Locally Grown


The Things The Datebook Diner Should Miss.

Dearest Tens,

Yes, we have been absent again after a big push to start things back up fool time. Full time. BUT DON’T GET SALTY!  The weather blossomed into an early spring which caused me, The Cook, to do my job of cooking again.  Last time we checked in our main subject of honor had announced her retirement from reviewing the restaurants in Our Fair City to pursue her other, more Francophilic, interests.  I, along with my cohorts, have been poring over her increasingly truncated reviews, trying to find something LG-worthy to share.  No luck there, until yesterday.  Last night I fired up my Android (uggg) powered Google Reader application and among my plethora of news items from Cat Fancy and Milk Chugger’s Magazine I found a little post from our beloved DD concerning what she will not be missing upon her leaving the eating scene of the DMZ (Des Moines Zone).

First I would like to state that a person whom after nearly 14 YEARS of writing about a dining scene publishes one of their final articles regarding said scene and chooses only NEGATIVES to outline her nearly 14 YEARS of writing about said dining scene maybe shouldn’t have been writing about our city to begin with.  After all of that time and all those hundreds of reviews all she has to say to the diners, restauranteurs, chefs, cooks, and servers is THREE NEGATIVE STATEMENTS ABOUT WHAT SHE WON’T BE MISSING ABOUT WHAT DES MOINES HAS BEEN DOING WITH FOOD OVER THE LAST NEARLY 14 YEARS.  What will she not miss?  Read Here.  We have all spent a long time reading about her complaints, and I personally think she could have come up with a better list.  (on a little tangent, I can’t help but think when she took the job, nearly 14 years ago, she was in another city with a less French Name and saw an opportunity to live in the “Midwest Riviera” but upon arrival found the dread of gloppy soup, iceberg lettuce, and giant wasteful portions to be so oppressive that she decided that if she has to do this 13 or 14 more times, she is out of here)

Seriously, you serve me gloppy soup 13 or 14 more times, and I am OUT OF HERE! -Datebook Diner

So what do we here at the world’s most dangerous food blog (about Des Moines) think that the list should have included?  First off, it should be a POSITIVE list that doesn’t read like an elementary report card that says “Your kid will never learn, they are hopeless and you should just give up for there is no hope for change.”  Maybe after blah blah blah years said food reviewist could find at least three things to miss about Our Fair City and those whom bring you publicly consumed food?  Here are three-ish things that, after our NEARLY THREE YEARS of writing about the DD, we would expect to see in a list written by her, if she wasn’t being a constant “negative nancy.”  (btw, just because your job title includes the word “critic,” it doesn’t preclude you from making positive statements) So here it is, the….

Three-ish Things We Feel The Datebook Diner Should Miss About DSM Dining

(if she wasn’t being such a negative-pants)

  1. The growing of French cuisine in Des Moines.  Back when DD started out in Des Moines there were very few choices for French dining.  Over the years French has come and French has gone, but our current state of French Dining in the city of the monks finds us a plethora of French-based restaurants.  Bistro Montage, Django, Tartine, La Mie, Baru 66…these are all places that should bring joy to a Francophile’s heart.
  2. The Farmers’ Markets.  The Farmer’s Market isn’t a wholly French concept, but it is French enough for a Francophile to come enjoy.  On Saturday mornings you can walk through the market, sample prepared foods, buy fresh baked breads and locally grown produce and meats, and see some of our more ambitious Chefs of des Moines chatting with local farmers and picking out the freshest goods for their menus.  It is my understanding that the DD never really liked the Farmers Market (at least the Down town iteration) and kept visits to a minimum.  The Farmers Market is the life of our Dining Scene during the summer…but maybe now that her job isn’t reviewing food she will stop down more often.
  3. Watching A City Grow.  You get a job reviewing restaurants in Chicago, New York, LA, SF, any larger city and you get to jump right in to a dining scene which has been thriving for many decades.  If you took a job doing the same thing NEARLY 14 YEARS AGO, you were in a very special position to watch what was once a chain restaurant hell with a few local choices, most of which probably served gloppy soup, to what it is now: A growing community of chefs and restaurateurs whom are constantly working to raise the bar in the dining scene.  We have a respected culinary program just to the north in Ankeny (Iowa Culinary Institute/DMACC) and the students of that program are staying in town with increasing frequency, seeing an opportunity for growth…or even of a fast rise to ownership.  It’s a much different world from the day George Formaro was baking bread on South Union to this day after Chef Formaro and his cohorts at Orchestrate worked for over a decade to change the face of what and how we eat (even if he has been damned for portion size).  Things are much different now, and are growing at an increased rate.  DD had the opportunity to watch all of this from the inside, yet it doesn’t seem to matter in the context of her career in DSM.
  4. Influence.  Maybe she should miss the somewhat misguided influence she wielded over the dining public?  Her words have had noticeable impact on the lives of restaurants.  In fact I have watched a few close with a quickness after a Datebook Diner review (not that a few of those few weren’t warranted).  Whatever.

