The New York Times has a new article up entitled “Four Paris Restaurants Worth a Metro Ride”, and when it was published ten days ago about as many people emailed it to me. I hope to pay a visit some of those tables next month, though truthfully I’m still a little peeved at author Mark Bittman for blowing one of my favorite local-ish restaurants, Astier, with a mention in the paper of record. I guess I can kiss my insider badge goodbye. . .
I know some people (ahem, most of you) consider Iowa City a trek in and of itself. With so many fantastic dining options downtown — many of which I’d continue to frequent if they were transplanted to New York City, high praise indeed — it can be tempting, even here, to fall into geographic snobbishness. Kalona, twenty miles southwest of our cosmopolitan little city, is a town of less then 2500. Getting there is a drive through pure country, and yet I’d been wanting to go for a good year. Why? Food, of course.
It’s called Tuscan Moon, and it’s a quiet, unassuming, delicious restaurant housed in the historic Old Kalona Hotel. There’s a gorgeous patio for outdoor dining, but the inside is just as fun: with old hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, chandeliers and high ceilings, it’s a real trip. When we went last weekend, there was a classical guitarist performing and the owner was circulating, asking how everyone’s meal was. It’s that kind of place.
My dinner was a perfectly respectable showcase of the restaurant’s home-cooked Italian roots: a very fine Caesar salad and an enormous plate of farfalle with bolognese sauce (which came, in true home style, with a slice of soft white loaf bread). I think Billy’s selections really hit it out of the park, though, demonstrating what happy heights Tuscan Moon can sail to outside the Italian box. There was the simply presented yellow fin sashimi and then — oh my — jerk-rubbed, grilled pork tenderloin with mango salsa. It was a special that night, but I heard they’re turning it into a regular menu item. I hope so, because it’s what I’d get next time. The smoky, charred flavor of the grill and spices were a brilliant foil to the sweet, juicy mango. It was a totally different level. It was grown up and sophisticated and wow, Kalona! Small but mighty. You done good.