Saturday, 21 February 2009
Best & Worst of a Very Strange Year
Best Restaurant” & “Best Chef - Bistro Montage & Enosh Kelley
Kelley and Sous Chef Nick Illingworth
Bistro Montage became Des Moines’ best restaurant by staying focused. While most of the best chef-owners in town were opening second, third and fourth cafés, Kelley sold his second restaurant. In this 50 seater, all cooking is done by Kelley and his talented Chef de Cuisine Nick Ilingworth. Kelley is unmatched locally as a pastry chef and no kitchen introduced more superb new dishes last year.
Note - Kelley was named a semifinalist in February for James Beard Award as Midwest's Best Chef.
Rising Star - Jesus Ojeda, El Chisme
Cordon Bleu grad Ojeda learned his trade on the line of Le Francais, sometimes called America’s best restaurant. He’s multitasking as owner-chef at El Chisme, with scratch made tortillas, pasta and pizza in a Mexican-Italian fusion delight.
Zeitgeist of the year - comfort food
From Café di Scala’s scratch pasta to Radish’s pan fried chicken, Boomer’s cookies and Phat Chef’s “economic stimulus menu,” comfort food became as stylish as Obamania.
Service Trend of the Year - reservation charges
Popular restaurants in big cities began charging fees to reserve tables at peak times. Skybox in West Des Moines has implemented the plan for the Hawkeye bowl game, reserving prime table for $50.
Best Wait Staff - Le Jardin
Tag Grandgeorge’s wait staff - Jenny Smith, - are as well informed as the chef. They know the farmers who raised your food, the method of farming and the method of marinating.
“It’s No Coincidence Award” - Chris Place
Chris Place was chef this year when two of the best new restaurants of the decade opened - Django and Proof.
Worst Service of the Year - Larsen’s Pub
One of Iowa Pork Council’s “best tenderloin” awardees, Larsen’s served their loin on cold, plain buns. When asked if it could be warmed, the owner replied “To do that, we’d have to light the grill, so we don’t do that.” Made us wonder, how they cook their burgers.
Best New Idea - Harvest of Hope winter farmers markets
These farmers donate a percentage of sales to a farm families emergency fund. The Des Moines event is January 12 at St John's Lutheran (600 6th Avenue) from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m..
Top Chain Restaurant - Fleming’s
In greater Des Moines, Fleming’s has become the Warren Buffet of corporate restaurants - a big powerful player who behaves like a good neighbor.
Top Business Trend - independence
The ratio of new independent restaurants to corporate chain restaurants increased dramatically in the metro. Credit was given to credit - a sudden lack of it for heavily leveraged chains.
“Most Untimely Trend” - expensive burgers
It was a bad year for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Ruby Tuesday and others as consumers flocked to places with $1 menus.
Best Commercial - Burger King’s "Make Out Point" by Crispin Porter + Bogusky
Boldly equating meat-eating with sex, jealousy and murder, this instant classic starred a jealous cow trying to murder a human male because he was eating the flesh of another kind of animal (chicken) If you missed it -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyAnD5S5Pmo
Corn & Soy Pioneer Award - Hang Mioki
After her personal supply of silicone ran out, this Korean plastic surgery junkie disfigured her face by injecting cooking oil. After appearing on TV, sympathizers donated money for more conventional plastic surgery.
Worst Food Commercial - National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA)
NCBA replaced their successful, "Beef - It's What's For Dinner" campaign for a weird new series that tried to make beef look like mountains and beaches. It didn’t last long..
Bright Idea of the Year - same store sales
After years of cannibalizing themselves, most chain restaurants (Starbucks) finally followed McDonald’s example and slowed down expansion.
Nip it in the Bud Award - “Corn Sweetener is Healthy” campaign
Cane sugar soft drinks gained market share, reversing quarter century of gains by high fructose corn syrup. The corn industry responded with defensive ads.
