I get why the chef at the small Des Moines restaurant Harbinger is a semifinalist for a James Beard award (Best Chef, Midwest). We just had a superb meal there to mark my 60th birthday. We’d been once before – during restaurant week when we ate small bites of small plates for a small price. This time, we got bigger bites of small plates for a not-as-small-but-still-reasonable price — and the food made even more of an impression, a good one. Almost all the “plates” had an Asian twist — Vietnamese, Thai or Japanese — and almost every one was something we’d never eaten before.
We had two appetizers — the first was “tapioca and pecorino fritters” –2-inch crispy-on-the-outside-moist-on-the-inside logs of yes, tapioca and tangy cheese in a spicy tomato sauce. Delicious. So were the Prince Edward Island mussels in a light but spicy Thai coconut milk sauce.
The small plates we tried (and enjoyed) were:
- A bowl with moist coconut rice, large pieces of Berkshire pork shank (“braised in Chinese aromatics” and roasted chili vinegar).
- Fresh spinach with sweet cipolla onions and strawberries somehow dried akin to raisins.
- Two small steamed buns — one with spicy sriracha chicken, the other with a grilled pork belly in a sweet Hoisin sauce.