casual venue to the downtown scene late this spring. Tapas and top-draw martinis are the focus here. With the same owners as the Stuffed Olive in Cedar Falls, a wildly successful attraction there for a decade, this place switched on quickly. Small plates deliver big flavor, whether dressed up with sesame-seared tuna or bourbon-sauced meatballs, while the cocktail options are as far-reaching as anywhere.
Table 128 Bistro + Bar
12695 University Ave., Clive; 327-7427
A tricky harmonizing act is being pulled off at this chic yet relaxing bistro. Chef Lynn Pritchard, who co-owns the spot with his wife, Sarah, is successfully coaxing classic dishes to sing with the flavors of new-age bravado. The result is a restaurant that soars to remarkable levels of sophistication. Despite the high degree of achievement, this is an unpretentious place with affable service and a super-smart wine list that offers tried-and-true wines while inviting patrons to take a leap of faith if they’re feeling adventurous.
Tally’s Restaurant Bar & Catering
2712 Beaver Ave.; 279-2067
A Beaverdale landmark that is home to the city’s first rooftop patio, Tally’s features a vibrant vibe and an eager-to-please menu with plenty of options. Vegetarians, vegans and guests with gluten concerns are as important here as at any full-service restaurant in the city, as evidenced by the vast array of choices and a dedicated gluten-free fryer. Chef-owner Robert Sanda, who also offers personalized catering services, oversees an extremely versatile kitchen that touches a lot of bases when it comes to Des Moines favorites. During Restaurant Week, you’ll find Tally’s popular mushroom risotto on the menu (see page 12), among other favorites.
Trostel’s Greenbriar Restaurant & Bar
5810 Merle Hay Road, Johnston; 253-0124
A dependable bastion of culinary excellence just north of the Des Moines city limits since 1987, Trostel’s is an elegant spot for either special occasions or informal outings. Award-winning chef Troy Trostel is a devotee of seasonal foods and ingredients grown or raised in Iowa. His time-tested kitchen deftly lavishes attention on everything from pizza, pasta and salads to steaks and seafood. For more than a decade, the wine service has regularly won excellence awards from Wine Spectator.
Two Rivers Grille – West Des Moines Marriott
1250 Jordan Creek Parkway,
West Des Moines; 267-1500
A bright and airy American-style bistro that embraces an array of coast-to-coast meat and seafood standards, Two Rivers Grille also turns a spotlight on some of the best that Iowa has to offer. The kitchen plates its own de burgo special, using sausage from Graziano Bros., and turns to local farmers for in-season produce. The menu in the Grille’s lounge offers a full range of choices that can be brought to the table in either five, 10 or 20 minutes, depending on the dish.
5418 Douglas Ave.; 528-8246
The somewhat subdued older sibling of the showy Wasabi Tao, this pan-Asian eatery hits plenty of its own culinary high notes in a comfortable setting. Located east of Merle Hay Mall, Wasabi Chi is a family-friendly place with popular lunch specials. A sushi lounge that offers more than a dozen original rolls along with other sushi and sashimi standards is sidekick to a kitchen that turns out fare from all across Asia, such as Mongolian beef, sesame chicken and tempura.
400 Walnut St.; 777-3635
This bustling downtown restaurant calls itself a “modern sushi lounge.” It is all that and more. In a place where the food could stand on its own merits, the vibe is energetic and upbeat. Eye-pleasing, fussed-over plates match the sophisticated and urbane decor that features a Buddha statue presiding over the scene. The bar features an ample selection of exclusive creations that will delight adventurous patrons who might be searching for cocktails not available elsewhere downtown.