Dinner is the new lunch at Le Jardin11/6/2013
At the turn of this decade, lunch was the new dinner. Flarah’s had just moved its lunch business into a larger spot in Beaverdale and opened the first of two downtown outlets. Proof was the hottest new café in town with weekday lunches and a single evening service. Flour became the first pizza joint in town to make it on lunch business alone. La Mie gave up on nighttime service. Baby Boomers was still riding the crest of its Obama connection, with nary a dinner under its customers’ belts. Downtown food courts were packed at lunchtime.
That wheel has turned. All Flarah’s stores have closed. Proof announced last week that it would be discontinuing lunch, at least until next spring, to concentrate on expanded dinner service. Flour and two successive lunch spots at the same address have moved on. Baby Boomers retired like so many of its namesakes. No one has trouble finding an open table in the downtown food courts these days. And night people Tag and Meg Grandgeorge have emerged from a sojourn that corresponded with lunch’s high times.
They were responsible for talking La Mie owners into a dinner service with a space-sharing experiment in which they operated Le Jardin evenings. They laid low after that while keeping the Le Jardin name alive through catering and special events, most notably partnering with Peace Tree Brewery. Last month they reopened Le Jardin in a Beaverdale space formerly home to Flarah’s. To transform the well-known lunch spot into a dinner destination, the owners hired Chris Vance to paint the most prominent wall in the building, beautifully lit so that it’s obvious from the parking lot and even to southbound traffic. Vance’s impressionist mural of a French cityscape brightens the bare trappings of an otherwise industrial-style venue of concrete floors and bare-boned furnishings.
My dinner began with a versatile charcuterie plate ($12-$18) of pork pate, rabbit liver mousse, garlic saucisson sec, bright pickled cauliflower, grainy mustard, cornichons and crackers. Cheese plates ($11-$21) featured choices of two local and three French selections with copious amounts of apple slices, walnuts, jam, grapes and crackers. An arugula salad ($7) delivered very little arugula but lots of less interesting greens, bacon, walnuts and soggy blackberries in a basil vinaigrette. That was topped with melted Brie on toast. Four thick-cut sweet potato fries ($6) were served with a blue cheese dip and micro greens. Tri tip steak ($21) came with red potato “smash cake,” paprika onions, Burgundy butter and herbs de Provence. Grilled squash and gnocchis ($15) were paired with brown butter and a Parmigiano-Reggiano sauce. Truffled chicken ($20) brought two breasts in a truffled cream sauce with wilted kale, roasted potatoes and other wild mushrooms. Shrimp spaetzle ($18) delivered just three shrimp with zucchini in a creamy tomato sauce with basil and cheese shredded on top. Rabbit meatloaf ($18) brought hard-seared slices on parsnip mash with a medley of Brussels sprout leaves and apricot jam. A duck duet ($22), the nicest presentation of the evening, presented rare breast slices around a pile of juicy confit with turnips, carrots and Chambord reduction.
Sandwiches ($10-$13) and tomato bisque ($6-$11) rounded out the menu. Desserts disappointed with chewy, browned crepes in a saccharine berry sauce and a pot do crème that was too thick to be described as creamy. The all-French wine list ranged $7-$9 by the glass and $34-$45 per bottle. European and domestic beers were available but no cocktails. Service was spotty, with empty water glass ignored and plates served from the wrong side of diners.
Side Dishes Cyd Koehn (Catering by Cyd) won the March of Dimes’ Signature Chefs Auction competition… David Baruthio’s new scratch pasta and pizza café on First Street in West Des Moines is now shooting to open around Dec. 1. CV