Locally Grown


Breaking News: Judged Worthy By Food Critics.

well, AMAZING TENS, it’s been a good long while since we have shared screen to screen moments.  When our eyes meet over the same words at different times…it’s like a deliciously delayed serendipity.

A lot has happened in the cook’s life over the last tens of months, I worked my buns off at cooking instead of making up words and ended up opening my own restaurant in the lovely East Village of the most amazing town west of the Mississippi and east of the Missouri, Des Moines.  Things are going swimingly so far (we are only just over a month in), and we have received our first few PRINT REVIEWS FROM FOOD CRITICS.  This is a moment I have been pretty nervous for, as some of you know I have been less than forgiving towards the writers of food article type things.  I sat in anticipation, knowing that my restaurant is doing things NEARLY up to my standards (if you are doing things right as a chef/owner/kitchen cat herder the nothing is going to be up to your standard…because of obsessing and raising the mental bar every day.), and also knowing that I have potentially upset a number of people who would be finally maybe writing/judging my true body of word, Tacopocalypse.  Turns out, either I am a little paranoid about the whole food reviewer thing (duh), or my crew is really doing the job that I am perceiving that they do.  Probably both.  All reviews have been very kind and positive at this point.  Thank you, we have truly worked hard to make sure that the dining experience is top notch for every person walking in the front door.  I know it’s all about personal perception, and the persons perceiving so far have been very happy.  Thank you, again.

Here’s the thing about personal perception: It’s personal.  Every single individual sees similar situations in slightly (or wildly) different ways.  Creating an experience that keeps a majority of the poplulace is a challenge because of this.  What keeps one happy can ultimately infuriate the next.  It’s some really frustrating shit, the kind of frustrating shit that birthed that keeps restaurant folk on their toes and continually aging faster than the rest of the populace, the kind of frustrating shit that caused this blog.  It’s the kind of shit, that if you encounter it for a long enough period of time, you might start finding the humor rather than the stomach grinding pain of it all.

Thank you to all who have visited my new restaurant and have elevated it to a level of medium-ish success with your shining faces, and especially to you critics…I hope that you come back and continue your positive personal perception of what we here are doing.

You know what, I might just start writing this blog again.  It feels good.  Just hope it doesn’t get me into any trouble…hahaha.

 

The Cook

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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.



Locally Grown Classics: Critical Of The Critics/DSM’s Finest Complainers

About a year ago, on a day not unlike today (but with about 16 inches more snow on the ground) I awoke to an interesting message in my inbox.  A very close friend of mine had, via FaceBook, posed the query “If Star Bar was a dude would the [Food Critic Name Withheld] eat its ass?”  Now, had I been a coffee drinker, this statement would have resulted in a mildly injurious explosion of steaming black fluids from my nostrils.  Lucky for me and my trusty editor and feline companion Bathory (who was napping on my chest at the time of the reading) I had not sunken back in to the coffee pit.  So as I lay on my couch, cat perched on my chest, laughing wildly at the very disturbing visions forming, playing, and fading in my head I decided to finally point my T-mobile G-1 with Android towards the interweb and address a real problem in dining today: Restaurant Critics.  Here is the foundation for all that has been written within the confines of this particular blog, the first official post from Locally Grown dating back to January 2010. Enjoy.

-The Cook

 

Critical Of The Critics: Des Moines’ Finest Complainers

It has come to my attention through the observations of more than a few local restaurant goers/owners/staffers that the local food scene, albeit struggling in the wake of the country’s financial crisis, is lacking only a few things: better food critics.
Cityview’s “Food Dude” always seems to be fair and accurate, and is willing to thumb his nose at convention by reviewing anything from fast food chains to sushi. (I have been tickled by his reviews of Popeye’s Chicken and Wendy’s – and not in a bad way). His recent review of Sake21 was touching, he could have really slammed that place but instead chose careful words that are more of a parental caution than a fog horn. I have rarely heard a bad word from industry people about Mr. Duncan (every food writer has an enemy somwhere in the business). My only real complaint here is that he doesn’t stay up to date on new spots, and doesn’t seem to get “out there” to the people due to Cityview losing some ground to the more young-person-savvy Juice.

