By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com
A month of winter feasting
If our restaurants were promoted as aggressively as say Chicago’s or Santa Fe’s are, we’d have a month-long Winter Food Festival here. This year’s culinary season began with Iowa Pork Producers’ annual Taste of Elegance, an event that attracts top Iowa chefs competing for a place in the national finals. Barry Greenberg (University of Iowa Dining Services) won $1,000 and a trip to the finals with an Asian pork trio: pomegranate barbecued St. Louis ribs on grilled asparagus slaw; sherry glazed belly on rice cakes; and spicy pork dumplings in consomme. Angie Kirton (Absolute Flavors) took second with smoked pork roast with hash and vinegar slaw. Cyd Koehn (Hy-Vee Conference Center) took third, and also won the People’s Choice award, with pork osso buco di miale.
Valentine’s Day and the first day of the Lunar New Year fell, inconveniently for dieters, on the same Sunday this year. Wong’s Chopsticks presented their annual New Year’s banquet, a sensational $30 feast that included auspicious foods like whole Peking ducks, whole tilapia, long noodles, etc. A trio of female chefs — Shari Clark, Keri Rush and Koehn — rented the old Zen Sushi space for a far less traditional event — a raw vegan brunch which drew more than 110 guests at $35, plus drinks. That dining room never looked better, with red linens and living wheat grass centerpieces on the tables. Their brunch included a juice course of green lemonade (greens, apple and lemon juices) or beet-carrot-apple juice; an ambrosia of agave and coconut; a granola course of chocolate oats and vanilla almond milk with raisins, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, or “buckwheaties” with raisins and seeds; a sweet potato latke which was spiced with the rare and powerful Iranian herb hing (a.k.a. asafoetida); a spaghetti cut squash course with kale and tomatoes in garlic sauce with a rich sun dried tomato pâté; a Thai wrap with tamarind sauce and raw nuts that were marinated in cayenne and nama shoyu (unpasteurized soy sauce); and a dessert quartet that included flourless chocolate cake, coconut haystack, raw cookie dough and a chocolate dipped strawberry.
Phat Chefs, West Des Moines’ best café the last 11 years, went out of business in February with high style. Dean Richardson and chef Hal Jasa prepared a customer “thank you” feast that included peppered ahi tuna surrounding a salad of capers, olive nicoise, sun dried tomatoes, tobarga and lemon oil; corned duck (duck brined like corned beef) stacked around a salad of pickled root vegetables and black mustard; foie gras ramekins that layered pâté and mousse; whole game hens stuffed with black mission figs on herbed couscous; roasted root vegetable ratatouille; plus several other dishes including more applications of foie gras.
In its third year, the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival doubled in size, for the second year running. Its most elegant event was a Café di Scala dinner in which Phil Shires and Sam Auen presented bacon and egg napoleons (puff pastry with garlic sausage béchamel sauce); Korean style belly (braised in fish sauce, brown sugar, serrano chillies and lemongrass) with kim chee and cilantro pesto; cream of potato soup with chive crème fraiche; bacon-wrapped, Gorgozola stuffed pork loin on a soft polenta with pancetta and demi glace; and a sensational dessert of reduced “butter shots” (rye whiskey & butterscotch Schnapps) on bread pudding with ice cream. The festival’s main event opened like a Black Friday shopping frenzy. People pushed through doors and stopped caterers on their way to the kitchen, demanding samples. Roller Derby athletes served others on skates. Talented impresario Brooks Reynolds established a Bacon Advisory Council on Nutrition and expressed “deep regrets” that Lipitor did not return his phone calls about sponsorship. The Iowa Legislature proclaimed an Iowa Day of Bacon, and all tickets sold out in 25 minutes.
Bottom line — Des Moines’ midwinter food events have serious tourism potential.
Lucca (Mar. 20) and the Temple of the Performing Arts (Mar. 26) will host Italian dinners by visiting Sisters City chef Diego Critelli of Veneto. $65, 725-3163. CV
Caption: Phat Chef’s corned duck with ciabatta and “Strasbourg samplers” of foie gras.