Sunday, August 28, 2011

Loving the Des Moines Life: Birthday Dinner at Django

Saturday was my birthday, and for Mr. Nomadreader and me, birthdays mean decadent dinners with numerous courses and lots of wine. This year, I opted for Django, a French restaurant downtown that is probably my favorite place to eat in Des Moines. Despite having amazing food, Django never has a corkage fee. For wine lovers like us, it's heavenly to bring two bottles of great wine from our home collection.

We started the night with a bottle of Nicholas Feuillatte champagne because it's not a birthday without some bubbly. It was delightful as a cocktail wine, but it was even more fun once the first course arrived: the small shellfish platter. The platter features six oysters, six clams, six mussels and six shrimp on a bed of ice with cocktail sauce and mignonette sauce. It was delicious. Another reason to love Des Moines: this 24-piece seafood platter is only $19.99. I love this city. 

We ate the first course in no time at all, and our second appetizer course was decadently amazing. We finished our champagne with two classic French dishes: sauteed sweetbreads and foie gras. We're both huge fans of sweetbreads, and it's always a treat to have them sauteed instead of fried, as is more commonplace. Django sautees the sweetbreads with bacon and wild mushrooms in a veal demi glace and serves a luscious brioche on the side. Despite being slightly overcooked, the sweetbreads were still delicious and rich.

Foie gras is perhaps my favorite food in the world. The flavor of it pops in my mouth in a way nothing else does. The Django version is pan-seared and served with a peach gastrique; a homemade chutney; a light fennel, red onion and parsley salad; and brioche. As you can see, I was too excited for the first bite to manage a photograph of it in full form. It was amazing. The peach gastrique brought a welcome sweetness to the bites. I was surprised how much I loved the fennel and herb salad, but it worked as the perfect palate cleanser in between bites. The champagne highlighted the foie gras impeccably too. It was simply divine.

For our main courses, we picked duck and scallops. There are two scallop entrees on the dinner menu, but we opted for these Seared Sea Scallops, They were cooked to perfection and served with a lobster and sweet corn mashed potatoes and asparagus. As a native Kansan, I am somewhat partial to mashed potatoes, and these are the best I've ever had. Even more shockingly: it wasn't because of the lobster. Yes, the lobster was lovely, but the mashed potatoes themselves were legendary. The corn sauce was incredibly flavorful, and I loved the mix of whole kernel corn within the sauce.

The La Belle Farm duck was perfectly seared. The skin was crispy, and the meat itself was a perfect rare-to-medium-rare. It was also a delightfully large duck breast. The duck is sliced and served over a spaetzle with leeks and La Quercia prosciutto (a local prosciutto). All of this goodness is topped with a rhubarb gastrique and veal demi glace. I love duck, and this may have been the best duck dish I've ever had. It tasted so autumnal, and I cannot wait to have it again once the fall chill finally makes it into the air. After our divine entrees, we shared a caesar salad. It was simple, classic, and perfectly executed.

How could I forget the wine? With our entrees, we enjoyed a bottle of the Turley Dragon Vineyard Zinfandel. After several years of being on the waiting list, I got my first option to order Turley wine this spring. We've been slowly enjoying our case of wine from one of our favorite winemakers, and this bottle was among our favorites yet. I kept drinking it after we were done eating, while I stole a few bites of the chocolate pot de creme for dessert. We finished off with two espressos from Zanzibar, a local coffee roaster. With a spring in our step, we enjoyed a lovely stroll home.

All in all, it was a fantastic meal and a fantastic birthday. Once again, I love any excuse to splurge on amazing food and wine with my husband. Luckily, his birthday is in September, and we can do it all again.


  1. Happy Birthday! It sounds like you both had an absolutely wonderful time! Like your husband, my birthday is also next month, so I will definitely be splurging after a hectic time moving!

  2. Happy Birthday! What a fabulous meal!

  3. A happy belated birthday, and what a spectacular meal!!!! I am seriously jealous -- and hungry! :)

  4. Happy Birthday to you! And oh my goodness, does this sound like an excellent meal! Reading about it was mouth-watering, and it just kept getting better and better! Very nice review on the special birthday dinner!

  5. What a marvelous dinner! I'm so jealous -- my mouth was watering the whole time. As a foodie, I'm thrilled Des Moines has such a great scene!


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