Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rants.....and raves!

I have recently become very intrigued by the amount of good food and great restaurants that are available in the Des Moines area.  It seems that every time we go somewhere new, it gives us ideas of where else we want to try.  Lately, the reason we have been doing so well trying new establishments is due to my coupon clipping addiction, as mentioned in a previous post.  Its seriously becoming a problem.  You're not saving money if you are eating out for no other reason than to use a coupon.  This weekend was a great food weekend, I didnt cook once.  Granted, I wasnt feeling the best so it was a good weekend to take off from the kitchen but rarely do I go a full weekend without having to cook even the slightest thing.

First off with the rant...I went to Legends to meet some of the girlies after boot camp on Thursday night.  Legends is a large enough chain and has a detailed enough website that they should be able to make the effort to post their nutritional information online.  One of my biggest ways of tricking myself when going out to eat is perving on the menu a few hours before dinner when Im not hungry yet.  I know I just used the term "perving" in relation to food but thats the only real way I can describe it when Im walking as slow as humanly possible to my table when the hostess is seating us so I can get a mental picture and an internal slobber going by looking at what other people are eating on the way past their tables.  Justin has repeatedly scolded me for walking too slow and most likely creeping someone out from staring at their table too hard as I meander by.  In order to prevent this, I perv on the menu beforehand.  I will admit the staring at stranger's dinners doesnt embarrass me though so the main reason I perv on the menu beforehand is to be sure that I make a good decision health wise before I go out and am hungry enough to start chewing on my arm sitting at the table looking at the menu.  There are a few hard and fast rules that are pretty obvious to steer clear from if trying to keep calorie count down....a few of my rules are: nothing fried, no white/cream sauces, no full fat salad dressings or croutons on my salad, nothing stuffed with cheese, etc.  You would be surprised at how hard those are to follow sometimes, especially when french fries know my middle name and scream "Abby Lynn" at me the whole time Im looking at a menu usually!  Anyway, to bring this paragraph full circle, I perved on the Legends menu and found nothing on nutrition, I was so perturbed I thought about emailing them to ask for some.  The thing about restaurants is that if you dont know how the food is prepared, you can completely derail your day without even meaning to, which is a total pain in the arse.  If Im cheating on my diet, I would rather go with a chicken sandwich and french fries than thinking Im being good with a caesar salad that actually has more calories than what I wanted to eat.  So I went with a side salad with a grilled chicken breast on it at Legends, pretty blah (although it hit the spot after boot camp) but I didnt want to waste all the work I had just done sweating my tushy off in class.  One of the best chains to go to for nutrition information? Outback steakhouse.  They have an "under 500 calories" notation on their menu that tells you what to order.  I get steak, salad, shrimp, and veggies for under 500 calories because they leave the croutons off the salad, leave the butter off the veggies, shrimp, and steak...still tastes awesome, you leave stuffed, but you dont kill your diet.  Bueno.

I dont consider Legends a place to go unless its conveniant anyway, its pretty generic.  We went out to 2 great restaurants in Des Moines this weekend that were both new (to us) and both very, VERY good!  Friday night, Justin and I went to Sam & Gabe's on Hickman, its an Italian place that has an awesome ambiance and seemed pretty smug.  No hooded sweatshirts in there, boys.  They told us there would be a 45 minute wait but there was a pianist as well as a cellist playing live music in the bar area where we could relax and have some drinks while waiting for our table.  It didnt end up being 45 minutes, more like 20, and the staff was all overly friendly and accomodating.  In fact, before I go any farther, I want to rave a little about our server.  Her name was Rona and Im assuming she was in her late 30's (its not polite to ask something of that sort to post on your blog, haha).  She was very engaging, gave full eye contact, was knowledgeable on the menu as well as the specials and very helpful in guiding us through the dishes as newcomers to the establishment.  I had been told that veal was a specialty of theirs but had never had it.  I also looked it up before we went there and had read that veal is one of the leanest meats you could purchase.  Problem: they had 5 veal plates to choose from.  She helped me to choose which one I wanted and we placed our order. 

