Graze, 5513 Mills Civic
Pkwy., West Des Moines,
223-LIPS (5477), Mon.-Thurs.
11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Graze is no ordinary
Martinis are the American cocktail
— invented in Martinez, Calif.,
by mixing five parts gin with
one part vermouth, stirring in
a chilled glass and serving straight
up with an olive or lemon twist
garnish. H.L. Mencken declared
that recipe “the only American
invention as perfect as the sonnet.”
Brits began messing with that
perfection. “Montgomery martinis”
were made in 15 to 1 ratio, the
odds that a WWII general needed
before engaging in battle. Winston
Churchill said that any vermouth
in his martinis should be invisible.
James Bond insisted that his be
“shaken, not stirred” and made
with vodka instead of gin. Finally,
Graze bartenders have retaken
the creative high ground for American
As its name implies, “Graze —
the Food Guru Experience” is no
ordinary restaurant. It’s a food
marketing empire based around
a stunning martini bar and two
other American traditions — reinventing
the wheel and selling the sizzle,
not the steak. It’s the fourth
restaurant in a chain that began
with Martini’s Grille in Burlington
and is now part of Food Guru LLC,
Chick N. Lip LLC and Chicken Lip
Foundation. Together they include
restaurants, a cooking school,
a pod-casting business, video
cookbooks and a charitable foundation
that has raised more than $400,000
for mostly children’s causes.
Because all that started with
martinis, it’s understandable
that liberties are taken with
traditions. Graze’s “martinis”
included many things that could
flip Mencken’s bones. A “silly
goose” was served with vodka,
simple syrup, crème de
banana, vanilla schnapps and pineapple
juice. Other martinis literally
sizzled with dry ice that gooped
up in the bottom of the glass.
Mainly though, such martinis illustrated
the bar’s edge: most specified
top end brands; all juices were
freshly squeezed, and all syrups
(including sweet & sour) were
made from scratch daily.
Graze transformed a former Crave
venue by preserving all the previous
tenant’s vowels, one consonant
and little else. Ostentatious
design elements include red fantailed
booths, spotlighted vodka cabinets
and apothecary jars, tall purple
walls and an open “private room”
that hangs over the bar like a
bordello catwalk in a Czech casino.
Eclectic video presentations featured
martini making, sports, impressionist
paintings and world travel. On
all my visits, this place was
always busy, and women always
Vegans, who might be attracted
by the restaurant’s name, should
stick to the martini menu. Graze’s
food menu specializes in “appetizers,”
but portions were gargantuan compared
to entrées in other places.
Presentations dazzled but inconsistently.
Shrimp on a stick was served sizzling,
like those dry ice martinis, but
a $2.50 Sprite was served lukewarm
in a small, unopened plastic bottle.
Dinners were presented stacked
on handsome trays, but three different
courses came at the same time.
Names were quite confusing. The
restaurant’s most popular “appetizer,”
“chicken lips,” were actually
a hefty variation of Buffalo wings
made with boneless chicken breasts.
They were superb — moist, well
seasoned and served with appropriately
salty cheese dips.
Self-promotion was relentless
and sometimes offensive. I stopped
counting menu exclamation points
after four, and servers as well
as the menu, used the descriptions
“awesome” and “big-assed” repeatedly
and inappropriately. Like the
bartenders, chefs weren’t shy
about taking chances or mixing
flavors. Shrimp on a stick was
as interesting as it looked, with
red curry cream cheese, plum sauce,
kazu sauce and a spring roll.
Chicken sliders came well paired
with slaw and mango mayo. Fried
lobster has become trendy these
days, usually made with tempura
and farmed, baby lobsters. Graze’s
“lobster fried lobster” was totally
different, consisting of unbreaded
flesh from full-sized lobsters.
That chewy innovation didn’t work.
Thin-crusted pizza was grilled,
with cloying cheddar cheese and
more typical pizza ingredients.
Neither an ice cream pie nor cheesecakes
were up to the “lips” levels.
Prices discriminated in favor
of larger groups, perhaps explaining
the male to female ratio.
November produce market reports
declare this a great year for
supermarket pears, apples, table
grapes and asparagus but a bad
season for California grown cantaloupe
and strawberries… Tournament Club
waived corkage fees on Thursdays.
on this story | Return