Review: Table 128

10 June 2017

Had a raging hangover after that wonderful evening at Proof, but trudge on I must. I spent the day exploring central Iowa. My goodness, after today, I have seen corners of Iowa most Iowans have not; frankly I’ve probably visited more of Iowa this year than most presidential candidates, from Keokuk to Denison, from Essex to Dodge City, from Oskaloosa to Sioux City, from Ames to Iowa City, from Davenport to Council Bluffs…

But I was knackered, and my little rental car was getting beat up from the dirt and gravel roads I’ve had to deal with during the explorations, so I headed back to get some rest. And lo and behold my HP laptop, which I purchased a few months ago to replace my bricked-after-3-months Compaq laptop, bricked itself. Actually worse than a brick because it just emits a loud, hi-pitch sound non-stop. UGH.

I then made the decision to stop travelling with a laptop, which is gonna slow down my postings here because I frankly cannot write reviews using my phone… In any case, with this hanging over me, I headed to dinner. I need something to clear my head…

Dinner tonight is at Table 128 in the nearby suburb of Clive. I was told many good things about this place last night, so was looking forward to a good meal. I have to say, the staff here was excellent again and super friendly. Des Moines has won the award of the friendliest place I’ve visited since Louisville most certainly.

I enjoyed a drink and ordered. Chatted with the bartender until my starter appeared…

1-curry meatball

Hmmm…not too sure about this combination, a sweet-ish “curry” lamb meatballs. The flavouring was odd, but once you got through that the lamb itself was fantastic. Too bad the naan was utterly inedible…

Was a bit worried after this start, but then the main arrived.

2-cheeks

Quite a nice cheek dish over a bed of horseradish risotto, which wasn’t bad albeit mild. The cheeks were good, I just love their complex texture in general but this was a good one. Nowhere as good as the amazing one I had in Honolulu at Lucky Belly, but this was nice.

I enjoyed one more drink but after last night’s excess I had to call it a day. I thanked the excellent staff, including one that was headed to school in DC (my hood), so gave some tips before I headed out the door and back to my hotel. Looked at my pricey brick and sighed…

I left a little part of myself in Des Moines, but sadly, also a part of that brick… Next up — after driving back to Omaha — Seattle.

Table 128
12695 University Avenue #140
Clive, Iowa

Review: Proof

9 June 2017

I headed out of Omaha, disappointed by that poor experience at The Grey Plume, for neighbouring Iowa — my third time in this state this year. I spent the day exploring the northern part of the state, places that few see. Yes, lots of farmland, but there are also surprised along the way. I got to Des Moines on a rather warm day knackered.

I had planned for dinner at a place downtown called Proof. I wasn’t sure why the hotel rates in Des Moines were so crazy this weekend, which left me at a distant suburb. Nevertheless the minute I sat down at the bar at Proof I knew the trek into town was worth it.

The bartender was a class act all night, and reminded me of some of the best mixologists I’ve seen — humble yet knowledgeable, willing to experiment, and a good person to chat with all night — without missing a step in service. I relaxed with a cocktail and looked over the menu. Cool little place, I can get to really like this like Boiler Room in Omaha.

I moved onto a second cocktail when my starter appeared — a halloumi salad.

1-halloumi

Now you think halloumi in Iowa? Yes, and it was good — as halloumi always is. Throw in some grains, shoots and radish and you got a wonderful little starter. Nice! Then the main course, and I smiled.

2-pork chop

This is a wonderful pork chop cooked perfectly from a wonderfully sourced animal. Lovely taste, bringing out the best of the pork without smothering it in some over-cheffed fashion. Excellent!

I was enjoying myself so much with the food, drinks and banter I ended up staying for quite a long time, and started the “test my bartender” thing by having him use me as a guinea pig for drink ideas. That was fun, and led me to order a dessert…well, my kind of dessert…

3-charcuterie

Yes, a nice meat and cheese plate. The sausage of the day was excellent, as were the cheeses — especially the prairie breeze. Worked so well with the cocktails. Perhaps a few too many, but a lovely evening with some excellent talent here. A cute place to enjoy an evening!

sign

If you ever find yourself in Des Moines I seriously recommend this place. Fab food, excellent drinks, wonderful folks. It’ll surprise you, and you’ll never think about Iowa in the same way again!

