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Food Dude

August 30, 2012
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Mojo’s thinks fresh

By Jim Duncan
CVFDude@aol.com
Twitter.com/foodude

Saddle of rabbit at Mojo’s, 6163 N.W. 86th St., Johnston, 334-3699. Hours Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., and Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.

Mojo’s appears to be displaced on 86th — an island of fresh thinking in an asphalt sea of restaurant conformity. It’s just a few blocks north of an intersection where six different franchise restaurants serve nearly identical menus. It’s also just a few blocks west of Dupont-Pioneer headquarters where scientists and intellectual property lawyers in cubicles plot the genetic maps of the foods of tomorrow. Yet no restaurant in central Iowa does more to support old-fashioned heirloom and local foods than Mojo’s. They acknowledge nearly 20 local farms and food artisans on their menu, and that doesn’t include some farmers who just walk into the restaurant with boxes of fresh produce. Sometimes an evening’s special depends upon what shows up that afternoon. No other cafe in the metro does more to show off the possibilities of rarely eaten proteins like rabbit and ostrich. Mojo’s is even hosting Korean Copia, a monthly banquet of Korean dishes that is currently homeless.

The next few weeks should mark the peak of fresh and local season here, when fall fruits like pears and apples join the tomato kings of Iowa summer and the best of Iowa’s root vegetables. It’s also peak time for Mojo’s. On my recent visits, chef Anthony Johnson was offering starters that included his housemade charcuterie and cheese plate, roasted bone marrow with herb salad and housemade apricot preserves, escargot and mushrooms “two ways,” rock shrimp with Boursin, and pork empanadas. Calamari “two ways” stood out, offering both fried baby squids and rings with homemade Andouille sausage on top of a pool of red pepper coulis, with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. From his charcuterie, Johnson plated a gorgeous poached chicken terrine on fresh fruit salsa. That appetizer was offered on a recent bargain fixed price menu, as were spicy pork wontons and sweet corn soup.

Entrees included a dry aged strip steak, seared perfectly and served with roasted red pepper mashed potatoes plus asparagus with gribiche (a mayonnaise style sauce in which hard boiled egg yolks are emulsified in oil, then finished with pickles, capers and herbs). Pan roasted striped bass was presented in four tiers with basil cream on the bottom, then three logs of crispy fried eggplant, a crisp skin-on fish filet and a triangular mound of tomato-dill salsa. Two pork medallions (nearly the size of pork chops) were plated on jicama-kohlrabi slaw. Tenderly braised beef shoulder was served atop banana dressing with chimichurri (de Burgo’s Argentine cousin), under a large cone of shoestring potatoes. Half a Cornish hen, also offered on a bargain fixed price menu, was plated on sweet corn risotto with a balsamic reduction. Softshell crab somehow managed to keep from becoming soggy as it sat atop a bowl of gumbo. My favorite entrée though was Johnson’s saddle of rabbit — eight skin-on medallions of tender white meat sat sidewise behind a brilliant sage jus alongside a mound of red Himalayan rice and roasted baby carrots.

Homemade elderberry-watermelon sorbet lacked the smooth texture of great sorbets. A huge piece of Grand Marnier carrot cake, with a caramel drizzle and fresh raspberries, ranked with the best in town. Johnson’s malasadas were dessert’s pièce de résistance — “Hawaiian doughnuts” served piping hot with coconut cream and coffee cream dipping sauces.

Side Dishes

Kensie Piper won the Iowa State Fair’s Heirloom Family Recipe contest with her “Voight Deutsche Tag Essegurgke,” a pickled salad she made with cucumber seeds her family has saved since bringing them to Iowa from Germany a century ago. Joyce Larson took the red ribbon with a black raspberry pie she made, in her grandmother’s pie pan, from homegrown berries with a crust made with lard she rendered from her Spotted Duroc hogs… First Unitarian Church (1800 Bell Ave.) begins a second Friday free series of films about food. “Food, Inc,” is the debutante, on Sept 14. CV



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