A Standard-Bearer Set To Soar

— By Design presents dsmDining —

Above: This is sure to please your palate — pan-seared sea trout with pea vichyssoise and bits of daikon. 

By Wini Moranville

About two dishes into a 10-course tasting menu hosted for local food media by Marlene’s at Sevastapol Station, one of my dining companions exclaimed, “This guy’s the real deal.”

She was talking about the restaurant’s new chef, Jacob Demars, who recently landed in Des Moines after cooking in restaurants in Denver followed by stints in Michelin-starred kitchens in Chicago.

Indeed, each course brought artfully presented, exquisite and surprising food: Ahi tuna with watermelon, blueberry-beer foam and shaved toasted hazelnuts. Pan-seared sea trout with pea vichyssoise and bits of daikon cooked in mushroom sauce. An intermezzo of applewood cappuccino with egg foam and pecorino cheese.

This is the kind of highly detailed, precise and imaginative food that many chefs aspire to create, but not as many actually pull off. Done well, it can be the gustatory equivalent of a great symphony; poorly executed, it’s more akin to a middle school band warming up.

Just as my friend said, this guy is the real deal. Each dish hit the right note, bringing us beautiful food that delighted in continually thrilling and unexpected ways. Although the tasting menu is not a regular feature, many of the dishes we tried are on the menu as first courses or main dishes. Personal favorites include the aforementioned ahi tuna (a first-course plate for $7) and seared scallops with cauliflower puree, couscous and curried poblano (a main dish at $22).

In a recent interview, Demars told dsmWeekly that his goal was to “bring the type of food that Des Moines hasn’t seen here yet.” The passion and artistry are certainly present; whether Demars will raise the overall dining standards in the head-turning ways that other chefs in Des Moines have done will depend on whether Marlene’s can complete the dining experience with an equally ambitious front of the house. With a crew of three (including owner Kim Carstens) overseeing the six diners at this one-of-a-kind event, it was difficult to get a sense of the caliber of service we can expect on any given night.

Marlene’s is at 1938 S.E. Sixth St.; 515-288-0898; marlenessevastopolstation.com.

Wini Moranville covers food, wine and dining for dsm. Follow her at All Things Food – DSM Wini Moranville.

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