Proof
1301 Locust Street
Des Moines, Iowa

Review: The Grey Plume

8 June 2017

After last night’s fabulous dinner at the Boiler Room, I had very high expectations for dinner tonight at The Grey Plume. I had a long day that took me around Nebraska and into Iowa, where I had to go somewhere that was way off the beaten track and nearly destroyed my rental car on the non-road that I needed to take…

I got to downtown Omaha and got to the restaurant and was seated. Already things seem a bit odd as service seems a bit confused. Hmmm…there seems to be only 1 person working the entire section and I sat for about 10 minutes before I called them for a drinks menu. Really not liking the start here — nearly totally opposite from last night.

I ordered a drink and tried to chill, but things seem to run very differently here. A wee amuse and very quickly my starter arrived.

1-cauliflower soup

Cauliflower soup, not bad, but touch acidic. The dish was brought out by someone in the kitchen, plating it in front of me. Sadly, all show. Very meh item, with the aforementioned acid cutting through everything else. Sigh…

Took me ages to get someone’s attention for some wine, and I was starting to lower my expectations seriously for my main course. Then it came — the pork tasting.

2-pork tasting

After last night I wanted to enjoy more pork, and this was pretty good to be honest. Parts of it were excellent, such as t eh belly. The sausage didn’t quite work. But there was too much residual mess on the plate that made this too incongruent for me. And talking about plate, this plate was NOT designed for use to cut on the sides as it elevates, so the dish would perilously nearly tip over if you apply any cutting pressure on 1 or the other side. Trying too hard to be too cute.

In any case, I couldn’t get any attention for another glass of wine so I didn’t bother. Just nursed the last drops. I ordered a coffee and a drink and skipped dessert. When I asked for the bill I was unpleasantly surprised to see them adding 20% already on the tab for service.

I was too tired to argue, and that would probably take another 20 minutes, so I didn’t bother. I just expressed my displeasure at having to pay 20% for sub-standard service on the credit card slip. Compared to last night’s excellent service, tonight was a total letdown. Sigh…

The Grey Plume
220 South 31st Avenue #3101
Omaha, Nebraska

Review: Boiler Room

7 June 2017

I began a pretty long trip that would take me across the US and back, the main part of it going to Seattle to see the first few King Crimson concerts. But with some time, I took advantage of airlines that do one-way ticketing to create stops en route. The first stop brought me to Omaha, Nebraska — where I’ve not been in over 2 decades.

The city has certainly changed. I got in late afternoon and wandered around a little before settling into dinner at a cool little place called the Boiler Room. I knew this was a sign when this showed up on my drinks menu…

menu - 02

Yeah, I’m going cross-country for a King Crimson concert so I had to order it…

kc

Not bad, perhaps just a little sweet for me, but not bad at all. Coincidental or a sign? Anyway, I ordered my dinner in the meantime and chilled. Nice bar (I chose to sit at the bar) and enjoyed chatting with the bartender all night, as well as some fellow patrons. Soon the starter arrived.

1-tongue pastrami

Mmm, a rather flavourful rendition of a pastrami pork tongue. Nice texture, lovely flavour here. A really nice start! Then the main course, the pork shoulder…

2-pork shoulder

First of all I apologise as the camera refused to focus correctly for some reason. But damn this was good. Juicy, tender pork that was cooked perfectly, bringing out the very best of the excellent meat. And on the side was a cute and delicious piece of belly with some green strawberries. A fabulous dish!

I was a bit too full for a dessert, so had a liquid one. A very long list, and I went with an armagnac. Amazing how much Omaha has changed. My expectations for this part of the trip has increased dramatically! A great start!

Highly recommended if you are in Omaha — for food, drinks, or anything else!

