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By Jim Duncan Reviews

12871 University Ave., Suite 100, Clive, 440-1144 Mon. - Thurs. 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.; Fri. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.


Restaurant genres almost always develop through imitation rather than innovation. Whenever a new type of cuisine becomes successful, copycat competitors follow. One-hundred years ago, our Chinese restaurants were so similar, Des Moines newspapers called them all “chop suey dens.” Fifty-years ago most Italian restaurants in town served pretty much the same fare. Today, most barbecue, Mexican and Indian places here use similar menus. Only the most self-assured restaurateurs deviate from established templates. Liam Anivat is one of those guys, developing three distinctively different Thai restaurants in Thai Flavors, Cool Basil and Zuzap.

The newest, Zuzap, changed little of the deep red décor in the former Lemongrass space. I do miss Lemongrass’ extraordinary lace place mats, but that’s the only downgrade. The kitchen is maintaining the basic Thai repertoire while introducing Des Moines to some marvelous new dishes and new versions of old dishes. Summer rolls were stuffed with an interesting brined tofu, instead of the usual shrimp, and mixed with cellophane noodles, fresh green onions, fresh bean sprouts, herbs and greens. These rolls were topped with fresh nuts and accompanied by smoky chile and sweet lemon sauces. Their deep fried cousins, spring rolls, were more typical with minced pork dominating the mix. More innovative appetizers included sweet corn cakes consisting of a breaded, deep fried mixture of egg, pork and Iowa’s most famous summer bounty.

Korat (rice balls) defied nature by employing long grain rice, instead of stickier short grains, with herbs and aromatics. A “Bangkok street trio” played dessert-sweet music with fried banana (not plantain), taro and sweet potato — respectively one of the nature’s sweetest fruits, roots and tubers — mixed with grated coconut, palm sugar and sesame. The star of their appetizer menu was an “evergreen” dumpling of leek leaves and tapioca wrapped in a pot sticker wrappers. It was considerably more intersecting than its shrimp dumpling cohort (khanom jeep todd).

A marvelous seaweed soup (gang jaud salai) and a pumpkin based (gang liang) vegetable soup joined the usual coconut and lemongrass soups. A rice cake, made with pork skin and minced chicken, joined the usual green papaya and laab-type salads.

Hoi tod is the best new-to-Des Moines dish I’ve tried all year. When well executed, it’s capable of producing a great longing in those who have tasted it. My serving included eight large, shelled mussels fried in tempura and binder. It was possible to pick the entire pancake up and munch it like a pizza. I didn’t do that though because Zuzap served it with nubile micro sprouts plus a lemon sauce that was determined to stain neckties. I tried several stir-fry and fried rice dishes including some with brown fried rice. The best of these was a Singapore style “chicken rice,” an icon of international cuisine that is rarely seen here. It’s a simple dish that is all about the stock; Zuzap’s tasted like bone essence and ginger. The most innovative curries were a pumpkin based red and a shellfish-based yellow. All included fresh tasting bamboo shoots and fresh basils. “Angry catfish” was given a different style with crisped basil, kaffir lime leaf and red curry paste replacing the more typical handful of hot chilies and chopped garlic cloves.

Service was inconsistent. Once I suggested that my pumpkin curry had not been delivered but was simply told that I had ordered “pineapple, not pumpkin.” Another time, questions about the dishes were curtly answered “the cooks don’t speak English” and a bill was presented before a dessert menu. Maybe that was because Zuzap was twice out of my first choice desserts, though green tea ice cream was served splendidly with three tropical fruits.

Side dishes
“Cinnie Smiths” (mini cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting), pineapple on-a-stick (fried in funnel cake batter) and salad on-a-stick (kebob-style iceberg lettuce wedge with dressing) join the new food line-up at this year’s state fair. New vendor Louisiana Cajun Cookin adds crawfish étoufféé and shrimp on-a-stick. London Broil sandwiches are new at Butcher Boys stand. A new “Wine and Prime” offering pairs a bottle of wine from the Iowa Wine Garden tent with two prime rib dinners at Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters, for $75 per couple. 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)
Sbrocco (7-17-08)  

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