Friday, May 9, 2014

Restaurant Review: Shakedown, thunderstorms and celebrating

Today was a WONDERFUL day. Lots to be thankful for. A new and exciting career change for my Chef, my son's birthday, my grandson's baseball games, my awesome children, my sister graduates from nursing school, and my middle child reaches a momentous step in her career path- managing the newest, hottest Latin restaurant in Des Moines.  

Whew! Take a deep breath, and concentrate. The shakedown- that's what we're here to talk about. Maybe you've had the unfortunate experience of going out to a brand new restaurant in town, only to be disappointed by less than stellar food, chaotic service, and an overall bad first impression. Des Moines has several amazing chefs that shape our city's culinary identity, and without doubt, George Formaro is at the top. When he opens a new restaurant, there is always "the shakedown"- before opening, the staff's family and close friends are invited to check out the menu, restaurant, and enjoy dinner on the house. It's a great way to shake out the issues BEFORE opening day, before you have a house full of paying customers, a great way to test the staff for training and make sure the menu is exactly what you want.

We already had a preview of the new Malo. The restaurant opens in 6 days and these last several days are their trial run. Tonight I was able to check out the food and drink and you better believe I was not disappointed, even though the weather was raging outside, and the power went out for several minutes in the restaurant. We barely made it in the door before Mother Nature unleashed her fury! Enough about the weather. Now, Des Moines has Mexican restaurants on just about every corner. This is NOT your average Mexican. It's an eclectic mix of Latin flavors with a few American twists thrown in for fun. The menu is amazing. No jalapeno poppers in the appetizer selections here. Oh no, instead you will find pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran food; seafood nachos piled high with shrimp, lobster and crab; giant house-made tator tots served with jalapeno ketchup, beer cheese sauce and salsa blanco, and much much more.

First order of business for us- a cocktail. Malo Punch for my sister, and Rum Rickey for me. The Malo Punch was a playful combo of Sailor Jerry, Captain Morgan and fruit juices, and falernum- not something you see used much in bars around here. My Rum Rickey was bright and fruity. White rum, raspberry gastrique and soda- very refreshing. We couldn't resist the Pineapple Mojito- rum, triple sec,pineapple juice, soda and mint leaves- a perfect summer cocktail.

Rum Rickey and Malo Punch
Tacos anyone? Malo has tacos- twelve different kinds, three different shell options and more flavor than you can imagine. Enchiladas? Try a Texas Gulf shrimp enchilada with salsa blanca for a fantastic change of pace. Steaks and seafood are given the Malo treatment and flavors shaped by Latin-inspired seasonings. 

Al Pastor taco and Carne Molida taco on house made flour tortillas

The most delicious enchiladas I have ever had- Texas Gulf shrimp
Hungry? Try the giant Tijuana Trainwreck- a colossal casserole dish filled with chorizo, tortillas, tomatoes, onion, avocado, salsa roja, cilantro crema and topped with a fried egg. 

You can get your pasta fix with Shrimp and Chorizo Fettucine, Ravioli de Maiz- jalapeno, lime, Cotija cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach and salsa blanca or Nacho Daddy's Mac & Cheese- a macaroni nacho dish with all the Mexican flavors. Even the sides are different and unique. Drunken Beans, Jalapeno Creamed Corn, Hominy with garlic and spinach, Tostones, Cilantro Rice, and much more.

Black beans and Cilantro Rice

Dessert will not leave you one bit disappointed. Mexican Chocolate Lava Cake is pure heaven on a plate. Chocolate gelato and fresh raspberries make this a beautiful dessert. The real star of the dessert menu is the Cubans and Coffee- chocolate "cigars", a truffle sort of dessert, rolled in cocoa and served with a scoop of coffee gelato and powdered sugar "ashes" in a pristine white ashtray. So clever and soooooo melt in your mouth amazing. Make sure you save room- it won't be easy. The portions are generous and the food so delicious you won't want to.

Powdered sugar "ashes" in an ashtray
The decor remains outstanding in the finished restaurant. Unique fixtures, perfect tableware, and a beautiful patio make Malo one of the most impressive restaurants in Des Moines. 

Of course, the mom in me has to brag up a little on my daughter. Laurie has worked in three different businesses owned by George Formaro, starting as a part-timer at Gateway Market, moving over to Zombie Burger in the East Village and now, reaching a goal for her- restaurant management at Malo. Where many parents would have been shocked and recommended their child NOT leave their corporate job, I trusted Laurie's judgment and experience. She will be a phenomenal manager. I am a very proud mom.

So there you have it- my shakedown wrap-up. I hope you will visit Malo in Des Moines. You're in for a really wonderful experience!

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