Boiler Room
1110 Jones Street
Omaha, Nebraska

Review: Nudel

24 May 2017

I got the hell out of that disgusting hotel in Fishkill and headed out north, exploring a few other places along the Hudson. Checked out some historic churches and cemeteries, and did a bit of hiking later in the day in the Berkshires as I crossed into Massachusetts.

I was totally knackered by the end of the day as I found a nice place to stay in Lee. I decided to go to a place in nearby Lenox for dinner called Nudel. Got there and chose to take the counter.

I enjoyed a glass of wine as I watched them work — and I tried not to laugh when a rather unsophisticated diner at a table couldn’t understand her food and tried asking for all sorts of odd substitutions…seriously just go to Applebee’s if you’re gonna not want this or that…

I ordered and chef then asked if he could flip the main first and the starter second, as that affects cooking time. I’m game, since he said the portions were about the same. Why not. And not too long later the “main” arrived — skate wing.

1-skate wing

A nice piece of fried skate wing, quite a large portion. A salad type of dish so I feel better. The fiddleheads were a nice and much-liked surprise, and the fish was delicious. Excellent. Then I relaxed with some wine before my “starter” arrived…

2-duck confit

Now this is an excellent duck confit. Again perfect execution — awesome crispy skin, and extremely delicious meat. Fabulous stuff. Two days of excellent duck, following that excellent breast at The Vault in Beacon

Unfortunately none of the desserts grabbed my attention and they don’t have a full liquor license nor dessert wines I decided to head out. A nice place, definitely worth dropping in anywhere in this corner of Massachusetts!

Nudel
37 Church Street
Lenox, Massachusetts

PS: Unfortunately my saga just began as some Masshole had parked in a way that I was stuck. I went to 6 nearby establishments looking for the moron but no go. The closest restaurant, Zinc Bistro, was extremely helpful and encourage me to call the cops. And with the help of a wonderful officer from the Lenox Police Department he guided me onto the sidewalk all the way down the street until there was enough of a gap in the roadside barriers to sneak back onto the road. That got me back to Lee for the night, and a last day of trekking through the rather wet Berkshires before heading into Springfield and soon after a late flight home — that was unfortunately very delayed. Landed just before midnight and I sprinted to the last train and got home… Yes, all while ill.

Review: The Vault

23 May 2017

I had planned a really short trip through the Hudson Valley into the Berkshires just before Memorial Day, and I wasn’t gonna let illness stop me (long story). I flew to Hartford first thing in the morning and hopped in a car and headed over the border and spent a day along the Hudson Valley, doing some hiking, exploring, and cemetery trekking.

A long day later I was tired. I had stopped in Fishkill, one of the great towns in the area best known for its prisons… Nevertheless I found a place I wanted to have dinner at called The Vault in the nearby town of Beacon — just over the Hudson River from that mess of a town called Newburgh.

I got to The Vault and decided to sit inside, unlike most of the patrons. I spent a long day outdoors, I didn’t need more of that for now so was happy to enjoy the air conditioned interior. I looked over the menu over a cocktail and made my decision. Chilled out in the pretty nice place before my first course arrived.

1-beets_edited

Some beets and goat cheese. So-so, and the cream was a little unnecessary. An okay start. Then the second course, the pork belly.

2-pork belly

Done quite well, extremely crispy on top and tender (and not dry) on the bottom. It was all the other stuff on it that was utterly unnecessary, that actually damaged the dish. Trying too hard, but when you do the main ingredient well and it’s sources well…why bother? Anyway…

I switched to wine and the main course arrived, the duck and risotto.

3-duck_edited

The risotto was okay, nothing special. But the duck was very nice, a rather fatty one — which is perfectly fine with me. Cooked very well again, with crispy skin but juicy meat. Excellent execution for the roasted meats for both dishes I must say.

I was nice and full and have a very early morning tomorrow, but my hotel in Fishkill was a total disgusting mess, so reluctantly I headed back and just tried to get some much-needed sleep. But at least I fuelled up nicely for tomorrow.

