“The inevitable never happens, it is the unexpected always,” wrote economist John Maynard Keynes a century ago. Not much has changed in 100 years. Who foresaw the day when basketball players wore their pants below the knees and football players wore theirs above them? Or when the Des Moines Symphony would feature a Billy Joel impersonator in concert? Food trends take less time to blow your mind. Hershey’s declared recently that their earnings were being squeezed by American’s new-found taste for expensive dark chocolate on the high end and also by cheaper milk chocolates on the low end.
Restaurant news in Des Moines has been similarly bifurcated. Until recently, the top new restaurants this year have been rather humble. If the year ended before Halloween, the best of the year would probably come from a group that includes a small Thai café (Eat Thai), a jerk joint (Eastman’s Jamaican Restaurant), a tiny ramen shop (Krunkwich) or a sports bar (Beerhouse). The last two months will change that with a flurry of openings anticipated by New Year’s. It’s not just coincidental that many cafés open late in the year — tax incentives push folks to debut before the year ends.
Lurra Cocina led off this movement with the town’s first Spanish café. The 120-seater was so busy after opening that it closed recently in order to “retrain staff.” Its menu features Basque and Catalan specialties. Paella is a regular, not a rare special. Its version includes mussels, clams, shrimp, chorizo and hen with fresh vegetables and rice. Pan-roasted red snapper, charcuterie plates, cheese plates, N’duja stuffed dates and Manchego cheesecakes are a few other offerings. The menu includes nine items priced just $2-$4. Four entrees go for $24-$28. The bulk of the menu consists of small plates mostly in the $8-$12 range.
Prime Land & Sea previewed early this month. The restaurant by David Baruthio (Baru 66, Blue Tomato, Baru at the Art Center) promises good steak without 801 Chophouse prices. The preview included a marvelous ice sculpture filled with fresh shrimp and lobsters, some of the best lamb chops I have ever tasted, truffle soup, cheeses and charcuterie. The restaurant takes over the venue most famously known as Eighth Street Seafood and most recently as Raul’s. A wine cellar has been added. Baruthio said the place will not compete with Baru 66 but instead look for a more casual crowd with a family friendly menu, suggesting $22 entrées as a target price with a few prime steaks and fish. They plan to open on Black Friday.
Eighth Street has also been abuzz with rumors of other changes. However, the venue best known as Jimmy’s American Café has not been sold to, or leased by, Scott Carlson of Court Avenue Brewing Company and Americana. Carlson said he is looking at many locations, but “Hey, I looked at 50 places before settling on Americana.” A new building has been approved for construction on University in Windsor Heights with plans calling for multiple restaurants — some high end — plus large residential spaces.
Not all is quiet on the eastern front, either. Bruce Gerleman and Dom Iannarelli (Jethro’s, Splash) worked toward opening their first Italian restaurant in a former Pizza Hut near Adventureland. That café hopes to debut before the end of the year with classic Des Moines Italian cuisine, featuring appetizers and sandwiches within the $7-$13 range and entrees priced $9-$23.
Side Dishes: Expatriate Iowa chef Lon Symensma, who made his national name at ChoLon in Denver, is opening a new restaurant in Stapleton Airport, now being converted into Eastland Town Center. He’s also retooling the food and bar service in Denver’s Union Station Cooper Lounge. He’s staying out of the bus station food court for now. 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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