There are many more, but alas, I am out of time and have to go do my actual job.  Keep following along, there are only two more weeks of our current DD’s reign of terror…then it’s time for to pick on the new guy/gal.

Rep Local.

The Cook.

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Why Tigers Love Pepper, Especially On Val-Day

Happy Day To Spend Money On Someone Who You Hang Out With!  We of the Restaurant Industry love this day sooooo much.  So much.  We appreciate your business.  We appreciate your easy going attitudes and low expectations on this day.  The greatest part of the end of the Holiday Season in restaurants is the Last Holiday, Valentine’s Day.

Let's hope you didn't get this card from anyone this year.

We here at Locally Grown hope that you and your loved ones enjoy wherever it is that you choose to eat your prix-fixe choice of Steak, Chicken, Shrimp, or Pork.  May your evening end with some sort of chocolate dessert incorporating something heart shaped.

See you tomorrow for some actual posting, if we all make it through this, the most *cough* romantic of holidays.

The cook



Food Criticism: It’s Not Horseplay

It’s refreshing to see that so many of you have such strong opinions regarding the desired credentials of the people who have been charged with the task of influencing your opinion with their…opinion.
Some of you have tried making a distinction between Food Writers, Food Critics, Restaurant Critics, Restaurant Reviewers, Entertainment Writers, and Yelpers, BUT you can toss around words like Foal, Mare, Colt, Filly, or Stallion, but a horse is still a horse.  If you choose to review food or a restaurant (professionally or on a user-reviewed site like Yelp), you are really trying to throw yourself into the same stable as the rest of the neighing nay-sayers.  This is one of the reasons I don’t “review” restaurants here, and if you took a look at the first Locally Grown post which i re-posted last week, you would maybe understand where I am coming from.

Do we need restaurant reviewists?  We do. Do we need sweeping food review reform? Probably not.  Unlike the policies force-fed to us by our elected officials, the word of a reviewer can and should be taken with a little subjectivity.  Ok, maybe my coffee intake has overtaken my ability to turn a sensible sentence.

We DO need people who are willing to venture out to new dining spots and share the story of their experience with others who may not be able to get out as often to try new spots, or may not have the financial or time resources to spare on an unknown venture.  There is nothing wrong with being careful with your wallet/purse or your tastebuds, and you careful diners have to be thankful for those who would help you avoid making a dining experience into your own personal tar baby.

Reviews can help you ensure your next dining experience doesn't end up like this.

In this case a review can be a valuable asset.  BUT the problem is trust.  Should you trust a particular reviewer or publication?  Should you put the fate of your hard earned money and free time in the hands of a stranger?  Have you ever been disappointed by a restaurant after reading a glowing review?  I have.  Hell, I have even gone to work at a particular kitchen because of its popularity within the reviewer crowd only to be fully let down.

