Grinnell road trip : Robert Polidori photos,Prairie Canary cuisine!

Robert Polidori, Salles d'Afrique, Portrait of Louis XVI by Callet #2, Chateau d

Robert Polidori, Salles d’Afrique, Portrait of Louis XVI by Callet #2, Chateau de Versailles, 2007. Color photograph. Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College Art Collection.

Here’s a great way to beat the February blahs in Iowa – go to the fabulous Robert Polidori exhibit at Grinnell College’s Faulconer Gallery. We went yesterday and were bowled over by Polidori’s painting-like photographs of interiors of places as different as post-Chernobyl Ukraine, post-Katrina New Orleans and post-nothing Versailles. This is the second exhibit we’ve gone to at Faulconer Gallery and yet again, we walked away very impressed (and a little concerned that yet again we were the only people in the gallery on a very quiet Saturday afternoon on campus.)

We had an outstanding dinner at Prairie Canary, the new restaurant opened by Carly Groben (who made a name for herself in Des Moines with the restaurant Proof.)  The service was a little spotty but the food and ambiance was great. I only wish it was a little closer to Des Moines (it’s about an hour away.) We were glad to see the place was packed – at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night.

Located in a glass-fronted shop along Grinnell’s tidy Main Street, Prairie Canary looks distinctly contemporary with its plain exterior and tidy graphics, compared to the old brick facades of its neighbors (and the cool old movie theater The Strand, with its original arcade) but in a clean not garish way.

The interior is minimalist, with a long wood floor, pine wood tables, white designer chairs, neutral colored, bare walls – but it feels warmer, less spare than Proof, in part due to the huge old wood antique bar at the back with a big mirror that looks a bit Parisian. The pottery is by a local purveyor (among several listed on the menu) and is a nice off-white stoneware with a dark rim. Old fashioned glass jam jars are on each table, one with a little candle, another with a pretty well-chosen display of little green non-flowering plants and a narrow long cattail. All very tasteful but not too.

The food was very good – creative but not kooky, presented in an appealing, simple straightforward way. We started with an Asian sampler – a few crispy fried wontons/potstickers with “braised ginger pork and chives” inside, served with a sesame-soy dipping sauce; a very hearty spring roll stuffed with  shredded chicken and served with a chili-lime creamy sauce (I didn’t notice the advertised “mango-jalapeno” aspect);  two skewers with little chunks of perfectly seared and seasoned medium-rare beef. I had roasted pork tenderloin with tart cherries – which fortunately was not a huge slab of meat but small nice-cooked not-dry meat atop a thin slab of well-seasoned polenta (creamy on the inside, crisp on the outside) and a few pieces of also well-seasoned still-crunchy broccoli.  The sauce wasn’t creamy, as advertised, and I was glad. Instead, it was a light sauce – seemed to be made up mostly of the meat’s juices.  I’ve never been good at cooking pork (must be my Jewish heritage holding me back..) so I admire those who can – and many in Iowa can.

Carly Groben, owner of the Prairie Canary Restaurant

My husband had a fancier version of a Philly steak sandwich, deliciously salty tender meat with heaps of grilled peppers and onions, melted cheese in a perfect bun, crispy hand-cut fries served with the same chili-lime sauce as the potstickers  – again well-seasoned. For dessert, we shared a piece of the Canary Cake – a banana, pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting and candied pecans. We saw no sign of the actual banana or pineapple but  they may have been what contributed to the flavor and moistness of what appeared to be and tasted like a cross between spice cake and carrot cake. Delicious. The bar in the basement looked fun too. We will be back!

exterior of Prairie Canary in Grinnell (not the best shot, alas.)

exterior of Prairie Canary in Grinnell (not the best shot, alas.)

More on the Polidori exhibit:

Exhibition Date:

25 Jan 2013 – 17 Mar 2013

School Year:

2012 – 2013


Faulconer Gallery

For more than 25 years, Robert Polidori, the noted architectural and editorial photographer, has been photographing historic sites around the world as diverse as the Castro regime’s Havana, post-Katrina New Orleans, post-human Chernobyl, and the Palace of Versailles. This exhibition features 60 large-scale color photographs from these and other ongoing projects. A full-color, hardcover catalogue for the exhibition, co-published by the Faulconer Gallery and Steidl Publishers, Germany, is available.


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