Above: These dishes linger in the memory of food writer Wini Moranville. Clockwise from upper left: oysters at Splash, ahi tuna at Marlene’s, agnolotti at Reed’s hollow, shrimp and grits at Bubba, and spring spinach at Harbinger. (Harbinger photo: Byron C. Jones Photography)
By Wini Moranville
Here’s my yearly roundup of the dishes I remember most fondly from the past 12 months of great eating.
Shrimp & Grits at Bubba–Southern Comforts: Immensely rich and creamy grits are topped with plump Cajun-spiced shrimp, with two bonuses gracing the plate: a sparkling topper of tender-cooked diced collard greens, charred squash, bell pepper and onions and an irresistible drizzle of chili oil that rims the dish. (200 10th St., 515-257-4744; bubbadsm.com)
Spring’s First Spinach at Harbinger: Last spring, I was dazzled by this dish of crinkly spinach, which arrived lightly wilted and slickened up with a soy-ginger vinaigrette and served with a scattering of sautéed mushrooms and a sunny, soft-cooked egg. While you won’t find this dish on the menu right now, I mention it here because it points to the finely tuned, seasonally driven work that chef Joe Tripp is doing at his new-this-year venue. (2724 Ingersoll Ave., 515-244-1314; harbingerdsm.com)
Ahi Tuna at Marlene’s at Sevastapol Station: Chef Jacob Demars, who took over the Marlene’s kitchen just this year, has described his food as experimental and artistic, which means he’s not going to create the same dishes again and again. Which also means that the dish I adored last summer—ahi tuna with watermelon, blueberry-beer foam and shaved toasted hazelnuts—isn’t currently on the menu. But as with Harbinger, I mention the dish here, as it is testament to the kind of thrilling and thoroughly inventive food I found at this restaurant. (1938 S.E. Sixth St., 515-288-0898; marlenessevastopolstation.com)
Agnolotti at Reed’s Hollow: A bowl of fresh vegetables, mushrooms and ravioli-like pasta squares arrives looking fresh and bright, but in need of something to bring it all together. Then, as you cut into the ravioli squares, out oozes a shitake bisque, which becomes a perfect sauce for the dish. This is the kind of cuisine relevée—heightened, revelatory cooking—that chef Zach Gutweiler brings to Reed’s. (2712 Beaver Ave., 515-777-3625;Facebook: Reed’s Hollow)
Raw Oyster at Splash Seafood Bar and Grill: Oysters have become a go-to starter for me every single time I dine at Splash. I love the way the servers can tell you all about the varieties offered (the selection changes often). I love how the bivalves taste of the sea: fresh and clean and mineraly and funky all at once. And I love the way they’re brought to the table expertly shucked and chilled, surrounded in the shells with plenty of icy liquor. They are one of our city’s best examples of the attention to detail required to make a seemingly simple dish so sublime. (303 Locust St., 515-244-5686; splash-seafood.com)
Wini Moranville writes about food, wine and dining for dsm magazine and dsmWeekly. Follow her on Facebook at All Things Food–DSM.