What does all of this gibberish mean?  (it’s funny, you would think that stepping away from the bottle for a length of time would make for more coherent posts) I will try to sum this up one more time:

LG Tips For Successful Ventures Into Unknown Dining

  • Friends – First and foremost you should have, or find, a friend or colleague whom has similar taste as you, and has an adventurous spirit which propels them into the dining world.
  • Social Media – Use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to your advantage.  You can begin networking with like-minded diners from your area and find some hidden gems that would have otherwise escaped your grasp.
  • User Review Sites – Yes, read reviews on popular web search sites in addition to user-reviewer sites such as Yelp and the like.  Yes, I warn you about trusting these sites…but not all of the reviews are from deck stacking restaurant staff or disgruntled diners/former employees.  With a little reading and research you can find some trustworthy folks.  Right, Jordan?
  • The Print Press – The Physically Printed On Paper crew are a good resource for finding newly opened or soon-to-open spots.  Your local newspaper (sometimes) has an entertainment staff with ears to the ground listening for the faint footsteps of an approaching restaurant opening.  You can also get a valuable history lesson on the dining scene from people who have been dining…professionally…for a number of years. You can also be misled by someone with years of “beef” built up with the local Restaurateurs and Chefs.  Approach the words of the “pro” with the same caution you would use as the “Yelper.”
  • Food Bloggers – Local food bloggers are a valuable resource.  These people have invested the time and money in their own web presence and generally take their writing serious.  This is another avenue which you have to explore carefully, read their blogs and get to know their taste.  If they have written about a restaurant you frequented, compare your experience with theirs.  If there are discrepancies contact the blogger and open a discussion.  Most bloggers are more than helpful when it comes to explaining what they have written about.
  • Insiders – Do you know someone on the “inside?”  Shirley Surely you know someone who works in a restaurant (this seems elementary to me as all of my friends know someone who works in a restaurant).  This doesn’t really pertain to chains, those folks IMO and experience know nothing about the local dining scene.  I am talking about insiders who work at places like Django, Alba, Centro, 801, and the like.  These folks usually have worked at a few of the local spots and know the food and service provided.  Pick their brains, even when dining at their restaurants. I know this sounds a little tacky, but I am sure anyone reading this has the ability to wind a yarn around the situation.

The message here is such:  You have to do some research, spend a little time poking around.  Your money and time is valuable, and Our Fair City has an almost inordinate amount of restaurants vying for your financial attention.  Don’t trust just one source, there is no “Food Guru” (although one guy tried convincing you of this) which can espouse every bit of knowledge you need to make a decision.  Don’t trust a “star” system, trust your own taste and ingenuity.

My last bit of advice is DON’T TRUST ANONYMOUS INTERWEB REVIEWERS.  If you don’t have the cajones to attach your real identity to your opinion, it must not matter that much to you.  These people are what I often like to refer to as “Culinary Cowards” (not to be confused with Culinary Cow) are often just talking a bunch of crap.  Go back to AOL chat rooms with your BS, CC.  We don’t need you here.

Culinary Cow Sez: Trust your tastebuds, but keep them away from ME!

Now get out there and eat (Local)!

The Cook.

P.S. feel free to ask me for dining ideas (FB Sam Auen, Twitter @VegChefDSM, Email locallygrowndsm@gmail.com).  I HAVE most of the information you need at my disposal



Zingaro, Flour, Allspice, and Every News Nice

It is amazing how that one holiday that happened last week, which was given too much attention by a certain cook, has turned into something of a week long celebration like Hannukah, Festivus, or my Fake Birthday.  Well, it’s not really celebrated proper past its Thursday do-date, but the SHOPPING party lasts from Friday until today, which has become what we confusedly refer to as “Cyber Monday.”  “Cyber” was used more as a term for adult-oriented interweb chat activities back in the AOL days or the toddler stage of remote digital exchanges, but now it has been “re-branded” to focus us on the salacious act of bargain shopping until dropping.  Rest assured that today’s internet shopping holiday will no doubt cap the end of our economy’s reccessing, and will net a whole crap load of shipping jobs for the USPS, FedHex, and UPS.  I heard they could all use a little help.

