Skybox, 1261 Eighth St., West
Daily. 11 a.m.- 2 a.m.
Skybox is an ambiguous and loaded
word that suggests a luxurious
life style to some folks, but
over-priced mediocrity to others.
The new Skybox Sports Bar clears
that duplicity with its own definition
— “a sports atmosphere that’s
a level above.” It earns that
entitlement with small, unexpected
elegances — tablecloth dining,
a full entrée menu, good
desserts, live music and personalized
service. On each of my five visits,
owner Tony Rose checked on every
table, recalling customers’ first
names and preferences. Like a
young Babe (Bisignano, not Ruth),
he fixed the slightest problems.
That’s the sine qua non of a truly
State of the art video monitors
were visible from any table, but
Skybox cultivated a rather different
sports audience with dark lighting,
muted televisions, live jazz and
three distinctive dining areas.
The kitchen is run by one of the
area‘s best young talents, Matt
Pearson, a Culinary Institute
of America grad who has been learning
new pitches from some old pros
— Troy and Paul Trostel, Don Hensley
and Andrew Meek among them. Pearson
also learned to use his bullpen
appropriately, farming out some
desserts to ace reliever Ryan
Binney (Sweet Binney’s). Most
importantly, Pearson was personally
cooking on each of my visits.
This young chef respects the classics.
His Boursin mushrooms, sautéed
in white wine, were a tip of his
toque to Paul Trostel, who made
that dish a signature 40 years
ago. Many appetizers were well
executed sports bar favorites:
chicken wings, in two levels of
heat; perfectly seared beef brochettes
with chipotle-lime butter; Tex
Mex crab cakes and crisp sweet
potato fries. Pearson also innovates.
His tempura shrimp sushi roll
bucked tradition by going heavy
with the vinegar on its rice.
That’s not inappropriate in a
sports bar. Lobster Rangoon confused
me with too much (raspberry-mango
sauce, ginger cream cheese) going
on. Mango-glazed shrimp skewers,
on sesame slaw, were sweet and
sour as well as soft and crisp.
Chicken tortilla soup stuck out
among soups and salads with intense
chicken stock, fresh avocado and
limejuice. Thin-crusted pizza
used top ingredients like roasted
and peeled peppers, fresh herbs
and spinach, Northern Prairie
cheeses and Graziano sausages.
Pearson’s entrees and desserts
elevate this sports bar. Fish
and chips, made with walleye,
were as good as I’ve ever found
in town. Pearson’s home made chips
were “gaufrette” cut to resemble
waffled wafers. The same walleye
appeared in ciabatta on a fish
sandwich, a bargain at $8 with
a choice of soup, salad, sweet
potato fries, or homemade chips.
Cold smoked sirloin steak produced
rare tenderness while its three-chile
chutney complemented its milder
sides of Hollandaise sauce and
goat cheese polenta. Moist salmon
was grilled, not steamed, in cornhusks
and served with a tomatillo sauce
and chipotle mashed potatoes.
Pearson introduced this writer
to Antarctic Queen, a Chilean
fish the wait staff compared to
tilapia, though its flesh was
thicker and blander, more like
cod. He compensated its mildness
with an almond and cheese crust,
sherry butter, shiitake and chanterelle
mushrooms and perfectly fried
potato and shallots side dish.
The same sherry butter covered
a lobster linguini. Stuffed chicken
breasts were busy — a salty blue
goat cheese stuffing overwhelmed
two large, nicely crisped breast
halves while crisp prosciutto
lent even more saltiness. That
dish came with a good mushroom
risotto and caramelized carrots.
Pearson’s homemade crème
brulee (pumpkin, blackberry, etc.)
were fabulously rich.
Service was still a work in progress.
No one ever provided a plate to
set utensils on between courses,
nor offered to bring clean utensils.
Desserts were served on coffee
saucers. Bottom line — Skybox
is the most recent excellent restaurant
to open in 2008, the best year
ever in Des Moines. With an $18
top price, it’s also quite affordable.
Iowa State Historical Museum hosts
“Breakfast with Santa” on Dec.
13 and 20, tickets $15 - free,
277-3727... The Juice, Co. closed
its Westdale Shopping Center store
in preparation for a long-rumored
move to The Shops at Roosevelt.
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