Book of the Year - 'Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk through the Ages,' by Anne Mendelson,Knopf
2008's Best New Stuff
While tight credit and volatile markets stalled other economic sectors, Des Moines’ food scene birthed more excellent restaurants, world-class products and novel ideas than in any previous year. That made as much sense as fine dining in sports bars, a restaurant built around fries and French cuisine in the Corn Belt. We did all that too. After consulting my panel of food experts, here’s Food Dude’s 14th annual list of the best things to hit Des Moines in this wild and crazy year.
Best New Restaurant - Django
George Formaro’s café headlines a marvelous list that also includes Le Jardin, Proof, Alba, Skybox, Sbrocco, Maverick and Jethro’s - all of which drew at least one “top new café” vote from my consultants. Django wins for its greater ambition - with long hours and multiple services. It deserves kudos for: introducing French classics (duck confit casoulet) that don’t condescend to American tastes; reviving historical French-American classics (sazerac); and providing a distinctive urban ambiance.
Note - James Beard Society agreed with us, they made Django the first ever Iowa restaurant to be named a semifinalist ( top 20) for America's Best New Restaurant.
Best New Pub - Skybox
Skybox edges out Jethro’s and GoodSons with extra touches - tablecloth dining, private rooms, a superb full entrée menu and personal service that recalls the hey days of Italian Des Moines. It’s so popular on big game days that customers pay $50 just to reserve tables.
Best New BBQ - Jethro’s
Jethro’s smokehouse work is as good as anyone’s while its side dishes rank with the those of restaurants charging triple the price. This place set new standards for sports bar food and it kept improving as the year moved along.
Best New Fast Food Joint - Ocean Beach Fries
For 40 years the fast food industry downgraded the quality of French fries in favor of reduced labor costs. Ocean Beach Fries’ hand-peeled, triple fried potatoes became so popular that the store moved up from a food court stall to a double-bay store in Valley West Mall - all in just one year.
Note - Sadly, OBF is closing their Valley West Mall store.
Best New Restaurant Bar - Graze
Graze wins with freshly squeezed juices, scratch-made mixes and syrups, ostentatious design and a contemporary disregard for traditional boredom.
Best New Wine Bar - Sbrocco
Sommelier Tim Grimes has no peer for discovering quality wines in all price categories. Chef Darin Sturgill is a risk taker who finds new applications for creative wine pairings.
Business Plan of the Year - La Mie & Le Jardin
Some restaurants only open for dinner, others only for breakfast and lunch. Rent never sleeps. So Joe Logsdon of La Mie offered to share his space with Tag Grandgeorge of Le Jardin. Two of the city’s best cafés now have a better chance of turning a profit.
Best New Product - La Quercia’s “Acorn Edition”
The Norwalk company introduced acorn-fed Guanciale, Pancetta, Lonza, Lardo, Spallacia, and Prosciutto. This slow food method of raising pigs had disappeared even in its Duchy of Parma homeland.
Best New Service - Old Castle
By reviving Chat Noir menu items and by building a rotisserie capable of handling three whole sheep at the same time, Old Castle edged out Florene’s new breakfast service, by a lamb’s tail.
Best New Idea - Jesus Ojeda
Equipment is expensive so El Chisme owner-chef Jesus Ojeda encouraged his tortilla machine to multi-task. First he developed recipes for thin pizza crust and calzones. Then he introduced scratch pasta - making his Mexican café the second place in town (after Café di Scala) to exclusively serve homemade pasta.
Best New Food Writer - Nick Bergus (http://deathofapig.blogspot.com)
This “new media” Iowa journalist wrote old fashioned rings around other young food reporters in traditional media - by practicing self examination without self indulgence and by teaching readers about his subjects.
Best New Food Photographer - Ben Gordon (http://www.foodtourofiowa.blogspot.com)
This Grinnell College student and Phoenix Café line chef created a well researched, photographically splendid Iowa food journal.
Thanks for the Memories...
Mary Lemmo, Baker’s Food & Fuel, Coaches Corner, Crave, Big Daddy’s, DuBay’s, Lemongrass, New Saigon, Tedesco’s, Pho All Seasons, Bordo’s, Great Midwestern Café