Speaking of help, it’s time for those of us here at LG to put on our Monday News And Interdork Shopping Pageant.  You may want to use the restrooms now.  There is no intemission.

First up is the opening of Chef Hal Jasa’s new “popup” restaurant Zingaro this Thursday night (Dec 2nd) at 1605 Woodland avenue in the glorious Sherman Hill district of the DMZ.  Hal has some great ideas and I am excited to see him have a chance to realize those ideas unhindered from the control of others.  The format is 20 people at a time, 3 courses, $30 dollars, and is BYOB.  This is a great deal for a meal prepared and presented by professionals (I hear that Jenny Smith aka Butcher Crick Farms and the one and only Chef Leon will be helping out from time to time) using local products, cutting edge techniques, and served in a beautiful historic building.  Sounds like a win win win win win…win.  Zingaro will only be serving on Thursday and Friday evenings, and you need reservations.  Step outside the Des Moines Dining Box and check this spot out.  www.zingarocuisine.com / 515-661-4371  Don’t forget to hug your chef.

And now you are thinking “what is a “pop-up” restaurant?”  I am glad you asked.  Pop-ups are popping up in larger cities (shocker) and play on a chef’s creativity.  It’s a way for those chefs without big money backing to expose the world to the product of their obsessive culinary nature.  The goal of these places is not to become a fixture, but to burn brightly then move on to something new.  Sometimes these ventures are a testing ground for the viability of a concept or to showcase an intended static restaurant concept to the public and especially to people who may want to invest in the particular chef’s future.  Did you catch that one?  This is awesome semi-guerilla dining at its rawest.  Here is an article from the NYT which gives a run-down of the POR scene in San Francisco.  Did I mention that I am excited for this to start happening here in Des Moines?

A few weeks ago a valued and LG reader Matt suggested that a petition be started for the repeal or re-revision of the new City of Des Moines Food Cart Rules.  I hear that is in the works.  Spend the winter letting the City council know that when spring hits, you want them to keep their laws off your body…of dining options.  Remember, food carts don’t cause drunken shenaningans, drunks do.

I Still don’t even know how to address this Relish issue.  Maybe a letter to the editor about checking the qualifications of that Miller fellow…

Carly Groben of Proof is about to open a pizza spot called Flour (and is rumored to be opening an MMA workout gym called Rolling Pin.  Ok, nobody laugh at that.) between Smokey D’s BBQ and Jimmy John’s at 1220 Locust Street in the Western Gateway.  The seating is communal, the atmosphere sparse, and the pizza is served in square slices.  Flour is slotted to open sometime between today and Dec 6th.  You can reach the Flour headquarters at 515-288-2935 or on the dork-sphere at www.flourpizza.com

I will be there for their opening day (unless it happens on Friday, as I have a hot lunch date with the DMACC/ICI Bistro folks.  You will be reading about that next Monday), pretty curious about this downtown New Pizza Boom ala the Sushi Boom of ought 8 and the current tail end of the BBQ Craze.  Former Groben cohort Steve Logsdon opened Bagni Di Lucca in the old East Village Basil Prosperi spot this summer, and Cafe Di Scala owner Tony Lemmo’s Gusto Pizza (the new “Frank’s Pizza” of Dogtown fame) is slated to open soon in Ingersoll Square, then you have Fong’s, Mullet’s, and all of the pizza on the skywalk…hm.

wow.

There is also a new Sheriff of Spice in the East Village, Allspice.  I will be going there this afternoon for a little shopping trip.  Here is an article about Allspice and one of my favorite shops, Kitchen Collage from my favorite newspaper in the world, the Des Moines Register.  Anyone need a tissue after that one? contact/visit Allspice at 400 E. Locust St., Suite 5, 515-868-0808  www.allspiceonline.com

 

That wasn’t so hard, was it?  Nice and easy.  I am on the way to lunch at Proof and to find a little more about this mysterious floating open date for Flour.