When it comes to Juice, they believe that less is more. What I mean here is that less skill and experience must mean more to them. Often the restaurant reviews read as if they were written by 10th graders from a poorly taught journalism class. I will go as far as to call most of the reviews bullshit, giving no real information or true objective opinion. The readers don’t really care what your date was wearing or where you were headed to, or that you ordered the same thing as the table next to you and it reminded you of something you had at a similar place in Omaha. Juice, you just need to get a real food writer and let the music geeks write about music, or the um…crafting geeks write about crafting. Scratch that, crafting geeks should just stick to knitting and stop trying to BS the public by writing. Maybe you could have Ms. Wagemann from your parent Des Moines Register to contribute. She seems capable. I think.

On to the Register. The illustrious datebook diner seems to wield the brunt of the power in the food critic community here in the Metro DSM. This is a shame. I have seen her reviews make or break restaurants. People listen to her, and the people she is writing about don’t always deserve the fate she tries to dish out. Ms. Moranville seems to have the power to either completely trash talk a new spot, talk about how the East Coast is doing something that whatever restaurant she is reviewing isn’t doing and how much better the East Coast is than here, or to compare every bar-and-grill-type place to Star Bar. If you are an Orchestrate restaurant or (in the past) a Jeremy Morrow venture then you are golden. If you are anyone else (besides Star Bar), then beware of the wrath of Winnie. Take her recent review of Saints in West Des Moines. She begins by comparing the place to Star Bar, then ends by comparing the place to Star Bar*. Redundantly delicious? She also ran an interesting article about Vegetarian Dining in the city which featured a few variations on the old Butternut Squash/Sage/Butter song and dance, then panned Cafe Di Scala for their Butternut Squash Cappelaci dish. (I will be writing my own expose on Dining Vegetarian Style in Des Moines next week). She doesn’t mention that they have been doing the dish seasonally (as many other spots are doing currently), or that it is totally hand made, or that they probably listen to John Lennon albums while hand forming each pasta hat, adding to the love in the dish. That doesn’t count. Also regarding this fascination with the food comparisons to “big cities,” one of my cohorts said it best. If you want New York Food at New York Prices then go to New York. We think Des Moines should continue developing itself into what Des Moines should be, a place with access to some of the greatest fresh ingredients in the world with some established and up-and-coming Chefs using these ingredients to full potential. We don’t really give a sh*t about the price of pasta dishes in NYC. Doesn’t really matter. This is Des Moines.
Ok, let me sum this up as it is late and my own deadline is coming up (bed time). Food Critics of Des Moines, if you want to go in to a new spot and bombard it with overwrought criticism, go for it. The owners, chefs, managers, and other staff of whatever place you blast can read your review and try to adapt your philosophies into their restaurant to please you while your readers just avoid the place all together. Or maybe you could lighten up, encourage businesses to grow, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, then review a different restaurant (thanks Easy-P). Those are real people that you are undermining out there, they have worked hard to open a restaurant (there is nothing easy about opening your own business), and deserve a fair shake.

We need to be more critical of our “critics.” Readers, go out and try our local places for youself. Trust your own taste buds. They have gotten you this far, haven’t they?

*I do like Star Bar, I just don’t feel as fuzzy about it as Ms. Moranville.



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



Credit or Debit, Nobody Rides For Fee

Last night as I watched “the Family Guy Movie” with Mrs. The Cook, Bathory, and our dog Mollie The Nervous, fictional fat guy Peter Griffin was throwing down rants on his news bit, “Grinds My Gears” (which this very blog sometimes seems to be patterned after) and MY gears started grinding. Do you wanna know what grinds my gears? Well, other than all of the other gripes that have been crapped out in our short 6 months together, that is.

