I have become wary of high-concept restaurants in Des Moines (and beyond) because the concept (mostly decor, ambiance, style) tends to trump the quality of the food. So this alone had me wary of Vivian’s “Diner” – a new restaurant in what locals still know as the Kirkwood Hotel, an art deco gem that’s now condos rather than hotel rooms. Beyond this, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the two previous restaurants in the space now housing Vivian’s.
But…I liked Vivian’s, both what they’ve done to the wide open high-ceiling space and more importantly the food. The place is still, by nature, a bit cold and drafty (even more so, I’m guessing, on a cold winter night). But it’s cheerful, casual, clean and a little funky here and there. A lot of whites and neutral colors. The service was a bit spotty (the waiter was a bit clueless in response to our fairly standard questions about various dishes.
Dishes we liked – pork wings. Yes pork wings. I had to stop and think for a minute, do pigs have wings? Nope. Is this a play on the expression”Pigs might fly”? (Today’s version of this expression: “As if.”) Maybe. The appetizer turned out to be delicious little bbqued pork shanks, with a sweet and sour taste. This being a so-called diner – and a meal after the horrific outcome of the presidential election – we all sought major comfort from food. All items were met with approval except one (meatloaf deemed too dry). I liked my fried chicken (a boneless not too dry breast), smashed potatoes and sweet corn-edamame succotash (although it could have been warmer). Also thumbs up for the hefty turkey burger and the enormous pork chop. Dessert – Donald Trump be damned – was a delicious warm brownie à la mode and coconut tarts. Both yummy.
PORK WINGS $12.75 soy mandarin glaze, sesame cilantro aioli, sesame seeds
TURKEY BURGER $11.75 brie, arugula, smoked bacon jam, sundried aioli
FRIED CHICKEN $15 buttermilk marinated airline, mashed red potatoes, herbed gravy, sweet corn edamame succotash
MEATLOAF $15.75 mashed red potatoes, green bean casserole, red wine balsamic reduction
PORK CHOP $26.75 bone-in iowa chop, mashed red potatoes, daily veggie, dijon cream, pesto
DOUBLE CHUNK WARM BROWNIE A LA MODE $6 FRENCH COCONUT TARTS $6