Out at the edge of the strip malls, near the new suburban hospital sites, the first of a new procession of small dish restaurants opened up in Des Moines last October. Trostel's Dish is a high-ceilinged space, bare pipes above darkly painted, with walls in warm hues of brown and grey. Eclectic but tasteful works of art puntuate the walls, spotlit, like the tables, for greater visibility in the ambient hush of lighting. The room's focus is on the bar, with standalone bar tables and a wall of six-seater booths providing the seating for food. And the food is really what it's all about here. Well - and the wine. But mostly the food.
And that's why Dish is drawing crowds enough to have a rack of pagers ready and waiting for would-be customers, to call them back from the bar or the sofa or the car when space is finally available. We went on a weekday, and although we had a pager and were warned of a twenty-minute wait, we weren't kept more than five before being seated. Equipped with three menus each (food, wine, reserve wines), we began browsing the extensive menu and negotating what style of dining we wanted to try that night.
Dish's menu is divided into five parts: American, Pizza, Latin, European, and Asian. Between us, we tried a bit of all but the pizzas, and those, friends told me later, are excellent. One of the highlights of my dinner - and the first dish to catch my eye on the menu - was a decadent truffled macaroni and cheese, made with braised chicken, Asiago and Maytag blue cheeses, macaroni, and drizzled with white truffle oil. The heavy fungus perfume of truffle works particularly well with the creamy intensity of blue cheese. The spinach and dried cranberry salad filled the much-needed greenery niche in the meal, and was competent, if uninspiring.
At this point I admit - with embarassment at still not having learned my lesson to write down everything - that I have forgotten most of the other dishes I sampled. (So frustrating!) None of the rest were bad, but neither were they outstanding. They were competent, nicely presented, often innovative, and generally successful. One Asian-themed sauce over meat was a little too sickly sweet; most of the dishes were better balanced. We didn't try it, but the menu does offer one mains-sized dish in five variants
I was too full for a complete dessert, but still had my eye on one more dish off of the savory menu which had a great deal in common with a dessert. Bacon-wrapped, manchego-stuffed Medjool dates arrived hot from the kitchen, the cheese-stuffed dates soft, sweet, and plump. The bacon added a little too much salt to the dish for my taste, but the flavor set worked well, even if I didn't need the heavy meatiness as a finish - but then, the dish wasn't designed to be. The dessert menu itself was small, but functional; more eyecatching was the option of three different flights of cheese tastings.
Dish is mostly about the food, but it's about the wine too. I was thrilled to find five different options for tasting flights of wine, a fine way of showing off some of the strengths and varieties of a solid and fairly extensive selection. The "Exotic white" selection arrived with a handy slip of paper labelling the three wine glasses, making it much easier to ponder the differences between each. The chenin blanc (Ballentine Old Vines, Napa, 2005) was a light and vaguely tart wine, a clean, crisp wine. To say that the viognier (Calcareous, Paso Robles, 2004) was one of the most potable I've drunk is to damn it with faint praise; but it's true. I have no real taste, in my limited experience, for viognier as a drinking wine, but it matches well to many foods. Indeed, this proved the most appropriate wine of the lot with most of the dishes I ended up sampling. Lastly, a gewurzträminer (Jekel, Monterey, 2005) was nicely balanced between sweet and dry, its intrigue lying in hints of exotic fruits and a bit of spicy complexity.
Trostel's Dish is doing exciting things, using a versatile and trendy dining style, in a comfortable-but-chic space, serving food with international influence while highlighting Iowa producers. (La Quercia prosciutto, Maytag blue, charcuterie from Graziano's) Service was generally solid, with only a few waits for attention before new rounds of ordering. (We ordered a few dishes at a time, and they arrived then ready.) The food was solid, with a few real highs, and I was thrilled with the variety of wine-tasting and cheese-sampling flights available. No wonder it's drawing crowds out to the edges of west Des Moines. When I go back, though, remind me to take notes.