One Des Moines Lunch
I'm driving through and I hear that Des Moines has shockingly good food. I've found that the more I filter through suggestions for road food the more trouble it becomes. I want your ONE suggestion. Time is not an issue and I'm not telling you where I'm from. I just want to know where you'd take an old friend who has a long layover. Any cuisine is game. Remember... your ONE suggestion. Oh, and soon. Jim Leff... are you out there?
OK, I'll bite.
I'll look at this as if I had been gone for a long time, and couldn't get anything that I normally would go out for.
Michael's in Beaverdale for a pork tenderloin.
That would be the ONE place, if I was craving a loin.
Now, if I was craving a sausage sandwich, made with Graziano sausage, the ONE place would be Kelly's, or Twisted Parrot, or Taste of Italy, or.... oh wait, that's already more than one.
That would cover it. Unless I was looking for a burger. Then, the ONE place, would probably be the Library by Drake U.
That would pretty much cover it. Unless I wasn't just into the Bar and Grill scene.
Then, I would have to think about the 801 Grand lunch menu. A little warm to eat outdoors, but Prime beef is hard to pass on.
But I really also enjoy Judge Roy Beans. Damn, the onion rings.
Des Moines is really known for the asian cuisine. Not my favorite, I won't attempt to name the ONE you should try. ;-)
Alright, you asked for the ONE place, so out of all these, if I really had to pick one, let's say.....Oh wait, La Pena, just south of downtown on Indianola Ave. Oh my God, the tacos.
I'm not very good at this.
If money and time are no object I pick 801 Steak and Chop for a Del Monico Steak, the best cut of meat I have ever had anywhere. Just delicious.
Michaels tenderloins is a good choice. So is Star Bar on Ingersoll and the Library, which also has the best wings in the city. (Try the Bud Sauce if you like spicy.) Or Thai Flavors on E. 14th and University.
I'm pretty sure 801 stopped serving lunch 2-3 years ago...
I'm flabbergasted by the sushi recommendations. Why not showcase a protein that didn't need to travel +2,000 mi to reach your plate...
A Tenderloin sandwich with a diameter equal to the plate on which it is served seems a much better ambassador of Iowa cuisine than flash frozen fish.
I've been to Zen Sushi around 6-8 times since it opened, including opening night. (I live in the building, which can only indicate how lazy I am about dinner.)
I read that review a couple times because, overall, I like Zen Sushi. One of the big issues in the review was tasteless sushi - and I think the reviewer might have a point. I think the degree of flavor isn't what you might expect if you eat a lot of sushi on the coasts. But it does well on texture and freshness.
There was an "I know sushi better than any of you and I know that good sushi can't be done in Iowa" tone in the review that seemed unnecessary; whether or not you think that tone was excessive is likely to determine your decision to go or not. For myself, I think it's pretty good sushi (I like Takanami in Iowa City better) and worth at least a try.
The other factors to consider, noted by the Datebook reviewer: service is professional and comfortable; and Morrow usually gets it right, even if he has a rough start. Both are true and Zen has been getting better each time I've been there.
I just went to Zen this weekend, and it's out of this world, by far the best sushi in Des Moines. Finally I am not afraid to eat sushi in Des Moines. I am from South Florida and know fresh fish, and Zen has it right.
The menu is brief, not overburdened with a zillion rolls. Here it's quality not quantity -- and so you won't find a spider roll made out of softshell crab that's been frozen for eight months a la Taki. The nigiri is first-rate. I tried the Hamachi, Tuna and Eel and am looking forward to trying the Octopus.
And what makes the place is that finally someone in Des Moines knows how to make sticky rice. Sushi chefs usually train an entire year on just learning how to make sticky rice, as it's crucial to impeccable sushi. You can tell a redneck sushi place from a real one by the rice. As a result of Zen's nearly perfect rice, the rolls are tight, delicate and sweet (and given these adjectives, I imagine the place is great for a date).
And thankfully you can get rolls that are not oozing in "spicy sauce," which mires the flavor of tuna as well as masks two-day old fish. I am always suspicious of places, like Taki, that have too many spicy rolls on the menu. It's a sure sign that they are covering up something, literally. For those who thought the sushi bland, I imagine that, yes, if you like tabasco layered on your not-so-fresh yellowtail, then you'd find fresh fish bland. Zen does offer spicy sauces on the side, for those kick-fire meals.
All that's missing is my favorite appetizer -- oshitashi. I promise to treat the chef to a movie if he gives it a try.
Pho Hao Dao. Have the Pho Tai. Get a medium, or a small if you are a girl.
I love Taki, but I make better bento.
I ended up at The Grand Piano Bistro, or something like that. The space was very nice. Very open and casual with a very professional staff. I ordered the duck sliders. I would rate them a 7-8, and it came with a potato salad that was a bit underseasoned. Overall it was a nice meal and tasted very fresh. They have an impressive beer selection (bottle only) and a good wine selection as well. Service was quick, but not rushed. I don't know what else you have around there like this, but it made for a very nice casual lunch.