Lunch at the Des Moines Art Center
I took my own advice this weekend and went to the Des Moines Art Center — a very nice getaway during the winter — or anytime, really, if you like modern art. I was especially excited to eat lunch at the new Baru at the Art Center restaurant.
The restaurant opened under new management last September. David Baruthio, who is co-owner and chef of Baru 66, is the chef and manager of the Art Center cafe. Baruthio also just opened Blue Tomato Kitchen in West Des Moines — to great fanfare and lots of chatter among Iowa foodies.
So I had extremely high hopes for lunch at the Art Center, and I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. I really wanted to love this place, but it was just so-so.
To start with, the atmosphere could be improved with new tables and chairs and a bit of cleaning. I thought the place looked messy, and my table was sticky. Not a good way to start a meal. The plastic-and-metal chairs would have been more at home in a school cafeteria.
The menu seemed good, with plenty of vegetarian options and even items for vegan and gluten-free diners. I was eyeing the heirloom tomato salad, but it wasn’t available — probably because good tomatoes are hard to find in January. I ordered the red beet salad instead ($9), plus a cup of carrot-ginger soup ($4). Other menu items that tempted me were the toasted cheese and fig sandwich, pasta marinara, and the three-cheese plate. My dining companion ordered the chef’s casserole ($14), which was not so much a casserole as a bowl filled with odd, bite-sized items (steak, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, bacon, and salad greens) and a fried egg on top.
My salad was very good. I wish it would have been bigger. The red beets were topped with fresh greens, red and green onions, and goat cheese, with a tasty dressing. The soup was bland and too chunky for my taste.
Afterward, I was still hungry, so when the server suggested the day’s featured dessert — a caramel mocha panna cotta — I eagerly agreed. Unfortunately, it sounded better than it tasted. The panna cotta was served in a jelly jar, making it a bit hard to eat, plus it was overwhelmed by whipped cream with chocolate bits.
Like I said, I really wanted to love this place, but I left feeling like all it just didn’t live up to all the hype.