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By Jim Duncan Reviews

C.J. Bienert at the Sbrocco cheese station.

208 Court Ave.,
Mon. - Sat.
11a.m. - 2 p.m.
and 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.


Sbrocco is the latest venture of Full Court Press, a local group of buddies whose themed bars and restaurants (Hessen Haus, El Bait Shop, Royal Mile, etc.) have reinvigorated the Court Avenue district. Their new café is also evidence that the laws of maturity apply even to fun loving crews with exceptional energy and imagination. Wine, not beer, is the focus here, and Sbrocco has discounted wine so much that partners said they heard they have aggravated some other restaurateurs. That could be. I spotted one $18 bottle that recently poured for $9 a glass elsewhere. Sbrocco’s glasses, served in Riedel stemware, began at just $4, and almost all of its 200 bottles were priced under $40.

That’s enough to lure a lot of people into this intriguing hodgepodge of design where copper ceiling tiles have been welded into bar tops, banquettes have escaped from the Embassy Club and stained glass windows have found refuge from several churches. A cheese station anchors the dining room, and cheese plates included top rated French, U.S. and Italian options with fruit and fruit preserves. Hearty homemade breads were way above average, too. Good soups included a corn bisque and sun dried tomato with bacon. House salads featured good fresh greens (a rare thing in this rain drenched year), prosciutto, goat cheese, fresh green beans and radishes dressed neatly in lemon juice and olive oil.

Duck skewers were served surprisingly without any skin or fat, and the remaining meat seemed despondent about the separation. Its pomegranate barbecue dressing tasted sweet more than fruity. Oysters were fried perfectly in crunchy corn meal and paired well with an inventive roast corn pico de gallo and a chipotle cream sauce. They were served on fried tortillas that detracted from the oysters. A marvelous bacon wrapped polenta kept the corn theme going with creamy smoked Gouda invigorating an under appreciated dish. White beer mussels were served with a good broth of Iowa beer, andouille, peppers and onions. The dish could have used more than the two tiny pieces of sausage, and most of the broth was sadly wasted on the bottom of an awkwardly narrow cast iron kettle. Accompanying pommes frites lacked the crispness one expects from that dish, but an excellent aioli compensated.

I had planned to order Creole style quail but, while enjoying appetizers, I noticed people at the next table struggling to cut any quail meat from its bones and finally giving up. I switched to a nearly perfect escolar, crisp and moist with a crust of cumin and accompanied by more roast corn pico de gallo and a good cilantro cream sauce. Rice was advertised on the menu but missing from my plate. The best, and most inventive, dishes were vegetarian: “Sun-dried tomato risotto” resembled rice cakes — its starches remained trapped within the rice kernels, not released into a creamy broth as in literal risottos. Such deceptions backfire if the dish isn’t really good, but this one was — crisp, subtly flavored and paired beautifully with fresh micro greens. A wild mushroom, potato and kohlrabi “pave” was even better, despite taking liberties with its name. (No mousse, foam, nor even a square shape could be discerned.) The vegetables worked beautifully together, a goat cheese topping added contrast and the accompanying Port wine reduction was sensational. I taste at least 20 boring wine reductions for every one that truly improves a good dish like this one did. A cold strawberry cream soup made a perfect summer dessert.
Bottom line — creative chef Darin Sturgill is a good match for Full Court Press. Like that crew, he’s committed to local foods, but he values eclecticism and risk-taking over standard operating procedures.

Side dish

Enoteca, a wine shop, opened adjacent to Mosaix in West Des Moines. Wine purchased at Enoteca is not subject to corkage fees in that café… Django, in Hotel Fort Des Moines, has suspended corkage fees on Sundays. CV

Food Dude Reviews 2008 2007 Reviews
Splash Raw Oyster Bar (1-3-08) Flavors of India(1-10-08)
Uncle Wendell's (1-17-08) Jesse's Embers (1-24-08)
Taste of Elegance (1-31-08) Old Country Buffet (2-7-08)
Baker’s Food & Fuel (2-14-08) Coffee (2-21-08)
Cool Basil (2-28-08) Sports Bars (3-06-08)
Daddy O’s Bodacious Foods (3-13-08) Maverick Grill (3-20-08)
Phat Chef’s (4-03-08) Shotz & Grill Cordoba (4-10-08)
Radish (4-17-08) Alba (4-24-08)
Billy Mack's (5-01-08) Jethro’s BBQ & Sports Bar (5-15-08)
Viva los Forasteros (5-22-08) Torocco! (5-29-08)
The King and I (6-05-08) Chipotle Mexican Grill (6-12-08)
Django (6-26-08) Swine (7-03-08)

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