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By Jim Duncan Reviews
Troy Trostel’s winning plate

Iowa restaurants — lucky and good

The Iowa Restaurant Association (IRA) named this year’s 75th anniversary awards gala “Celebrating Excellence.” Professional organizations usually use such events to stockpile hyperbole like coins in a “Need a Penny” tray. IRA is unusual, bestowing only a few, well-deserved honors. Linda McCallum was named Employee of the Year for running Huntington restaurant’s entire operation while her boss tended to life threatening health problems — twice in the same year. Darin Beck, who owns several restaurants under the Barmuda LLC banner, won both the Good Neighbor Award and Restaurateur of the Year honors. He raised more than $75,000 for Iowa tornado victims even while his own restaurant was swamped by floodwaters.

Holding a half-full glass, Beck said that Iowa was “a lucky place to be right now,” regarding the nature of banking and credit. While heavily leveraged franchisers have been stalled in their expansion plans, by heavily leveraged super banks, Beck said that close personal relationships with Iowa banks helped him open two restaurants in the last two months while moving forward with plans to open four more soon. IRA godfather Mike Whalen (Machine Shed, Johnnie’s Italian Steakhouse, etc.) disputed Beck’s overall assessment of credit. “Banks are using liquidity to buy banks, not to make loans,” he said. Whalen did predict that the proportion of Mom & Pop restaurants (compared to big chains) would continue to rise.

IRA hosted a top chef competition that required contestants to pair two unfamiliar foods (in Iowa) looking for bigger markets: beef tri-tip and soybean side dishes. Some chefs went over-the-top — Drew Stinson (Johnnie’s Italian Steakhouse) stuffed his tri-tip with lobster and paired it with a soybean crab cake. Others were simply creative — Zephaniah Leaton (Ruthie’s in Riverside Casino), a young chef to watch, was the only competitor to braise tri-tip (in bourbon and apple cider), producing that melt-on-the-tongue tenderness associated with the best briskets. He served those with risotto reduced in soymilk with soy cheese, topped with Swiss chard. Ephraim Malag (Oak View at Tournament Club) was the most thoroughly devoted to soybean themes. He marinated tri-tip in miso (fermented soy beans, rice and barley), ginger and saki, grilled it and served it with mango-edamame (young soybeans) salsa and breaded tofu (soy curd). Haley Silhacek (Ferrari’s Ristorante) edged Malag for the Judge’s Award with his stuffed tri-tip in a blood-orange miso reduction matched with edamame and tofu orzo. Troy Trostel (Greenbriar) won the People’s Choice Award with his grilled tri-tip (encrusted with cumin and soy nuts) on ginger black rice with chile oil and wasabi (horseradish) foam, plus an edamame salad that included brilliant cold-smoked tofu croutons.

Elsewhere this month, Scott Stroud served his last menu at Dos Rios to launch that restaurant’s tequila dinner series. The gifted 23-year-old chef then moved to South Florida to open a French restaurant. He said he’ll return to Dos Rios in March, but South Florida is one of the nation’s top launching pads for culinary stars. For his last supper here, Stroud used tequila in eight different preparations. The best was an oyster on the half shell with salmon (smoked in tequila-soaked wood) and cilantro cream. His main entrée paired smoked spare ribs and sweet potato slaw with pulled pork shoulder and chile slaw. For his final dessert, Stroud made his “first ever” angel food cake, with tequila. No one in Des Moines this year was more creative with new foods, nor more loyal to local farmers, than Stroud. He introduced much of Central Iowa to goat and heritage poultry. His tequila dinner, which will be repeated monthly this winter, was a bargain. The bar bill alone (seven upscale tequila drinks) could likely have exceeded the $60 tab.

Side Dishes
Scott Carlson (Court Avenue Brewing Company) won IRA’s Championship Award for his work lobbying Iowa legislators… Patisserie Café, where all things are expressed as cupcakes, opened a holiday season shop in West Glen. 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) Zuzap (8-14-08)
Le Jardin (8-21-08) Samurai Sushi & Hibachi (8-28-08)
Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano (9-4-08) Old Castle (9-11-08)
Old Mexic, New Mexico (9-18-08) Bistro at ICI (9-25-08)
Transmigration of the soul (food) (10-02-08) Boilin' Crawfish 4 (10-09-08)
Comfort food (10-16-08) Beyond the World Food Fest (10-23-08)
Tedesco’s Steakhouse (10-30-08) Proof finds its place (11-06-08)
Graze is no ordinary restaurant (11-13-08) Living History Farms (11-20-08)

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