I visited Django, located on 10th Street next door to the Hotel Fort Des Moines this past Friday night with our good friends who share the same love of finding new and exciting fare in our beautiful city. Django is self described as:
Django is a comfortable, brasserie-style restaurant offering everything
you love about French cuisine without the attitude. The restaurant
features classic French dishes such as Steak Frites and Duck Cassoulet,
as well as fresh salads and juicy hamburgers made with house-ground
Vibe and First Impressions
We entered and indicated that we were early for our 7PM reservation and that we’d be in the bar. The front desk was being run by a couple young ladies that mostly looked down. Greetings were neutral and unimpressive. There was no Maitre de in charge. This was especially odd considering Django has been open for only about 1 week and first impressions leave lasting marks. We had a drink at the bar and found the bar help to be courteous and attentive. The main portion of the restaurant is loud, vibrant, and more conducive to festive dinners of celebration vs. formal affairs. If you’re looking for a quiet dinner for two you may want to seek other options unless there are quieter rooms off the main floor we didn’t see. The decor is classy and trendy. The crowd is best described as "the typical crowd you see at Centro". A mix of the blue blazer crowd with the Tommy Bahama + Birkenstockers…with martinis acting as the binder. There were some families present too.
We ordered the Fromage and Charcuterie plate (cheese and cold cuts) served with figs, nuts, fruit and bread. One of the three cheeses in the daily offering was missing and we inquired which one it was and asked why. Our server didn’t know which it was nor why and casually stated that, "Maybe we just ran out." Ran out of what we’re still not sure since knowing only for certain which cheese was the sheep’s milk (hard not to know this pungent-earthy-gamey type). We ordered a white Bordeaux to go along with the plate. The server did produce notes when trying to help me find the right pairing but ultimately had little to offer in this area. We had the crab/lobster cakes and the mussels as well. Crab cakes were too dry for me and the seafood inside was a bit more pulverized than "lumped". The mussels were quite good and their sauce used leeks and a heavy dose of cream to please our pallets.
I ordered the 12oz prime top sirloin steak medium. I always ask the server if the chefs are known for being "over or under" on their interpretation of medium. She didn’t know but reassured me that "they don’t overdo them here". This knowledge may evolve over time. The medium was a couple ticks toward medium well but tasty. At $14, the plate came with some heavily salted euro style shoestring fries. Tasty but salt phobics will do good to ask for "light or no salt" if you’re going to indulge. Others in my group had salmon, braised short ribs, and the seared ahi tuna. All were satisfied with their dishes but no raving praise. None of us had the plentiful raw seafood offerings which are the centerpiece of the bar area. Oysters galore grace the bar and shuckers are busy. I wish I liked raw oysters more but they don’t fire my rockets.
I’d give the service satisfactory marks. For this type of upscale place, I’d give it a C+. I expect more from place where dinner for 4 with drinks is easily $200+. Most disappointing is the lack of a management presence. This may have happened later in the evening but during our time, no one from management elicited feedback, inquired about our experience, etc. Maybe I expect too much from a new offering or maybe I just have knack for what excellent service and relationship building might look like in a new high end restaurant, vying for my dollars in a relatively crowded marketplace for fine dining.
I can attribute server lack of depth in understanding the finer points of the food/beverage offerings to newness. However I have trouble understanding the lack of a strong front desk presence and the placement of novice hostesses in such a position of prominence. I’m just one of those service oriented guys (like most of my readers and my demographic) that has trouble letting go of that instant when my expectations were not met. That initial experience set the bar for me and I kept looking for that redeeming moment that didn’t come. Management should absolutely be trolling and gathering feedback at this stage in the game. Perhaps they do that on Saturdays.
I will not surrender…I will go back. Django absolutely deserves another chance. Their menu is exciting and unique in town and their beer offerings are something special. They will have to ratchet up the experience meter a few notches however to remain a viable option for me.