Battledish crowns a king10/16/2013
The idea of visiting several restaurants with a group of people has served me well as a tourist. That’s probably why the great culinary cities have many such tours. Mandi Borst is betting that Des Moines is also ready for such an idea. She is the local franchisee of Dishcrawl, a San Francisco-based company that plans restaurant and bar hopping extravaganzas around the world. After taking one of her culinary tours, I think she’s got a winner.
Earlier this month Dishcrawl (http://dishcrawl.com/desmoines) hosted Battledish across the country. In Iowa, seven chefs and bartenders competed in six categories, the most significant award being King of Battledish. Visitors paid $15 to attend and $5 a plate or cocktail, or they bought packages that brought the average cost down. They visited seven restaurants and cast ballots in each of the categories. Some visited in their own groups, others rode party busses. Chefs included Mike Holman of Dos Rios, John Andres of BOS, Sean Wilson of Proof, Sam Auen of Tacopolypse, Joe McConville of Gusto Pizza, Jeff Deets of Liberty, and Joe Tripp of Alba.
My group began at Liberty, which was beautifully remodeled a year ago in the Embassy Suites. Deets, a Johnston grad who’s returned home, greeted us personally. He made mini tostadas with smoked chicken, slow-simmered red chili, poblano-and-sweet corn pico de gallo, frijoles and jack cheese. They were garnished with sour cream and cilantro and made a nice breakfast with frijoles dominating the flavor. At $5, mine was not a good value. However, a melon margarita compensated with fresh fruit skewers and a melon tequila mix.
Our next stop was Alba, an Art Deco car dealership transformed into a stylish restaurant that makes nearly every critic’s very short list of the best cafés in town. Tripp is another native Iowan returned from prodigal food travels. He made dishes of perfectly seared Eden Farms pork belly, served with leaves of grilled Brussels sprouts, a puree made from Grade A Farms’ butternut squash, another puree of onions and apples and a drizzle of browned butter jam. It was sensational as was Shannon Emerson’s cocktail of beet juice, beets, ginger syrup, Bourbon, fresh lemon juice and Peychaud’s bitters. Emerson has won multiple statewide bartending championships for good reason.
At Tacopolypse, Auen made an excellent ramen with handmade noodles, smoked miso (with a little bone broth), andouille, a soft-poached egg and house-pickled vegetables. Gusto offered small slices of root-vegetable pizza made with carrot puree, ginger and maple-glazed parsnips, sweet potatoes, red onions and candid pecans. Its drink offering was half a plastic cup of Farmer Brown Ale.
At Proof we enjoyed pork tenderloin on kale with fried creamy corn, a great contrast of textures. Its Moroccan 75 cocktail was made with Fresno chilies, tequila, passion fruit and homemade orange bitters. Longtime chef John Andres greeted us at BOS, another gorgeously remodeled hotel restaurant. He served Malbec-braised short ribs with a perfectly seared scallop, a rye whiskey pan sauce and a lemon emulsion. BOS’ cocktail was a “New York Sazerac” that included no absinthe but did include wine (Malbec), rye whiskey, fresh lemon and simple syrup.
We finished at Dos Rios, where chef Mike Holman and manager Jeff Duncan both greeted us. Holman served Argentine beef sandwiches with onions, hard-boiled eggs, mango vinaigrette and arugula on homemade French rolls. The bar’s cocktail was sangria that oddly did include absinthe, plus cachaca, orange liquor, Mexican brandy and pineapple.
Auen’s ramen was chosen most creative, Holman’s sandwich the most authentic, Tripp won for best modern, most delicious and King of Battledish. Proof won best cocktail.
Side Dishes Dishcrawl’s next event is a Beaverdale crawl on Monday, Oct. 21… Trostel’s Greenbriar hosts a Fess Parker wine dinner on Oct. 17, $65. CV