For my birthday this year (the big three-o) we went out to one of Iowa City's finer dining establishments. After several days of burritos and noodle bowls I was ready for something a little more upscale, and Chefs Table in downtown Iowa City sounded like a great place to celebrate.
The restaurant is recently opened and proclaims a French bistro menu (though not yet available online.) While the restaurant front is clean and small, upon entering, a cavernous and elegantly decorated space draws you in. The high industrial ceiling is painted black, and the modern minimalist lighting adds a surprisingly pleasant aura. A winding path leads to the back of the restaurant, and is lined with neat tables and enormous fashion plate paintings.
I often think that a sign of a good restaurant is the quality of the bread they serve. At Chefs Table they make fresh rolls in a variety of delicious flavors (mushroom, rosemary, sage, and some outstanding cheese puffs.) We started with a nice glass of Moet champagne paired with a really impressive cheese course. The plate included a soft triple cream, a pecorino, and a fantastic sharp truffle cheese that I have not tasted before. Each cheese was paired with homemade sweet/savory chutney's.
The menu did not include a vegetarian entree. Instead the chef himself came out to talk with us and planned a dish around our interests and requests. The resulting dish was impressively plated - several fresh vegetables served over delicious squares of cheesy polenta. I (not being vegetarian) went with the scallops and mini short rib raviolis. The plate included numerous ingredients - wild mushrooms, asparagus, roasted parsnips and potatoes, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. Every item came together very nicely and made for a very impressive meal. Each entree included a salad or the onion soup (served with a really really tasty cheesy toast.)
For dessert we had the rhubarb strawbery compote with genoise cake and creme fraiche ice cream with basil. This was one of the highlights of our meal. It was like strawberry shortcake done French style (really really delicious!)
All in all, the meal was excellent. Our only qualm may have been the slow kitchen. Service was great, but the place was packed. The kitchen may need some time to maximize its efficiency - especially considering every dish has an unusually large number of ingredients. Despite being one of the more upscale restaurants in town, our bill in the end was quite reasonable - certainly less than any nice restaurant back in Boston. Champagne, appetizers, entrees and dessert all came to slightly under $80 for two. We will certainly be back again!
223 E. Washington St.
Iowa City, Iowa