A Close-By Get-Away
Recently, the Romantic Gentleman whisked me away for a surprise weekend in the Big City (o.k., in Des Moines, but that’s the closest thing to a big city we have in Iowa, so I’ll take it).
The weather was deliciously (and uncharacteristically) warm and sunny for February in Iowa, so we spent the afternoon ice skating at the Brenton Plaza outdoor rink. Did I mention the sunshine? It was glorious. Neither of us fell on the ice (I was avoiding any fancy figure-skating maneuvers in the crowd) and we stayed until our toes were numb, so we considered the afternoon a success.
We dined at the Raccoon River Brewing Company, sampling some of their house brews as part of our ongoing “research” for some planned home-brewing adventures this summer. As in most restaurants after dark, the lighting was not conducive to good photography, so please forgive the lackluster photos.
The Romantic Gentleman quaffed a Vanilla Cream Ale, while I sampled a Bandit IPA. The Vanilla Cream was luscious, a grown-up cream soda, but just a little bit too light for the Gentleman’s palate. I had no such complaints about the Bandit IPA, which presented a well-balanced hoppiness, providing a refreshing counterpoint to my spicy dinner.
We started with the Hot Artichoke and Asiago Cheese Dip. As soon as you put “artichoke” and “hot dip” together, neither the Romantic Gentleman nor I can resist sampling a dish. The dip was served with generous slabs of butter-soaked, toasted beer bread. Oh, and some carrots and celery, for the more virtuous. Whether you go the vegetable or the carb-happy route, this appetizer is just what it should be: creamy and flavorful, with big chunks of artichoke heart.
In the informal competition that is our dining-out experience, the Romantic Gentleman won the entree round. My dinner was very good, but his Linguini with Hazelnut-Mushroom Pesto packed a wallop of garlicky goodness into every bite. The sauce was surprisingly creamy and rich, definitely a satisfying winter meal.
I ordered the Spicy Louisiana Shrimp and Grits, and they were spicy as advertised. Andouille sausage and shrimp is a no-fail combination, and there were plenty of cheese grits to soak up the sauce. The sauce was a little weird in texture, a bit too gelatinous for my taste, but had a nice flavor. The dish was tasty overall, but seemed rather ordinary after I tasted the exceptional linguini.
Knowing that there was a box of bonbons from Chocolaterie Stam waiting for us back at our hotel room, we decided to forego dessert at the restaurant. Our chocolate selection included both dark and milk chocolate, with creamy centers as well as solid chocolates. I love stopping by the Ames location, in the historic downtown district, to see the selection of whimsical candy creations. These chocolate makers treat each chocolate as if it is a work of art, and the taste lives up to the visual appeal!
As for brunch the next morning? I have two words: room service.
What surprised me most about our brief weekend out of Ames was how rejuvenated we both felt coming home. At a dreary time of year, with winter lingering past its welcome, it was just enough of a change of scene to refresh our spirits. And the chocolate certainly didn’t hurt, either!