And to eat some Felafel.

The Cook.

 



Hooooly Chow! A Hairy Carry!

Yesterday LG covered the aftermath of what is currently Our Fair City’s “Defining Moment of International Culinary Capacity,” the Adam Emmenecker Sandwich challenge as sort-of-tackled by Travel Channel star and Slop Jockey Adam Richman.  In the end what/who tackled what/who was lost in the fray of yet another ploy to illicit the help of the city’s “Food Press” to further the global acknowledgement of our locavore-istas and the chef-driven local food scene here in Iowa.  We heard from the Food Dude (via my facebook account, you can “friend me” there for more musings.)  regarding his dealings with food television producers, and the Illustrious Datebook Diner, who was as inquisitive as ever.  Let’s see if we can turn back time and find a way to cull forth her comment…(The following is in no way an attack on DD, but since she summed up many good points in her comment, this is happening.)

[rubs magic jaunty light fixture]

La Bonne Femme: Well, maybe there’s an adverse connection between our “gluttonous portion lack of control” and the finesse/precision/creativity of our cuisine. When quantity is valued over quality, bi-coastal food scouts aren’t going to pay much attention.

I see the point, but quantity is valued over quality in every city around the country, in one restaurant or another.  Food Scouts go either to the “Big 5,” NYC, SF, LA, PDX, CHI, or to Places Of Interest As Promoted By Said Places Of Interest.  You have to create a “buzz” or “rattle” around your food scene to get noticed, especially in a small market such as Des Moines.  This is where the “credibility” of the actual print press can come in handy, hence the call to um…arms? pens? You get the point.

Also, on the chef-driven local food scene, what can you get here that you can’t find at good restaurants in many places? What makes DSM stand out? Lots of cities in the country lie close to agricultural abundance….

All True, except that Iowa is supposed to be the Agricultural Center of this Tootsie Pop we call America.  How many licks will it take to get to the center? Huh?

it’s what chefs do with the goods that makes news.

Yes, but it is really what the NEWS WRITERS do with the news of what the chefs are doing with the goods that makes a difference.  News is just marketing with a little more credibility in this equation, so get out there and spread the words.  There are chefs that are kicking some culinary ass around here, and they aren’t getting the due that they deserve.  This is a problem.  You can’t get noticed if your head is buried in the sand.  Just ask any ostrich.

Don’t get me wrong–I love the food scene here, but I just wonder what you think would be worth the country’s attention, as in, You HAVE to go to Des Moines to eat at __________.

(I have an answer, but you go first.)

Ok, I will go first.  In fact, the first draft of yesterday’s nonsense-a-thon included a list.  Here is another version of it, in not much of an order:

  1. Alba
  2. Cafe Di Scala
  3. Azalea
  4. Baru 66
  5. The entire Asian Cuisine phenomenon (I realize this is not a restaurant)
  6. Lincoln Cafe

There are many others, but I am on a time constraint here.

Here is MY point:  The writers of Juice, the Register, Cityview, and all other major news outlet type things: Please listen to what I am saying here.  I, along with many local chefs and restaurateurs, implore you to use your influence and maybe a little of your free time to lift up the Food Scene.  Help elevate it to the “next level” by working with other media outlets, in other cities, to form some kind of partnership…and maybe, now that we have our proverbial foot in television’s door, we can let the world know what is happening in the great city of Des Moines.

Yep.

 

The Cook



(C)Hump Day Massacre& Birthday Announcement!

Yesterday we saw what has amounted to DeMo’s culinary version of a U.S. invasion of Canada, via Twitter and This Here Blog.  The main players, myself and DH, have since called a truce seeing as it was just all a big misunderstanding (kinda like an episode of Three’s Company or a Genesis Song).

See, eveything always works out in the end!

The drama which ensued was rather unfortunate and some things were said that can’t be taken back by either side, but I believe we can let that water just pass on under the bridge called teamwork.  We will be putting together a dining event in the near future, and I assure you that everyone wins at this event.  Even you poor rubbernecking types who insist on competition over collaboration.

