You probably don't think of fine dining when you think of Iowa, but we had a hard time deciding where to eat for our one meal when we passed through the state in 2017. From Ecuadorian, to BBQ, to gourmet, there were several restaurants that caught our eye.
Together (and not until we were already on the road down there) we finally choose Table 128, is some part because it was situated a little west of Des Moines and would be close to our Airbnb in Winterset. Iowa's "Restaurant Week" was in full swing while we were there so many of the local restaurants were featuring a special, limited menu - including Table 128. Even though their menu was shorter than normal, though, their options all looked great.
We also happened to be in town during the 2017 Solheim Cup golf tournament so we kind of felt like we were in a country club. I've never seen so many people in "athleisure" clothing all in place. It was a bit much, and a bit noisy but the restaurant itself had a pretty casual vibe. I'm not sure if that is on purpose or if the confluence of decor just made it seem that way. There were lots of different elements that looked nice on their own, but that didn't seem to have anything to do with each other. From contemporary, to shabby chic, to country and repurposed, I got kind of dizzy trying to understand what exactly their style was supposed to be. And I can't forget complaining to Brandon about the candles at our table and on the ledge next to us that had fake flames in them. For a place that offers lamb meatballs, swordfish and a tasting menu, I would expect them to spring for actual candles. The company we were in and the fairly high end prices and presentation of the food notably clashed with the setting.
But enough about the atmosphere, the food was quite good. Table 128 has what they call a Chef's Menu that the serve every Saturday which is, according to their website, "a special three-course meal celebrating the freshest offerings from our local farmers and purveyors." Because of Restaurant Week, we were able to partake of a version of this special menu, but instead of having each course chosen ahead of time we were able to make our own choice out of a handful of options.
We've been on kind of a deviled eggs kick lately and have seen them on lots of menus so I started with the crab meat deviled eggs. They were great! I don't know what it is about deviled eggs, but they're the perfect size, they're easy to customize and since I usually only have them at holidays, it seems like a treat to be able to order them. We really liked Table 128's version.
Brandon ordered the warm brussels sprouts (another item that seems to be popping up on menus everywhere) which were prepared with la quercia prosciutto, almonds, shaved manchego, mustard seed vinaigrette and a poached egg. It was amazing. The sprouts, the nuts, the vinaigrette, everything balanced so well and came together for such an interesting combination. I was a little jealous. We've tried brussels sprouts from a few different menus in the last several months and these were by far my favorite. A lot of the dishes I've had with them go sweeter with their vinaigrettes and pairings and even though they are tasty, the combination gets almost sickening after a few bites. Table 128's take on them was very savory and delicious. I don't see the deviled eggs on their permanent menu, but if you're in the area I would definitely check out the brussels sprouts which are still listed.
For the main course, I choose the trout which is a fish I've never had before. I've heard so many references to eating trout while camping (Parent Trap, anyone?) that I assumed it was not a very elegant fish and possibly strong in flavor. Maybe it is when pulled right from the lake (or wherever trout live), but at Table 128 it was awesome. I'm surprised that I didn't take a picture of the menu and I'm disappointed that it's not on their permanent menu because I can't remember all of the elements but it was so light, tender, buttery and flavorful. It came with roasted cauliflower that had a great texture and some sort of a pureed potato cake and creme fraiche.
For the life of me, I cannot remember what Brandon ordered (and neither can he!). Even looking at the picture doesn't help. Some sort of beef and green beans? For as much as we enjoy trying new restaurants, it's kind of embarrassing to have no idea what this dish was. I do remember that it was good, but I don't think Brandon liked his entree as much as I liked mine and we're, unfortunately, at a total loss as to the details. I guess that's what happens when you don't write it down until three months later and the menu fluctuates.
We don't normally order dessert, partly because we are usually too full and partly because it's rare that a restaurant deviates too much from the standards (chocolate cake, cheese cake, ice cream, blah, blah, blah). It has to be pretty unique to entice me to spend anywhere from $5-$12 on dessert (and that's if we split it). I roll my eyes at any upscale restaurant that lists any type of chocolate chip cookie on their dessert menu. The problem is that it has to be an AMAZING chocolate chip cookie to top homemade (or mom-made) and I'm never willing to find out if that's the case. Table 128 serves chocolate chip cookies. And I did roll my eyes. Apparently they're pretty good according to other reviewers but I just don't buy it. However, since we did order the 3-course menu, we each got to pick a dessert and it was actually kind of fun to have that to look forward to.
I chose a lemon tart with ice cream (I'm sure the name was much fancier than that but it's not on their current menu so I can't tell you what it was). It was just ok. I'm not usually super into lemon anything, but it sounded refreshing. It wasn't. The waitress made a joke about how hot it must be in the kitchen for the ice cream to already be melting when she brought it out, but I wasn't impressed with the presentation. As you can see from the picture, either the kitchen was like 100 degrees or they plated it and let it sit for five minutes before serving it. Either way, I didn't think it was very professional to serve half-melted ice cream (during Restaurant Week, no less). The lemon tart was a little too strong for me and instead of being light and refreshing it was harsh, although the ice cream helped to balance the tartness.
Brandon decided on what I'm guessing is bread pudding (because he really likes bread pudding and I have a vague memory of that being an option). We're being horrible food critics by not remembering any of these dishes. I think he liked it over all but it had the same problem with melting whatever-that-was-on-top. As fun as it was to have dessert built into the meal, if anything these particular desserts probably made our opinion of the restaurant go down. Maybe I should have gotten the cookies after all.
The coffee shop from which we got breakfast the next morning is worth mentioning. It has an impressive 4.9 star rating on it's Facebook business page and it's the first coffee shop that I've been to that is run as a non-profit. Their page bio reads: "We are a non-profit organization committed to serving this community. Our goal is to provide Winterset and the surrounding area with an incredible coffee house experience; highlighting community events and talents, creating community connections and using our resources to address community needs." Kind of a cool idea. Their space is underground and cozy with lots of local artwork and seating nooks. Any places that makes a blended coffee drink with pop rocks has my attention. They give you the option to add them to any flavor, but since I had already decided on a mocha peanut butter smoothie I declined. They also serve soup, sandwiches and breakfast pastries. My chocolate muffin was just ok, but we both liked our beverages and could see how The Cellar would be a popular place to hang out (although it was pretty much dead on an early Saturday morning).
And that just about covers the short-lived fun our tastebuds had in Iowa. We hope to try some of the other top contenders if we ever make it back. If you're planning your own trip and want to check these places out, click on our "Tastebuds on Vacation in Iowa" custom Google map below! Enjoy the taste of travel!