food & drink

Food Dude

By Jim Duncan


Margarita’s feeds a dance craze


Even with an awful economy, three investor groups have been trying to make 2009 the year of Caribbean dance club in Des Moines. The former Mondo’s/Joseph’s venue is slated to become The Palm’s (those plans are stalled in mid-remodeling) and the venerable Ingersoll Dinner Theatre is shooting to open by New Year’s Eve as Copacabaña, a Cuban club and restaurant. Margarita’s Latin Sports & Dance Bar beat the others to dance floor in the former Raul’s building in Clive.

While Margarita’s music repertoire is eclectic enough to include open mic nights (first Wednesday of each month) and American rock, its considerable buzz comes with the beat of bachata, a sexually charged music and dance form that took a long, strange trip to Clive. Bachata originated during the Dominican Republic’s Trujillo dictatorship, which censored and suppressed it. The music developed — like bolero, tango and the blues — as heartsick songs for acoustic guitar played in lower class bars and brothels. It was first recorded after Trujillo’s assassination in 1961 but didn’t break out of the Dominican countryside until the 1990s when it was electrified. Now it’s the hottest dance craze in the western world. Margarita’s teaches bachata classes during the week. On Friday nights, bachata and other Caribbean music play in a dance club complete with VIP sections and a waitlisted clientele who know their way around a dance floor.

The club recently launched its own restaurant, a 60-seat sports bar annex that introduces some culinary bachata moves to metro Des Moines. Churrasco presented four large pieces of marinated skirt steak with chimichurra sauce, fries and salad. Chimichurra is the South American forefather of Des Moines’ de Burgo sauce. It’s made with garlic, cilantro and olive oil. Venezuelan Pabellon Criollo delivered tender piles of beef in garlicky marinade, under melted cheese and served with black beans, rice and tough plantain chips. Those chips differed considerably from tostones, which were marvelously sweet, “unripe” plantain chips fried golden and served with a large dollop of freshly made guacamole on each piece. My Cuban vaca frita didn’t appear to be fried at all, resembling the Pabellon Criollo without the cheese. A Parilla sampler offered all grilled meats — chicken, steak, pork and sausage with yuca and salad. A $12 T-bone might be the best bargain steak in town.

From Margarita’s Mexican menu, fajitas were served sizzling with a separate full plate of rice, frijoles, salad and tortillas. Carne asada tacos were generous and hot off the grill. A Cubano sandwich provided good roast pork loin, with ham, cheese, pickles and dressings on a grilled sandwich. French fries and corn chips strangely lacked greasiness and crispness. All dishes were served on ceramic platters or colorful Fiesta ware and were nicely garnished. The full bar offered seven Mexican beers. Flan and fried ice cream were served for desserts. Burgers and pasta were available and a kid’s menu ran just $4. Service was quite uneven and much better on weekends than weekdays.

Bottom line — Margarita’s fills several empty niches in suburban dining and entertainment. Besides its good, unique dishes, it’s open on Sundays and until 2 a.m. on the other days of the week. It’s also a nice bargain.


Side Dishes
On the week preceding Valentine’s Day, Chocolaterie Stam will host a Lorenzo Sandoval play that supposes Romeo & Juliet lived and got married… Russ & Frank’s Sassy BBQ Sauce won top awards in two different categories in the “Best of the Best BBQ Sauce Competition” at the National BBQ Festival in Georgia… Tennessee chain O’Charley’s shut down their only Iowa store, on Mills Parkway… Nagi’s Mediterranean Grocery opened in the Uptown Shopping Center with Middle Eastern foods, Halal and kosher meats. CV


Cuban vaca frita at Margarita’s, 2060 94th St., Clive
Monday through Friday, 11 to 2 a.m.,
Saturday, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.

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