As a self-professed expert in Soy products and vegan/vegetarian food (I have dedicated most of the last 10 years of my life working to improve vegetarian options/food/dining) I felt a little slighted by the recent Relish article on soy foods, as should other notable vegetarian/vegan/raw foods chefs in DeMo.  I have nothing but the utmost respect for Mike Yamamoto and George Formaro, two refreshing pillars of excellence and integrity in the chef world , but they are not the only players in the soy game.  For the second month in a row, Relish, you have outdone yourself.  Will it be three?

Oh yes! Restaurant Week is coming (August 20 to August 29)…only now the name has changed to the Greater Des Moines Restaurant Week.  What are you going to be doing for restaurant week, my little diners?  Will you be taking advantage of this event to find new regular spots to dine, or will you be doing what a seeming majority do and just show up for a one-shot prix fixe dinner and never return again?  I believe the point of this is to showcase local restaurants and to maybe influence/change the dining out habits of the masses.  Admittedly it is a great deal, especially in this continuing Time Of Economic Trouble, but far to many people treat this as a cheap-o coupon-date night out.  Choose your dining spots wisely, visit all that you can, and return for regular dining.  That is what every restaurant taking part is hoping for.  And don’t forget to take care of your server!  Menus are being posted online now….

*A Message To Restaurants* Ensure you are properly staffed for Restaurant week.  Diners will be expecting not only top notch food, but also the service to accompany.

Things I would like to see during restaurant week:  Food education seminars, cooking classes/demonstrations, a meet and greet event with all of the top local chefs, a “Waiting Tables” simulator to be used as punishment for unruly customers, and a step towards really furthering local dining.  It is all feasible, except that simulator…although any of you tech folks out there are more than welcome to start working towards its realization.

Another Local Culinary Event/Tradition starts next week…on a stick.  Yes, it is time again for Games, Gluttony, Gawking, and a little dash of Vanilla(Ice…although I prefer Ton Loc).  I speak of the Iowa State Fair (Aug 12-22).  You don’t need me to tell you about what is going on there…

And one more thing…I will be hosting a Birthday Ride tonight at Mullet’s (1300 SE 1st Street) beginning at 5 ish.  You don’t need a bike (bicycle, not motorcycle), but we will be leaving around 6:30 is to ride south to the Cumming Tap via Orlondo’s, some trail stops, and maybe even the Pink House. Come meet up for some libations and to celebrate me marching ever so closer to the age my writing attitude portrays.  This is open to real-life friends, interweb friends (a great time to become real-life friends), and even my frickin enemies(no weapons please!) Everyone is welcome!   See you tonight!

Get em, Birthday Cat

Happy Birthday To Me,

The Cook



Dining A-holes, You’ve Just Been Served
2010/07/13, 7:09 am
Filed under: Local Food Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Being a person who is employed in and around restaurants, I have the pleasure/displeasure to have made the aquaintance of many servers.  Servers are people just like you and me, they just make a larger percentage of their living in cash.  In many cases the people serving you are college students, mothers trying to make some extra cash for their kids’ care, people trying to pay their bills and sometimes they are just dudes and ladies trying to make some cash to party on.  Whatever the motivation for this job choice, these are people.  People who, for the love of cripes, deserve to be treated as human beings.

So why do certain people still insist on being assholes to these regular working-class people?

This is to the employers who make their servers pay the customers’ credit card fees, to the rude people who take your frustrations out on strangers, to the demanding customers that can’t seem to grasp the fact that your server may have other guests to attend to, and my personal favorite, the people who call a restaurant to have the phone answerer tell the history of the place or rattle off the entire menu.

Way to be a bunch of A-holes

We of the restaurant industry thank you for frequenting our respective establishments (and to the employers for employing us), but please try using your adult-type manners when dining.

Remember to “Treat your servers as you would have them treat you.”

That is all for meow now (nice try, Bathory)

The Cook