By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com
don’t advertise it, but Bistro
Montage is Des Moines’ French
café. Owner-chef Enosh
Kelley’s background and heart
are steeped in the French classics,
same as those of sous chef Nick
Ellingsworth. How French is the
place? The bar serves pastis,
as well as absente and pernod.
They cook rabbit in goose fat
and make brown stock with ducks.
They stuff quail with sweetbreads
and wrap it in caul fat. Waiters
are well informed and quite condescending.
Don’t let any of that scare you.
The place is down to the Iowa
earth. Consider their bistro burger
duo. Freshly ground beef shoulder
is mixed with Niman Ranch pork
belly, pan fried and served on
home made (all bread is scratch-baked
daily) poppy seed brioches, with
white truffle mayonnaise, with
Parmesan cheese fries and home
Bistro Montage is better than
ever now. Kelley sold his second
restaurant, so he’s always here.
The 54-seat room ensures that
the cooking is always done by
the chief talents. There’s a new
patio, restrooms have been remodeled
and Kelley recently acquired some
heirloom baking equipment from
the very French Younkers Tea Room.
That allowed him to create pressurized
pastries and breads, with a denser
crumb that suits his layered tortes.
But more about that after dinner.
A complimentary amuses-bouche
of sweetbreads on fresh herbs
set my mouth up for a tomato tart
— a puff pastry topped with deeply
herbed tomatoes and kalamata tapanade,
with greens and vinaigrette. Duck
liver pate and pork terrine, wrapped
in bacon, were served with good
mustard and cornichons, plus Cumberland
sauce, a currant based wonder
that should accompany all fatty
and game dishes. Appetizer cheeses
included Humboldt Fog goat cheese,
Fourme d’Ambert blue, Beemster
and aged Gouda, a selection that
could have used more subtlety.
That sharp blue cheese also appeared
in a superb roasted beet salad,
with sliced pears and a sherry
walnut vinaigrette, the house
dressing. (Sherry vinegar is “in”
and balsamic is “out” according
to trendy gourmets.) Montage’s
chicken salad got the biggest
French makeover — chicken quenelles
were heavily steeped in fresh
rosemary and served with roasted
fennel and grapes and dressed
in walnut vinaigrette.
Skate wing has long been one
of Kelley’s signatures. This is
an odd fish far more popular in
Europe than North America or Asia,
with soft bones and the flavor
of scallops. It was pan fried
here, and a bit over cooked. Steak
frites were pan seared and served
with soggy sautéed spinach
and wonderful double-fried potatoes
(only Dish’s compare). Bouillabaisse
provided a sublime broth (Kelley
said his secret is to go heavy
on halibut bones) clearly saffron
and fennel-rich and accompanied
with the essential rouille (tomato
mayo) and crostini. Monkfish and
grouper shared its divine pond
with the usual shellfish suspects,
plus potatoes tournee (marinated
in saffron broth). How often do
you find those in Iowa?
My favorite entrée was
duck seared fatty side down and
served perfectly rare with a potato
pave (layers of sweet potato and
white potato) that could shame
local hash browns into storm cellars.
The best looking dish was a rack
of lamb pan roasted and served
with a bean medley that included
fava, cranberry and marrow beans,
plus the compulsory haricot verts.
All the new baking paraphernalia,
including stencils, make dessert
courses a delightful work in progress.
Kelley’s signature daquoise is
hard to resist, but I sampled
several new homemade ice creams,
ranging from a too heavy goat
cheese to a fabulous light berry.
Profiteroles (cream puffs) were
flaky enough to let me leave with
the Gallic delusion that I had
Cafe di Scala’s backyard garden
now supplies all its summer herbs
and vegetables. They also now
make all their own pasta on premises
and are about to open a bocce
court. Plus owner Tony Lemmo is
opening a pizzeria in Dogtown.
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