New, newer and newest of the year2/1/2017
Remember supersizing? It served the fast food industry a couple decades ago. For a nominal fee, customers could have much larger servings of drinks and fries. The fast food police complained they were prime contributors to the obesity epidemic, and they soon were gone. Remember the Dollar Menu? Fast food joints busted them out a decade ago but backed off a few years later because they were not healthy to their bottom lines.
With big fast food losing market share now, both these promotions made New Year’s comebacks, combined with a popular come-on from the telecommunications industry — bundling. Major TV campaigns have let us know that, once again, there are $1 sandwiches at such paragons of fast food propaganda as Burger King, Wendy’s, Hardee’s and Taco Bell. The catch is that one must bundle a sandwich with a $1 fries, $1 nuggets, $1 soft drinks, etc. It all adds up to considerable savings compared to a la carte prices. As the TV character Haley Dunphy (“Modern Family”) explained, “The more you spend, the more you save.”
If you aren’t excited about fries with your nuggets, burger and Mountain Dew, there’s a lot of other new stuff going on in the local restaurant scene. Sushi 117 is so new that they were a work in progress when I visited in mid-January. In fact, they were not yet serving sushi. Thicker-than-usual crepes were stuffed with freshly chopped fruits, chocolate, nutella, caramel, or smoked salmon. No whipped cream, though. I tried a strawberry and nutella crepe and loved it.
Chef Zon said the café will soon be serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. He was a longtime chef at Café Su, Red China Bistro and Zon’s. Café Su closed recently, so Sushi 117 is its downsized reincarnation two blocks south on Fifth Street. It’s connected to Inspired Grounds coffeehouse with easy flow between the two dining areas.
Banana Leaf Asian Bistro opened a few months earlier in a reviving West Glen. The café has both a front and rear entrance, making it easy to find parking near a door, which is a big plus in winter. It also has vestibules on both entrances so blasts of cold air do not bother diners. The interior design incorporates plastic trompe l’oeil. Green mats appear to be organic until inspected closely. Two mini banana plants also look real till you touch a leaf.
The menu might be the largest I have encountered in a Thai café — 16 pages with a binder. It includes sushi, Vietnamese and Chinese sections. I tried some nigiri and found it lacking in freshness and presentation (just rice, wasabi and fish, and I had to ask for soy sauce to mix my wasabi). The more ubiquitous sushi becomes, the less interesting it is.
The Thai menu I sampled was superb. Both stir fried dishes and curries had deep flavors that included every kind of taste — sweet, sour, unami, bitter, salty, astringent and pungent. Vegetables were surprisingly fresh for winter. Duck, mock duck and fried chicken were meat options, as were scallops. Spice levels were milder than elsewhere in town. Servings were enormous, and take-home containers were first class.
The café at the Des Moines Art Center has changed hands. Rosie Punelli, long-time sous chef to original art center kitchen guru Lisa LaValle, has returned and named the place Chef’s Palette. It’s a mini version of LaValle’s Trellis, offering a much shorter menu of wonderful soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta and desserts. A recent sampling of creamy spinach soup reminded me that no one coaxes more flavor out of soups than Punelli and her mentor. Salads included dried fruits and candied walnuts suitable to winter. ♦
Sean Wilson of Proof is shifting his menu in March to his roots in East Carolina ‘”Outer banks, Carolina Coastal Plain, and low country – Hatteras Island, Haker’s Island, Penguin Island, Sea Island, Tybee Island, from the North Shores and Down Easters, to Calabash and Gullah,” in his words.