1107 E. University Ave.,
Daily 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Fawn’s — this restaurant
Fawn Soulinthavong met her future
husband when she was a student
waiting tables at the Golden Dragon
and Scott Soulinthavong was its
chef. After marrying, she worked
in state government agencies while
he continued cooking. The bureaucrat
and the chef rarely saw each other,
so they opened their own restaurant
— Siam in Ankeny. After 17 years,
they sold that place. Then Fawn
started missing the restaurant
life. So, the couple built a new
cafe, this time with their kids
helping. Beautifully appointed
with faux limestone floors, gentle
colors and new furniture, Fawn’s
is considerably bigger and more
multicultural than the Ankeny
“I wanted an urban atmosphere
with more diversity. Between us,
my husband and I have four different
(ethnicities amongst) parents
— one Laotian, one Vietnamese,
one Chinese and one Thai. We both
learned to cook from our parents
and grandparents, so our menu
is pretty multinational. This
address was perfect, but it needed
some work — it had been Jacko’s
Auto Parts and Garage. I wanted
to present a really nice place
for people to come and eat,” she
explained while moving from table
“I miss (working for) the State.
I miss the short hours, paid vacations
and great benefits. But when I
wasn’t running a restaurant, I
missed the customers more. I love
this life, or I wouldn’t be open
seven days a week,” she laughed.
Fawn’s opened during one of the
iciest Decembers in Des Moines
history, yet its parking lot and
sidewalk were safe and clean on
each of my four visits. (Twice
I ended up at Fawn’s because first
choice restaurants looked perilous.)
A bucket of salt in the foray
might not make the feng shui manual,
but it indicates a thoughtful
Fawn’s menu respected all four
of the owners’ ethnic heritages.
From the Lao menu, I tried some
good laap (a meat ceviche with
greens) and excellent sticky rice.
From the Vietnamese menu, I sampled
pho, a beef noodle soup made from
bone stock but with a twist here.
Fawn said she does not bake bones
prior to simmering. “We boil raw
bones for 15 minutes and throw
out that water. Then we make stock.”
Served with rice sticks and a
choice of meats, plus greens,
sprouts and condiments, this is
a meal in a bowl — but not the
richest broth in town.
Fawn’s Thai menu was the most
interesting and versatile. Most
dishes were offered with a choice
of three meats, shrimp or tofu
and a choice of styles. “Angry”
dishes were made with a brown
sauce and with seeded Mexican
peppers — degrees of heat adjusted
with chili oil. “Curry” dishes
were made with fresh pastes of
seeded chilies, ginger, galangal,
lemongrass, garlic and other vegetables.
“Three flavor” dishes were vegetable
stir frys with a “sweet and sour”
kick. A “whole angry catfish,”
served without its head, was my
favorite application, though the
fish was small. My favorite stir
fry dishes were “ginger” style.
Chicken, shrimp and beef orders
were more reliable than pork.
I really enjoyed a “kana” dish,
which starred a vegetable sometimes
known as broccoli rabe.
Chinese dishes are quite popular
here. My fried noodle orders were
served softer than usual, with
typical accompaniments — all fresh.
Fawn said that even their “sweet
& sour” sauces are made exclusively
with fresh fruits and vegetables,
never processed sauce mixes or
canned stuff. Prices are attractive.
I found that $16 dinners and $8
lunch tabs yielded snack-sized
leftovers to take home, cheerfully
packaged for me. Carryout orders
were ready on time.
Bottom line — Fawn’s ranks with
Pho Ha Dao and Cool Basil for
providing the nicest ambiance
among Des Moines’ S.E. Asian cafés.
Its multiethnic menu is reliable,
if not innovative. It’s a good
bargain with excellent service.
Star Destinations announced 2009
foodie tours to St. Louis, Minneapolis,
Galena, New York, Tuscany. Nauvoo-Keokuk,
Waterloo and Des Moines — (800)
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