As I mentioned before, this place is sort of smug.  Justin wasn't all up on me taking pictures of our food in a fancy place like this so I am without photos to let you drool over.  To be honest, I would've been embarrassed to snap a shot in there too, so you lose this time, sorry peeps.  We ended up getting an appetizer that was the best part of the meal if you ask me; the italian sausage stuffed banana peppers.  In case you didnt know, the best way to Justin's heart consists of sausage and cheese....both of which were abundant in this dish.  I really need to learn how to make these skinnier because they were phenomenal, but were definitely not on the healthy list.  I got the veal saltimbocca which was described as "three sautéed scallopini of veal with prosciutto and provolone cheese and deglazed with madeira wine, and finished with our homemade veal demiglace".  Justin got one of the specials which was pepper crusted breast of duck with risotto.  I need to tell you that every time we order something, Justin jokes that he should order for the lady because I undoubtably like his better than mine.  I was pretty excited to try my veal though and really thought I was going to have the better dish this time.  I was not disappointed, Im glad I tried it, but it was not the best meal Ive ever had.  I pictured veal as more like steak, you know, since it is a cow.  It was more like pork, and bland pork at that.  Dont get me wrong I love a good pork chop, and it wasnt like I was gagging from this plate, it was just less tasty than I had anticipated.  Justin's duck on the other hand was great, and the risotto was amazing.  Duck is usually pretty greasy but this seemed like whiter meat than I had had from a duck before so Justin was gracious enough to share a couple pieces with me.  All in all, we enjoyed the experience there even though Sam got veal for dinner that night....our dog seriously eats better than most people. 

Saturday night I had plans to eat at Sborocco on Court Ave in the downtown area.  I had heard my friend Christina (who also a foodie) rave a million times about how good the duck is at this joint, so I finally got my chance to head there with her and Beatrice to give it a shot.  I will say that if comparing Sam and Gabe's to Sborocco, the latter beats the former hands down.  Its also more expensive so the old adage comes to mind, "you get what you pay for".  You would think it would be fancier than Sam and Gabe's but I think our Friday night pick wins on atmosphere.  Sborocco is a cute place but is very small, the 3 of us girls sat at the bar which was actually more comfortable than we would have been at one of the tables in my opinion. We've all been to places where they sit you so close to the next table that you feel as though you're eating with complete strangers, and its hard to have any sort of intimate conversation while in a situation like that.  The bar was perfect for us though, and despite my criticism of the seating, this was one of the best meals Ive had in Des Moines, ever. 

We all shared an appetizer, the pan seared New Bedford scallops/ cauliflower purée/ caramelized Maui onions/ watercress/ apple cider syrup.  There were 2 scallops for $11, so we split them 3 ways and I wouldve paid a very pretty penny to have that as my main course, they were worth it.  As I said earlier though, we came for the duck. We all ordered the exact same dish, which is usually against my better judgment, but I was told that it was so good that neither of them would give me a bite of theirs to try if I decided to order something else for variety.  So naturally I went with the duck which was described as "pan roasted Fox Hollow Farms duck breast/ duck confit/ shitake & tart cherry risotto/ duck demiglaze".  Whatever duck demiglaze is could be drizzled on anything I eat for the rest of my life and I would have no problem with it.  Someone actually contemplated licking their plate, but I wont name names, haha!  I have absolutely no estimations on calorie intake from this meal, and to be honest that was the last thing on my mind as I shoveled it into my mouth.  This is probably a cheat meal, with the creamy risotto and the dark meat duck, but I would consider this worth cheating for. My friends are less embarrassed than Justin of my food picture obsession so I did manage one photo of the duck before digging in (although the scallops were demolished before I even paid a thought to getting a snapshot).  I look forward to trying Sborocco again sometime soon, even if it is a special occasion priced place.

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