The Vault
446 Main Street
Beacon, New York

Review: Marée

1 May 2017

I will tell you right now, getting from Skopje, Macedonia to Vaduz, Liechtenstein, is not as easy as it sounds — especially on a public holiday in every country en route. I headed out on a flight out at 4.30am (ugh…) to Ljubljana then to Zürich, then by train and bus to Liechtenstein. I somehow made it there by midday. So how many people visit 4 countries before lunchtime?

But Vaduz, already a tiny town, was shut down this May Day — Vaduz, this great centre for celebrating the worker… Everything was shut. I ended up paying a ridiculous amount for the most disgusting lunch…cost more than nearly every meal I’ve had since Hungary… Welcome to Liechtenstein…

But a nice afternoon of strolling I headed out for dinner. Tonight’s destination is Marée, the 1-Michelin restaurant at the Park Hotel Sonnenhof up in the hills overlooking central Vaduz. That meant a hike up… A beautiful but steep hike… Got there eventually, knackered, but was treated with this view. Too bad it was raining, so couldn’t sit on the deck…

Walking alongside the cute modern art I went into the classy restaurant. I was seated in the nice dining room overlooking the town, another wonderful view. I ordered a martini and looked over the menu. I heard a discussion by one of the servers explaining what they should do when someone orders a gin martini with a lemon twist (as opposed to olive and vodka stuff). My German is far more functional than it’s been in awhile, odd…

They brought out a nice martini and I decided to go with the tasting menu, despite several ala carte items looking even better. But let’s see what happens. Funny I was overhearing both standard German and local dialect, as well as Italian and French from staff and adjacent tables. They didn’t ask me about language, so we spoke German only all night (tho I did interject in Italian later with the Milanese server). I’m surprised by that, and I’m surprised I could hold my own, make jokes and ask questions about ingredients…

After I finished the cocktail the food began to arrive. First up was a series of amuse bouche…

AB

Tasty stuff, especially the carrot foam with a spicy kick. The salmon was okay, a bit acidic. The “Asian style” quinoa not bad, but I always chuckle when something comes “Asian style”… A nice bread selection later we start with the dinner.

The first wine, which had a good pour, was an Argentinian white — which joined the first course, tuna tartar.

01-tuna tartar

Not bad, but the sauce was crazy salty. But tasty stuff in general. The next dish, with a Sicilian white, was something I really anticipated…

02-morel onions

Well, it didn’t live up to its billing. Morels were listed as the first ingredient but were sadly lacking. It was almost all onion… I wanted the morels dish in the ala carte and went reluctantly with the tasting hoping it would be enough here, but nope. Disappointing…

After that letdown I was starting to worry a little, as the other dishes did not look that interesting. With a Swiss chardonnay poured, we have sole rosettes.

03a-sole

Sole is never one of my favourite fishes, but this wasn’t bad. Cooked very well and sourced well, but again for me it’s one of the most boring fish. The pate was okay but bread was soaked… Sigh… Next up, with a red from Baden, was the quail.

04a-quail

Pretty good quail, cooked well. Not as good as at Costes Downtown from a week earlier, but not bad. The risotto on the side was really weak tho… I wonder if the holiday curse is hitting with some of the cooking… Oh well…that’s the end of the savouries already…

I’m in the Alps so I was also anticipating the cheese course. They had a selection of raw milk cheeses, but sadly only 1 local Liechtenstein, and the rest came from Switzerland to France…

05-cheeses

Not a bad selection, but with so much cheese I ran out of crispbread by half way and it was filling me up so much. Amazing when the cheese course is always the most voluminous of all courses in tasting menus in this region… Anyway, I was counting down to finishing this meal at this point, as service has also gone from quick and excellent to slow and spotty…

06-strawberry-rhubarb

Last item was a good strawberry and rhubarb dessert. I enjoyed it and was gonna ask for an after-dinner drink but it got so chaotic I decided to call it a night. Some good spots, but a mostly disappointing night. Again I think we paid for the view…

It was a fun walk in the dark down the steep hill back to the centre. Nowhere to stop for a drink as everything is SHUT. Great. Back to the room and to catch up on some sleep I guess…

Marée
Park Hotel Sonnenhof
Mareestrasse 29
Vaduz, Liechtenstein