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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Cornelius’ Hideout
12636 RR 120A, Gray, IA, 800-RAIDERS
Sunday 4 to 10 p.m., Monday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Cornelius’ Cache

Any review of Cornelius’ Cache (CC) becomes a tale of two restaurants — it is the best of times or the worst of times depending upon a diner’s politics and awareness. On the surface, CC probably provides the most affordable luxury dining in America. Thirty six different kinds of oyster were available on the half shell, at two for $1. Caviars ($20 tasting platters) included both Russian and Iranian brands that are nearly impossible to find, even in New York’s four-star restaurants. Fresh poultry ($10 - $14 plates) had been flown in from Japan and France. On my visit, almost everyone seemed to appreciate the opportunity to try things they had never eaten before. Very few were asking, “How is this possible?” That’s my job.

In February, CC opened to the general public in northwest Audubon County. Located in the commissary of the Employee Campus of American International Group’s (AIG) Rest & Rehabilitation Center, the restaurant is probably named after AIG founder Cornelius Vander Starr, though no one could confirm that. None of my servers had ever heard of Starr and no manager (called “butlers” here) would talk about the relationship between the restaurant and company. My server speculated that AIG opened the restaurant to “unload perishable foods and generate positive PR.” That would make sense. Corporate executives use the R&R facility on Thursday through Sunday retreats. The restaurant is only open Sunday nights and all day Mondays. My server also said the company had been upset by a story in the Storm Lake Times that reported them dumping thousands of dollars in luxury foods at a local landfill. He said that they must have decided it would be a good PR move to “let the locals and the un-rich eat the leftovers instead.”

CC’s customers weren’t all that local when I visited. I saw top chefs and corporate executives from Des Moines (who begged to remain anonymous), Kansas City and Omaha on a Sunday night. One table said they flew into the local airstrip from Chicago. Such things are not unheard of in this part of Iowa. Super lobbyist and former Democratic Party National Chairman Charles Taylor Manatt flies his worldly clients into Audubon County each fall for hunting binges. One local told me he makes more money on tips serving Manatt’s clients for one week than he earns farming the rest of the year.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been the unofficial motto of Audubon County for quite awhile. AMVC LLC, the county’s largest employer, is a full service pork production specialist. The V in their name originally stood for “veterinarian,” and that company has long been associated with antibiotic solutions to health problems in hog confinements. That’s a hush-hush topic these days because of MRSA. That antibiotic-resistant infection has been killing more Americans than AIDS for five years in a row, and it has been linked to hog confinements.

Few people dining at CC looked disturbed about the food chain. I didn’t exactly lose my appetite for some marvelous fare either. For an appetizer, I ate three-dozen raw Kumamoto, Malaspina, Malpecque, Nootka, Quilcene, Barron Point, Belon and Tomales Bay oysters. I had a bowl of shark’s fin soup and a fruit salad that included mangosteens, rambuttans, custard apples, fejoyas and finger limes, a legendary fruit that has become super chef Ferran Adria’s greatest obsession. I then shared plates of calves brains, veal shortbreads, foie gras, Genghis Khan lamb chops, free-ranged pork middlins and Audubon County apple ice cream, shaped like an apple and covered in spun sugar and 24 carat gold. My entire bill was $46, less than it would have cost me for overnight shipping of one finger lime.

Side Dishes
Bob Conley sold his interests in four local hotels and is opening Khanh Lee’s, a mom and pop grocery store with an attached Korean BBQ. “Korean is the new Thai, and grocery stores are the place to make money these days,” he explained. CV

April Fools

Food Dude Reviews 2009 2008 Reviews ~ 2007 Reviews
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Noah's Ark (01-29-09) Taste of Elegance (02-05-09)
La Mie Bakery & Café (02-12-09) El Chisme (02-19-09)
Florene’s (02-26-09) Fourth Street T (03-05-09)
Supreme Bakery (03-12-09) Town Hall Tavern (03-19-09)
Namaste India (03-26-09)  

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