food & drink

Food Dude

June 16, 2011 |

By Jim Duncan




Luna Bistro 621 Des Moines, St., 288-9849. Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

In the 20th century, most Des Moines restaurateurs worked their way up slowly through the business, from dishwashing and bussing to cooking and hosting. The most industrious then opened their own places after decades of apprenticeship. That process has accelerated in the new millennium. Young entrepreneurs have been opening their own places with far less experience than in previous generations. Rosa Martinez opened La Rosa after a few years catering and wholesaling her homemade products. Jesus Ojeda of El Chisme added some time in top kitchens (Le Francais, Centro) to that plan. After a brief stint at Lucca, Carly Groben opened two cafés, Proof and Flour, with years left in her 20s. Tony Lemmo parlayed a Metro Market stall into Café di Scala, Frank's and Gusto at a similar age. Then there's Simon Goheen who jumped directly from a part-time high school job to becoming owner of Simon's (previously J Benjamin's) while still in his teens. This younger generation is either top-heavy with prodigies or impatience. Either way, it's producing grand dining opportunities for the rest of us.

Kris Van Tuyl joins the under-30 owners club with a new, hedged business model. The 28-year-old sharpened his knives and wits at BOS and Le Jardin before becoming the original executive chef for Occasions, the upscale catering company launched here as a prototype for the Maid Rite chain. In May, Van Tuyl opened Luna Bistro + Catering in the historic Northland Building. His plan is to serve lunch to the public and to cater evening events. He upgraded furniture and kitchen equipment and added some local art to the venue's previous incarnation as Molly's Deli. Air conditioning upgrades were needed during a recent hot spell, and Van Tuyl said they are next in line. Complimentary pitchers of herb and fruit flavored ice waters compensated.

Luna's menu sensibly fit on a single page. Van Tuyl described it as "transcontinental" and stressed that most things are genuinely scratch made, an exception being breads that were all bought from La Mie. His duck confit tarts were a marvelous ($5) bargain appetizer with warm duck on a brioche with onions cooked in Cabernet Sauvignon and cool chevre, topped with freshly dressed mesclun and bacon. A Greek yogurt plate was served with blue agave nectar, fruit and Brie. A house soup featured a rich, homemade chicken stock, with scratch spaetzles and slices of sweet Italian sausage. Salads used fresh greens from Cleverley Farms — the local benchmark — plus fruits, meats, cheeses, etc. Dressings stuck pretty much with good vinaigrettes.

Porchetta sandwiches delivered juicy pork loin, warmed in chicken stock, open faced on grilled ciabatta with braised fennel and puttanesca, a whorishly spicy sauce of tomato, garlic, chilies, anchovies and capers that had been sautéed in olive oil. Hanger steak sandwiches were also served fresh from the frying pan, rare warm slices on ciabatta, with grilled green onions and arugula in lemon parley oil.

A multi-flavored pan sauce made with prawns, baby tomatoes and spinach accented marvelously complex homemade gnocchi. Chicken and scratch made parparadelle, in a thyme and mirepoix infused stock, provided a soupy take on chicken and noodles. Pork cheek tacos provided tender braised meat but their "cucumber" relish was missing crunch, giving the dish a singular texture.

Both tiramisu crepes, stuffed with crème fraiche, and peach and plum crisp with ginger ice cream, provided cooling final touches to lunches that are best enjoyed leisurely.

Bottom line — Luna is a marvelous new addition to both East Village and the young restaurateurs club.


Side Dishes: Rumors of the month: Worried about flood recovery, Cedar Rapids restaurateurs are planning to invade Des Moines… Copa Cabana will morph back into Ingersoll Theater, with consolidated ownership… Fourth Street Italian Beef will rename itself Fattie's and expand. CV