Centro's wood fired whole Iowa Swabian
Hall pig roast at Rare Affair. Eastern Hibachi
Buffet, 4001 Westown Parkway, 267-8999. Hours
are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday
and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
While politicians argued about whether an upper
case Buffet (Rule) would retard the economy
or pay off excessive government spending, two
lower case buffets set new standards in Des
Moines. A Rare Affair in Hotel Fort Des Moines
matched some of Iowa’s most discriminating farmers
with top local chefs who use meats from sustainable
Iowa farms. It sold out (300 tickets) quickly
with admission price of more than $40. The event
was the brainchild of Larry Cleverley, a Mingo
vegetable farmer who has introduced, and re-introduced
more heirloom varieties of naturally raised
foods than anyone in central Iowa. He determined
to showcase meats that are raised humanely and
naturally — outside of confinements without
hormones or antibiotics.
Anthony Johnson recreated a dish I have enjoyed
at Mojo’s on 86th — seared ostrich tenderloin
from De Bruin Brothers of Oskaloosa. He drizzled
it with smoked strawberry sauce and onion jam
served over Prairie Breeze cheddar from Milton
Creamery. Derek Eidson of Centro also paired
off with a familiar face. He cooked an entire
Iowa Swabian Hall pig overnight in his restaurant’s
wood burning oven. Carl Blake of Rustik Rooster
Farms recreated the legendary 19th century Swabian
Hall breed of Germany by crossing Russian Wild
Boars with Chinese Meishans. Their pork is dark
like goose near the bone and fattier than any
other hybrid. A slice of its duck-like skin
alone was worth the price of admission. Alba’s
Jason Simon also recreated a favorite dish —
rabbit stew from De Bruin Brothers. Mike Utley
of Americana served coconut braised short ribs
of Majinola’s Wagyu beef, with pineapple and
mango salsa. Sbrocco chefs served herb encrusted,
slow roasted acorn finished pork shoulders from
Other chefs experimented. Luna Bistro’s Kris
Van Tuyl made a pheasant terrine served with
freshly marinated plums. George Formaro and
Scott Stroud of Django worked with that restaurant‘s
Mexican line cooks to make the best frijoles
I ever tasted — copious quantities of butter
were involved along with chicharones, onions
and fresh herbs. They also made tepache (fermented
fruit beer) and tacos, including some that mixed
hearts, brains, tongues and cheeks. Nick Ilingworth
and CJ Bienert of Cheese Shop of Des Moines
made toasted cheese sandwiches with La Quercia
prosciutto. Bill Overdyk of Gateway Market prepared
pork belly wraps with Gojuchang chile paste
and nuoc cham.
Eastern Sushi Hibachi Buffet opened in a extensively
remodeled 500-seat venue once home to Mondo’s.
A misty carp pond greeted visitors along with
a replica of a horse drawn chariot from the
terra cotta army of Xian, one of the great archeological
finds of history. A sign delightfully disclosed
that this is not the original.
Food has upgraded the Chinese buffet genre in
town; I had never seen so many Chinese diners
eating in an Iowa Chinese restaurant before.
Many unexpected things were scratch-made including
excellent kim chee, coconut macaroons, fresh
fruit salads, an apple pie or dumpling with
sesame crusts, and an original take on tiramisu.
An $11 buffet, the most expensive of the week,
featured salt and pepper squid, crab stuffed
mushrooms, large fried frog legs, four shrimp
dishes, fried halibut, crab legs, crawfish,
large baked salmon and two kinds of clam dishes.
A hibachi bar offered freshly boned chicken
thighs and skirt steak, rather than the weird
frozen pieces of meat other buffets serve. Hibachi
chefs put on a good show, juggling eggs on their
spatulas and creating dazzling flames for children.
A sushi station was ordinary with mostly featuring
Bottom Line — Rare Affair might well have been
the best buffet ever assembled in Iowa. Its
success suggests it will become annual event.
Eastern sets a new standard for Chinese buffets
in Des Moines.
British doctors began administering the diabetes
drug metformin to the unborn babies of morbidly
obese mothers-to-be to reduce fetus weight.