Sunday, October 12, 2008

Restaurant Review: Devotay, Iowa City

Food Tour of Iowa: Devotay, Iowa City
I’m pretty happy I managed to get out to Devotay; for a while, I feared it would be my white whale, and I would never manage to get to go. A combination of bad luck and lack of opportunities conspired against me for a while to keep me from actually making it to the restaurant. However, I managed to reverse that trend and made it out there this last Saturday night.

Devotay surprised me right off the bat because of its location. While I am no expert about Iowa City, I thought I knew most of the cool and youthful locations; Devotay (and the rest of the surrounding area) proved me wrong. It was packed with trendy coffee houses, a nice assortment of restaurants and plenty of students from the nearby University of Iowa. I pegged a few places for future exploration (Falafel!!).

I walked into Devotay at about 6:30, and it was pleasantly full. There is a little bar in the walkway where waiting diners can enjoy some of the delightful tapas while waiting for a table. The hostess seated us promptly, and the dining area was very nice. Tastefully decorated, it struck a good balance between having an intimate atmosphere while not being too uptight or too rowdy; it was just in the middle. The atmosphere made for a very pleasant dining experience.

Devotay’s menu consists of cold tapas, hot tapas and entrée’s. I have quite a few friends who had been here before, and they all gave me different advice. Some said to only order the tapas; others suggested I not even bother and have whatever was the special of the day. Intense disagreement over what was best characterized my “research” over what to have, which is always a good sign in my experience.

I ended up ordering the cheese platter and the datiles (bacon wrapped dates) off the tapas menu to start, and then followed those up with a 1 person paella split between my companion and I; I felt like it was a good way to maximize my returns, and I was not disappointed.

The cheese platter varies from day to day, depending on what cheeses are available and in season. Ours had a manchego, which was a very pleasant sheep’s milk cheese from Spain, as well as a semi-hard goat cheese and a third, the names of which I missed when the waitress described them. The manchego was good; creamy, it had a distinct and pleasant flavor, but left me wanting a little something else. The semi-hard was the best of the three. It had a good goat cheese flavor that was assertive but not overwhelming. The third, a very soft goat cheese was not very good. It tasted very “goaty”, but of nothing else. The presentation and accompaniments were nice. The cheeses were served with some toasted almonds, some very decent balsamic vinegar and delicious Spanish olives, which I greedily devoured (my companion didn’t like olives).

While the cheese was slightly underwhelming, the datiles were anything but. The dates were wrapped in very smoky, delicious bacon and served with a pimenton barbeque sauce for dipping. The sweet date and smoky bacon was an odd flavor combination, but one that worked extremely well, and that I look forward to exploring in my home cooking. The dates provide a very sweet, sugary taste and grainy texture that is perfectly tempered and complemented by the smokiness and meaty texture of the bacon. It was excellent, and we devoured them.

For the main course, we split a seafood paella, which was great. The rice was the perfect texture, and was topped with tomatoes and peas, as well as chorizo, mussels, chicken, shrimp and a few olives (which promptly went onto my plate). The tomato sauce was great, as were all the meats in the paella, but the chorizo particularly shined. Imported from Spain, it was delicious. I mopped up my plate with a delicious heel of bread, provided obviously for that specific purpose, and was very satisfied with life.

Overall, I highly recommend Devotay. The atmosphere and service were excellent, and the food was superb. The Chef is one of the main proponents of “slow food” in Iowa City, and is a great supporter of local agriculture; the menu is packed with Iowa foods, from Northern Prairie chevre to Kalona cheeses, as well as the more predictable local meats and produce. This reliance on local, seasonal food ensures that everything is fresh and delicious; my experience there definitely confirms it.

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