East Village’s latest niche10/28/2015
East Village’s restaurant scene has been developing in its own fashion. Unlike the west side of downtown, small restaurants pop up as often as places with hundreds of seats and James Beard Awards chefs. Because relatively smaller venues are available, interesting offbeat genres have a place in the village. Open Sesame offers Lebanese cuisine, Blu delivers Thai food, HoQ is dedicated to farm-to-table style. New Oriental Food Store is a grocery store with a prepared food section that includes spring rolls, noodles, egg rolls, fried bananas, etc. Allspice Culinarium is an extraordinary purveyor of exotic spices and oils. Kitchen Collage is the metro’s top kitchen supply store.
The latest niche pop up is Ceviche Bar, a charming café with a Cuban cigar humidor and Cuban street scene paintings, many with cigars, by artist Keelia Paulsen. The kitchen in this 38-seater specializes in Cuban food plus ceviche. One theory about the origin of the word ceviche is that it evolved from the Spanish word escabeche, which translates to “pickle.” It developed in Moorish Grenada and became popular in Peru during the era of the Conquistadores. From there, the dish spread to other coastal parts of South America. Cuba is a tropical island, so the dish fits the country despite its lack of history there. There was a single version available on my visit, though I was told that new versions will be coming soon, including ones that use fresh red snapper and small scallops. In the meantime, the house version was made with raw farmed tilapia, avocadoes, large shrimp, bell pepper, cilantro and lime juice.
It’s not new to Des Moines. Several Mexican restaurants make it, usually as a topping for tostadas. The Ecuadorean café, Mi Patria, offers several kinds. Ceviche Bar’s version ($11) is not as spicy as most others. I didn’t even find any onions. It was served in a cocktail glass with toasted Cuban bread points rather than sweet things like fried plantains.
Cuban sandwiches are iconic in both Cuba and Florida. The official sandwich of Tampa, they came to the U.S. in the 19th century with cigar factory and sugar cane workers from Cuba. The Ceviche Bar Cuban included buttered Cuban bread (similar to large baguettes), lean ham, lean pulled pork, Swiss cheese and pickles. The bread was compressed until crunchy on a plancha, which is much like a Panini press. Steak sandwiches were also made this way. Sandwiches ($11) were served with a choice of salad or black beans with rice. The latter is a Cuban classic and resembles Cajun red beans and rice. My salad was mostly chopped Romaine with some roasted peppers and olives. A chorizo cheese plate ($10) was also offered.
Cuban flan ($5) differed from Mexican flans around town in that it was served hot and with a darker caramel. I liked it. Djonut chocolate espresso cakes ($5) were also offered. That’s the whole menu for now, though specials are rather special.
The bar is featured here. Tropical cocktails and a good tiny wine list are specialties, but you might find some unusual beers here, too, including Toppling Goliath of Decorah. Bar pours are what would be considered top-shelf liquors in some bars — Dewar’s Scotch, Knob Creek Bourbon, Tito’s vodka (a gluten-free product of Texas), Bacardi rum, El Jimador and Patron tequila, Jack Daniels and Templeton Rye whiskeys and Crown Royal whisky. The most popular cocktail is an El Presidente, described as a martini made with rum and Curacao. Cuban coffee is an espresso hybrid that is usually infused with sweetener when brewed.
Side Dishes: The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that between 1960 and 2004, fertilizer inputs in Iowa increased sevenfold, and chemical use increased 8.78 times. The story added that $4 billion a year is lost here due to freshwater contamination. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
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