Romantic places of sweet desolation and benign neglect are often not the first thought when people think of the Midwest, albeit they aren’t the last. Nor were they Thomas Jefferson’s when the sweet deal of the Louisiana Purchase was sealed with the fumbling French. Gone were the French savoir faire in all things communistic and cultural je ne sais quoi that continues to tarnish the good will of Midwestern demographics. One of the most damaged is Iowa, sandwiched by an eclectic mix of forgetful states and glacial lands. Along with its rolling plains and cornfield, it boasts soybean and meat production that fuels the nation and beyond. None of which, of course, wakes up languorous eyes that perambulate the Drake campus. Cried the object of my fleeting infatuation that Iowa food is boring, and she does not trust Iowa seafood. I was with her at least four years ago when my plane departed from JFK, flooding my eyes with regrettable anguish. Like inspiringquotes.com suggested, however, I made memories and left footprints, but now I am really torn, a bit like Natalie Imbruglia in the ‘90s. The moment I set foot in Harbinger at 2724 Ingersoll Avenue, I sought refuge.
I find it courtesy of handsome wood and daunting wine list with faint lights that transported me to my then favourite restaurant in the heart of Santa Monica, a refuge from incredibly good-looking Californian blondes. Tar & Roses spoke to me and my friends in whispering voice and bubbling champagnes. Amidst joyful chitter-chatters and quirky repartee, I was free. Harbinger, on the other hand, is tucked in the corner of unassuming Ingersoll Avenue, an ivory rectangular engineering architecture that punctuated the Des Moines canvas of gentle dilapidation and bumpy rides. Looking out defiantly in the bleak Iowa winter, once inside I feel as if I have become a spectator of the elements, rather than its victim.
Embodied the incandescent soul and unwavering imagination of Joe Tripp, the five times James Beard nominee for the Best Chef: Midwest, Harbinger delivers Asian-inspired, locally sourced dishes influenced by his yearly global exploration endeavours. Outside, the weather is a cacophony of blues and gunmetal greys, although from compressed melon salad to halibut cheeks marinated with turmeric and dill, his culinary passion was palpable in its riotous colours and wake-me-up flavours. Translated to his dinner menu is a modish parade of small plates that instills confidence and encourages humour. Carrot dumplings drenched in gochujang, scallions and spicy aioli help me knock on the door of nostalgia, when Jerusalem artichokes twice fried drizzled in yuzu hollandaise, togarashi and shiso sail me off to a place where I was loved. The Washington states’ finest lent invigorating acidity and gripping tannins in bottles of reds and whites that resolve unctuous pork belly buns and add colour, hopefully, to a table of grinned cheeks.
God is in the detail and the detail has been fully attended to. Looking about the room, I can definitely see, and impatiently I await the summer. It will be a destination of louche nights where one might learn how to make a friend or two who might be oddly obsessed with spewing quotes to appear unjustly sanctimonious. But exactly like those trite quotes suggested, I have made good and bad memories and left many footprints that one day when the Midwest reminisces the onset of my bleak absence, it would recall why I feel loved here and there inside the doors of Harbinger.