Something new, something old at Cosi Cucina7/23/2014
When David and Bonnie Bartels opened Cosi Cucina 20 years ago, it was an instant sensation. Super farmer Larry Cleverley recalls it being the best restaurant in Iowa when he began growing things that restaurants didn’t serve here — radicchio, arugula, green garlic, etc. The café’s casual mix of jazz, wood cooking and Italian menus drew visitors from wide and far. Clint Eastwood was a regular during the filming of Bridges of Madison County. Things changed then. Chef Doug Smith bought his own place in southern Iowa, the Bartels sold to their manager and new places like Bistro 43, Sage, Basil Prosperi, and Danielle moved the focus of trendy cuisine further east. The restaurant’s third owner closed Cosi last winter. The Bartels, who owned the land, heard about that and stepped in to repurchase it, an interesting move for folks in their 70s.
Cosi Cucina’s distinctive wood oven and wood grills remind one immediately that this is a traditional place. Wood-burning grills are just starting a comeback downtown, and barbecues have mostly converted to gas heat. Cosi still believes wood is part of the special experience that keeps customers loyally coming back while recruiting a new generation. There’s a new generation helping operate Cosi too, with son Nathan returning from California and bartending. Considerable remodeling is a work in progress, mostly being done on Sunday nights and Mondays when the café is closed. New ceiling tiles appeared last week. A chicken rotisserie is being updated to return that former star to the menu. Floor tiles are coming soon, along with stained glass and new lighting.
Best of all are the changes that were not made. Divine thin crust pizza pies ($10-13) are cooked in high heat, all-wood ovens. Roasted, sun-dried and Roma tomatoes are featured on several, as is homemade mozzarella. Their vegetable pie is as good as any with Cosi’s signature roasted garlic, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted peppers, sliced Romas and fresh basil on thin crust rubbed with olive oil.
Roast garlic, with goat cheese, roast peppers and crostini, starred on an appetizer menu ($7-13) that also included shrimp wrapped in prosciutto with mango salsa, and big scallops in citrus sauced leeks, oranges and tomatoes. Salads ($4-10) are among the best in town, Caesar dressing is pumped up with fresh anchovy flavor. House salads included mesclun greens that were so new 20 years ago. Fresh mozzarella salads provided an inexpensive taste of their homemade cheese. Soups ($3-6) included a rich lobster bisque, minestrone and a daily special.
A chicken calzone ($13) was gigantic, stuffed with cheese, peppers with diced tomatoes, toasted in the wood over. Entrees ($12-23) included a signature potato ravioli with pan-seared beef tips, bacon and potatoes in a smoked cream sauce. Wood-grilled specialties include salmon, grouper, ribeyes and filets. Squash risotto and pork Masala with tenderloins and wild mushrooms are old favorites. Mushroom pasta delivered farfalle, shallots and tomatoes in a lovely sherry sauce. Two kinds of brownies and house made cheese cakes with fresh fruits and fresh fruit sauces starred on the dessert menu.
Bottom line — After 20 years, Cosi Cucina has graduated from the hot new kid to a faithful old tradition. Those who are comforted by the aroma of burning wood should be pleased they found some old, new owners.
Side Dishes Niman Ranch’s annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner will be Sept. 13 at Embassy Suites in Des Moines. Guests chefs include Alexander Roberts (Alma, Minneapolis), Chris Beischer (Mercer Kitchen, NYC), Jason Cline (Birchwood, St. Petersburg), Keennan Bosworth (Pig & Pickle, Scotsdale), Kelly Whitaker (Basta, Boulder), and Lucas Sautter (Alderbrook Resort, Union, Wash). Advance tickets $75 through Aug. 28 – 641-579-6594. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Cosi Cucina 1975 N.W. 86th St., Clive, IA, 278-8148 Tues. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sat. noon – 10 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.