Last week David and I went to Des Moines for a vegan prix fixe dinner at Aposto at the Scala House. I hadn’t been to the Scala House in many years. The last time I was there, in fact, it was an entirely different restaurant – le Chat Noir.
Aposto is a private dining restaurant that opens just for prix fixe ticketed dinners and once-a-month brunches. This was their first time offering an all-vegan dinner. As vegan fine dining is pretty much non-existent in Iowa, I jumped at the opportunity to buy tickets for this event with a full four-course menu.
When we arrived, we discovered that people were seated family style, and our place cards were waiting for us. I’d imagined it would be more of a romantic evening with a table for two, and so I had to switch gears a little in my mind. However, I’m so glad it worked out the way that it did. Getting to know my tablemates easily ended up being my favorite part of the night.
We started by ordering glasses of wine, and making small talk as everyone arrived. The restaurant has three separate rooms, and each one was filled with long tables. There was a real feeling of excitement in the air. I don’t know the percentage of vegans and vegetarians in attendance, but there seemed to be a large number of people buzzing, getting to connect with other plant-based eaters in a state where that’s a rare commodity.
The first course was fried parsnip calamari, scattered in rings with arugula. The plate was drizzled with aronia berry salsa and a dollop of lemon chive aioli. The fried parsnip rings worked well to whet the palate while dipping them in their various accoutrements. As I’m not a huge arugula fan, it would have been nice if it were dressed with something to combat its bitter edge.
The second course was a shiitake risotto that had notes of saffron. It was surrounded by a pool of red pepper coulis, and topped with shaved asparagus. It was a cozy and warming spring dish for a cool April night.
The third course was stuffed eggplant with the round flavors of fennel. It was topped with toasted non-dairy cheese and panko. On the side there was zucchini and a spicy, full-bodied marinara sauce.
Finally, for dessert we were served a sliver of flourless chocolate tart with a crisp amaretto brittle crust. On the side, tart raspberry sorbet and mint pesto.
Like I said, vegan fine dining is practically non-existent in Iowa. So I loved the little touches that come with it like getting served from the left and having plates picked up from the right, or that the servers were careful to lay the plates with the centerpiece at the 6 o’clock position when appropriate. It’s that attention to detail that elevates the experience, knowing that each part of the meal is considered.
After dinner was finished, the owner of Aposto, Tony Lemmo, came out to talk with us about the meal along with the chef who designed the dinner, Cory Wendell. Cory used to cook at Krunkwich. Any longtime readers know how I feel about Krunkwich, and so that was a big draw to me for the evening. Cory said that he’s not vegan, but he had a lot of familiarity cooking that way while working at Krunkwich.
Tony and Cory agreed that for this event they wanted to put the focus on vegetables, with no tofu or seitan in sight. I feel it’s common with non-vegan chefs to have a negative bias against those foods. As a vegan, those things are a draw to me. Not only are tofu & seitan delicious, they’re also toothsome & filling. Dinner was lovely and full of flavor, but something protein dense in the meal would have been a welcome addition for satiety’s sake. If they still want to stay away from tofu or seitan, even some beans would be a nice inclusion at future events.
They said that this was their first vegan pop up, and so they weren’t sure what to expect as far as interest. However, it sold out more quickly than any of their prix fixe dinners in the past. Clearly, there is a need and interest for compassionate fare in this landlocked state. They promised that they will do more vegan pop ups in the future. They also said that any of their non-vegan dinners can be adjusted for vegans. After you buy your tickets, just write in the comments section how many vegans will be in attendance, and they’re happy to accommodate.
After the meal ended, we stayed at our table for a long time, laughing with our new friends, gossiping about vegan retreats, and swapping stories about working for Disney. (Three of us at the table had worked at the Disney parks!) It was a wonderful, memorable evening, and I look forward to doing it again in the future.