HoQ provides farm-to-table quality12/5/2012
HoQ is East Village’s latest fine dining hot spot. Its moniker is a shortened version of owner/chef Suman Hoque’s last name. Spelled, as it is on its logo, with only a lower case vowel, it’s also an acronym for “House of Quality,” a matrix applied in Quality Function Deployment. According to Visipedia, HoQ is best employed to analyze a service or product’s ability to meet customer desires compared to its competition.
In East Village, restaurant competition is often a mano a mano challenge between architectural design firms led by Kirk Blunck (Lucca, Miyabi, City Bakery) and Greg Wattier (Alba) whose E5W building houses HoQ. To transform its former Baby Boomer venue, Iowa Design Group’s Traci Baldus divided several nooks and crannies with a spectacular set of bar shelves ascending into a faux canopy suspended from the ceiling and resembling the skeleton of a Viking longboat. Beneath it a centered island bar dominates the room. Martinis produced there were more standard. A “lemon drop” missed the contrasting touches of non-lemon citrus that distinguish the best of its type. A too sweet “chocolate cherry cake” redundantly mixed chocolate and cherry cake vodkas with chocolate syrup. A short wine list ranged $30-$70.
HoQ professes farm-to-table philosophy. That’s a tough act to pull off in Des Moines as the winter solstice approaches. Fresh and local competitors like Alba and Luna spent much of the fall pickling and canning local products to survive the cold season. Like many new places, HoQ’s service and food were both works in progress. On my first visit, I was informed about changes to menu descriptions only after they were served. A week later, such information came, gratefully, before I ordered. On my first visit, a boneless half chicken ($24) was cooked in one piece. Predictably its white meat was terribly dry. Nicely glazed (with fig balsamic) skin, pearl quinoa and sweet kale could not compensate. On a later visit, only chicken breasts ($23) were served. On an early visit, lamb shanks ($25) were served with pumpkin orzo, Parmesan cheese and braising liquid but without the gremolata promised on the menu. Rather bland, it could have used gremolata’s kick. On a later visit, it had been replaced on the menu by “lamb short ribs” ($23), which were actually beef short ribs.
First courses were more consistent. Beet salad ($8) was served with black lentils, goat cheese, marvelously fresh micro greens and fig balsamic. A mild, spreadable beef tartar ($9) was plated with toast points. Beef sumanski ($7) resembled samosas from Hoque’s native Bangladesh and were served with three diverse sauces. Bacon and eggs ($8) delivered a superb confit of pork belly with poached egg and warmed vinaigrette. Potato leek soup ($7) had deep flavors and exquisitely foamy texture.
Entrees on my later visit were also consistent. Wild salmon ($23), cooked perfectly rare, complemented its kale, beet and white-butter sauce accompaniment. Pan-seared scallops ($26) worked well with the potato-squash risotto, kale and butter sauce. A ribeye steak ($28) delivered the distinct flavors of its grass-fed diet with a combination of fries including potato, sweet potato and beet root, with roasted Brussels sprouts.
Desserts ($7-$8) lacked the consistency of entrees. Homemade ice creams, served in an un-chilled dish, were partially melted. Crème brulee (made with Hawaii’s Singing Dog vanilla) delivered marvelously deep flavor. Pound cake with poached pear and huckleberry sauce didn’t provide the contrasts that a good pumpkin bread pudding did with its caramelized pumpkin seeds.
Bottom line: HoQ is a new, urban hot spot with rare, conversation-friendly acoustics, even when packed. Its food and service need time and focus to rival the best restaurants in East Village.
Bubba’s, a fixed-price Southern cafe with Scott Stroud as chef, will pop up next month in Hoyt Sherman Place. CV