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


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.


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.


Ban Thai, Banh Mi, and BLACK FRYDAY!!!!!

Here it is, the yin to T-day’s yang, the number one shopping day of the year and the most ironically placed “holiday” on our current holiday calendar (A day of thanks followed by a day of trampling strangers in the name of greed or giving).  I know that most of you celebratorians of the Turkey probably think that whatever you ate yesterday will carry you through the rigors of draining your holiday savings today, but you are kinda sorta wrong.  At some point today you are going to feel a little bonk from all those laps around Mal-Wart waiting for those timed specials to drop and you are going to need some real food.

Black Friday Post-Thanksgiving Meal Group Depository

I urge you to either stop in at a local eatery for a bite of lunch or a small snack, or to pack a sandwich or similar portable item to take with you along the road to bargain shopping.  I know, this is all information you could have used YESTERDAY.  I understand.

With all of that said, I hope that if you are out in the Thunderdome we call Black Friday you are being safe and exercising compassion towards others.  I have already read via Twitter of a few people being trampled early this morning and of security guards having to use force to keep crowds in check.  Come on, people.  Even though this is a tough time for finances and you want to get the most for what dollars you have to spend, don’t drive up health care costs by injuring other people.  Next thing you know the Insurance Industry will recognize the danger of Black Friday shopping and require special insurance coverage for just that day, sort of like flood or fire insurance.  Then saving a little money off your LCD TV turns into more national debt, as the less fortunate who are currently receiving Medicare or Medicaid will benefit most from the sales on Black Friday, but the government will have to pay a higher premium to insure those people for said day.  It’s not that far fetched, and my speculation here put into the wrong hands may be the butterfly effect that pushes this insurance nonsense forward.

But I digress.

This year our Lovely Datebook Diner, formerly known here as She Who Shall Not Be Named, compiled a list of restaurants which have closed during her twelve year tenure at the super awesome Des Moines Register.  Since that list was released, so were a few more eateries released from the hands of their owners.  One of the closings that has been buzzing on my Twitter Feed (sounds like a very inappropriate gathering) is the closing of none other than Ban Thai (normally I would list the contact info here, but they are closed), a Thai restaurant in the southern quadrant of the DMZ’s East Village.  I used to frequent this spot often, and have a really wicked scar on my left leg from a bicycle accident/failed attempt to make it to Ban Thai in time for lunch service.  I never did make it there for lunch that day, and now there will forever be a void where those vegetable spring rolls once occupied.  Rumor has it that the food had gone way down hill over the last few months before its final demise, and I had noticed the parking lot growing emptier during my travels through that neighborhood.  The owners had been shopping around for a new location (rumor has it that it was to be located in a vacated 4th street dining spot), and some people had been trying to sell off the Ban Thai business for about a year.  Well, all problems aside, you are missed, Ban Thai.  Sorry you had to make “The List.”

Another rumor has dropped that A-dong (1511 High Street,Des Moines, IA 50309 515-284-5632) has decided to throw their hat into the Banh Mi circle.  You may remember this Vietnamese sandwich from such moments as the Banh Mi Craze of Summer ’10, and from numerous articles written by your various food critics (and myself).  A-dong will be selling these happy little sandwiches in to-go form only from a cold case.  I am really excited to see what the A-dong Banh Mi will entail, I have been a fan of that place for years and pass by it every day on the way to Cafe Di Scala, where we have been known to devour our share of Banh Mi.  Banh Mi.  I am not sure when A-dong will officially drop their sandwiches, but rest assured you will be kept posted.

OH yeah, I still haven’t wrapped my tiny brain around how to address this Relish issue.  Maybe Monday.

Well, folks, I am off to Iowa City for the weekend for some New Pioneer Co-op sandwiches to enjoy the Jingle Cross Rock cyclocross festivities.  Maybe I will see you there.

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

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