This grinds my gears:

Restaurants that require their servers to pay the credit card fees incurred by their employers when patrons use their plastic. That’s right, the businesses you frequent are charged by the companies a percentage per transaction for the privelege of running up your debt, and a select few pass that fee on to their servers. Not only are these ambassadors of your business required to work for 4.35 an hour (ok, I realize that the final $ amount earned is MUCH more than that), but an additional tax on their tips is ludicrous, and a great way to say F%CK YOU to your employees.

Yes, I know what restaurants take part in this practice. No, I will absolutely not disclose their names. No hints either. Don’t ask. I am just throwing this out there, kinda like the Game 6 Celtics (I happened to be enjoying a fresh squeezed Salty Dog with said game playing directly in front of mine own two eyes) who seemed to be just tossing caution, balls, and their series lead to the wind. A long wind like this gripe.

Also, in the non griping category, Mullets is open. I had lunch there today. It was good. More on that tomorrow.

And finally, the Gateway Market Vegan Banh Mi “dropped” today. Duncan loves it, I think it’s ok, and now you can love it, too. I will have a second look at this puppy next week. It will be interesting to see the production version, aka not personally made by The Chef Formaro.

Oh, and this rain is really beating my tomatoes. Literally AND figuratively.

The Cook



Today’s Lil Tidbits…

As mentioned yesterday, Pho All Seasons (1100 East 9th Street) will be closing at the end of this week. If you are into the Banh Mi your stomach is owed at least one, be it your first or last, trip to PAS for a #47 (a resounding favorite amongst my friends. Yes, I have friends!) Before the doors are closed.

And onother thing:

I would like to recognize Jim Duncan and his creation, CityView’s “Relish” for all that it is for local food community in The DSM, which is generally a reliable summary of local food happenings and gives a little exposure to those stuck in the kitchens making your food. Thank you, Mr. Duncan.

But I would like to award the (insert fanfare):

Locally Grown Occasionally Awarded “Bush League Food (un)Writer of the However Long It has Been Since The Last Time We Awarded This Award”

to Relish contributor Matt Miller for his Cavatelli “article” on page 10 of the Spring 2010 issue of said magazine. First off, the chef at Cafe Di Scala is Phil Shires, not Phil Shire. There is also no mention that the Cavatelli pasta served at the restaurants listed in the article is actually all HAND MADE at Cafe Di Scala. Hundreds of pounds a week are mixed, sheeted, and rolled by the staff of Di Scala and served at Centro, Ranallo’s, Di Scala, and sold retail at Taste Of Italy. In fact it seems Mr. Miller tried to imply this, but was too stuck in an eggshell-full of knowledge on the subject to pull it off. I would like a show of hands for anyone reading this who has ever mistaken Cavatelli for Casareccior can even give a description of said pasta without resorting to a well known search engine (as it seems Miller did for this article).
Way to nail it, Matt Miller. I am constantly ordering Casarecci accidently only to have my server pull out the “WikiPasta E-Flash Cards of Dismay” and lightly beat me about the head and neck area with said cards in a corrective fit. If only this wisdom had been imparted as a good shoe-tying lesson or multiplication table had in my early childhood things would be different.

Where was I?

I hope all of you have been flipping over to the TimberPine website to rip my recipes from the interweb’s virtual grip and cram them into your (or friends’/family’s) faces. I think about you all often, and what I would like to see you making for face stuffing/belly filling time. Humor this cook and check it out.

This is the part I had reserved to tell a story of a little local restaurant and an even dubbed as “40 Friday,” but it seems the Locally Grown Occasionally Awarded “Bush League Food (un)Writer of the However Long It has Been Since The Last Time We Awarded This Award” bit ran a little long. Too bad, it was actually funny.

Until our collective non-congruent cyberspace retinal candy provider brings us together again,

The Cook