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Food Dude

June 28, 2012
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Louie’s Wine Dive

By Jim Duncan

Lobster poutine at Louie's Wine Dive, 4440 University Ave., 777-3416. Hours are Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to close.

Des Moines’ restaurant business has been a magnet for recruiting creative young talent. Dom Iannarelli (Splash, Jethro’s), Enosh Kelley (Bistro Montage) and much of the Full Court Press gang (eight unique restaurants) came from other parts of Iowa. Jeremy Morrow (Bistro 43, Star Bar), Andrew Meek (Sage, Sbrocco), Don Hensley (Danielle) and Sean Wilson (Azalea, Proof) all came from the South. Miyabi Yamamoto (Miyabi 9), Jay Wang (Wasabi Chi), Mao Heineman (King & I), Jesus Ojeda (El Chisme), Zach Mannheimer (Proof) and Liam Anivat (Cool Basil) came from even further away. These are only partial lists, but they suggest our dining scene would be far less interesting without transplants.

Jason Kapela joined their ranks in June when he opened Louie’s Wine Dive. Kapela came from the corporate end of the business. Bravo promised him a job in any city where they have a restaurant if he first put in a couple years at their West Des Moines store. Instead, he fell in love with Des Moines. After keeping an eye on real estate, he pounced when Iowa Bakery Café vacated the Uptown Shopping Center. He counseled with Kyle Cabbage (Wine Experience) to fine tune his concept and persuaded half a dozen staffers from Bravo to follow him across town. Louie’s is an 84-seat (plus 28 on a patio) café that is furnished upscale from true dive-dom. Comfortable rosewood furniture, an overstuffed couch and a sleek long bar invite people to linger. On Louie’s first weekend, Kapela was unable to turn tables because “no one was leaving.”

Louie’s trendy menu fits in an economical comfort zone. One steak cost $21. Everything else was priced $4 - $19. Kid’s meals cost just $5 including a drink. On a recent weeknight the place was full, and tables were turning so no one needed to wait.

Gazpacho refreshed as much as it can this early in tomato season. Superb Oysters Louie were fried in panko and served on fried wonton shells with habanero aioli and a balsamic glaze. Deviled eggs were garnished with hackleback caviar from the Missouri River. Lobster poutine delivered perfect fries, crisp yet tender, covered with seafood gravy that included generous pieces of fresh lobster, assorted mushrooms and subtle Fontina cheese sauce. Flatbreads (pizza) included: jerked chicken with Fontina and pickled onions; a Marguerita; ragu with ricotta; and mushrooms with blue cheese.

Bruschetta and lunch sandwiches were made with La Mie breads. A Cuban particularly stood out with very spicy ham, roast pork loin, pickled onions, Fontina and very sweet pickles on a grilled hoagie. A Reuben was made with house cured pork shoulder rather than beef. My ragu was Bolognese style, with an orange glow from chianti, tomatoes, carrots and cream. It included prosciutto, sausage, bacon and tender pork shoulder on toasted potato gnocchi. Striped bass presented two moist skin-on filets on a bed of quinoa in a beurre blanc. They were plated with delicious carrots marinated in dark rum and asparagus coins. Porchetta was as good as that dish can be — slow cooked pork shoulder without any dryness, stuffed with prosciutto and sage and served with subtle cheese sauce.

Desserts were simple: a citrus cheesecake, a pot de crème; and S’mores with tableside hibachi. Wines ranged from $25 - $250, with 26 available by the glass. After two days, an opened bottle becomes a blackboard special, as no wine is served after three days.

Bottom line — Besides wine, Louie’s features unusually good execution, some original touches and a particular rapport with pork.

Side Dishes

Seattle Best’s “Red Cup Showdown” comes to the Iowa State Fair Aug. 15. The local winner in a best coffee drink contest wins a trip to New York to compete with four other state fair winners for $10,000. CV

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