Lurra Cocina fills a void11/25/2015
“What cuisine does Des Moines lack most?”
Ethiopian, South Indian and classical Turkish get mentioned frequently, but nothing pops up as often as Spanish. The Ethiopians, Tamils and Turks are moving on up now because Lurra Cocina has crossed Spanish cuisine off the city’s wish list. This is not a typical entry-level café for a new concept. Trappings, décor and the number of seats are far more like those at major restaurants like Centro or Americana than at Proof or Miyabi 9. Like Alba, Americana and the late Raccoon River Brewing Company, Lurra has remodeled a grand old auto dealership. There are two levels of seating, blueprints from 1920, purse hangers under bar seats and ceiling-high windows appropriate for showing off new cars. Seating options include high tops, low tops and banquettes. Dinnerware includes plain white as well as Talavera-style plates one expects on the Iberian Peninsula.
Lurra has a pintxos menu named after the Basque word, which means “spike” in English. From Bilbao to San Sebastian, pinxtos bars are a way of life. Chef Nick Illingworth said banderillas were his most popular pintxo, so I started with these skewers of anchovy, piquillo pepper, olives and pickles. Though they are intended to encourage craft cocktail ($9-$11) sipping, I felt they were calling for a throwback IPA like Oscar Blues Pinner, an IPA that is not dominated by hops. I also tried a special of white anchovies; some toasted Marcona almonds with sea salt; a marinated vegetable plate that included smoked red peppers, espelette peppers and grilled eggplant; and gazpacho in a shot glass. The vegetable plate stood out. Other pintxos include Spanish olives, deviled eggs with speck (ham), and grilled mushrooms in salsa verde. All pinxtos cost just $2-$4.
Tapas were much larger plates. Zanahorias came highly recommended, but this plate of three kinds of carrots rubbed in cumin and paprika and treated to shaved Manchego cheese tasted too much like grill char. Queso de cabra was an utterly mellow combination of baked goat cheese, piquillo peppers and lavender salt, served with toast points. Ensalada remolocha is my favorite Lurra dish so far. Multicolored roasted beets, played with farro, goat cheese, shallots and sweet, crunchy sunflower seeds dressed in sherry vinaigrette. Shrimp alhinho delivered crustaceans flavored with garlic, red pepper and shrimp juices. Some other tapas include homemade tuna salad tossed in buttermilk dressing, potato croquettes topped with Manchego and ham, chicken and pork meatballs in tomato sauce, calamari stuffed with cheese and served in tomato sauce, and a ceviche-like salpicon with red snapper and four seafoods. Most tapas cost $7-$10, though charcuterie platters are priced as high as $16.
Paella gets the Spanish vote for the world’s greatest rice dish. Like India’s biryani, China’s jook and Italy’s risotto, it calls for a specific kind of rice and is mostly about the flavors absorbed. Paella rice is always bomba, a short-grained product that absorbs considerably (30 percent) more moisture than others. Traditional Valencia paella is saffron-colored and includes several seafoods, sausage and chicken in chicken stock. I planned on ordering that but was seduced into trying another version cooked in squid ink with salt cod, mussels and alioli (which is the Catalan word for de Burgo). I loved the flavor but missed the soccarat (crunchy coating from the bottom of the pan). The menu included four full-sized entrées and four desserts. I like the deep-flavored flan so much that I have yet to try anything else.
Among the restaurant’s quirks: It makes its own tonic and calls chicken “hen,” though Illingworh promised they are really young fryers. Lunch service includes a few tapas, salads and sandwiches.
Side Dishes: Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, a fast growing chain out of Charlotte, North Carolina, plans to open in three weeks in the Jordan Creek area in West Des Moines. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
1420 Locust St., 635-0952
Lunch: Mon. – Fri. 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., Dinner Sun. – Thurs. 4-10 p.m.;
Fri. – Sat. 4-11 p.m.