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Starting Feb. 23, Emily Ekle will take over as The Des Moines Register’s Datebook Diner, replacing Karla Walsh.

Her weekly reviews of Des Moines-area dining establishments will appear in Datebook, the Register’s weekly entertainment tab focused on things to do, as well as on the Register’s digital platforms.

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Ekle is a native Iowan (she grew up in Farmington) and stood out from other applicants in the quality of her writing, her understanding of her audience and her background working in the food industry, combined with her passion for food. (Ekle worked in restaurants, mainly as a server, from age 14 to 28.)

She also has a strong background in writing. Ekle is an Iowa State University graduate in rhetoric and professional communications. She received a Master’s in fine arts from Emerson College in Boston. Her day job is as senior acquisitions editor for an academic publishing company in the area of psychology. She lives in Ankeny with her husband and two children.

What follows is a condensed and edited Q & A with Ekle about how she plans to approach the gig.

Q: What makes a great restaurant review?

A: The best restaurant reviews, to me, tell a story that includes an honest and accurate assessment of the food, the service, and the ambiance, yet leaving space for the reader/diner to make their own judgments on their own unique experience.

Follow Ekle on Twitter at @DatebookDiner and on Instagram at @datebookdiner

Q: How has your family life, as well as the places you’ve traveled and lived, influenced your attitudes and perspectives toward food and dining?

A: In addition to living on both the East and West Coasts, I’ve traveled and explored food scenes and cultures, both state-side and abroad. From haute cuisine in Paris to chicken-fried steak from a gas station in the backwoods of Tennessee, I’m always ready for a culinary adventure. …  I’m hard-pressed to find anything I like more than my mother’s biscuits and gravy or my grandmother’s blackberry pie. My guilty pleasure is the taco pizza from Casey’s. Sure, you can go elsewhere for taco pizza, but why would you?

Q: What are your three favorite dishes right now in Des Moines? 

A: Last summer at Alba, I had an asparagus soup with panna cotta and mushrooms of which I reminisce fondly about once a week. It hasn’t been on the menu since, but I am pinning hopes and dreams on it returning this year, come asparagus season.

The hot beef at The High Life Lounge tastes of Iowa and everything great about this state.

I recently had the Banh Mi from The Cheese Shop, with house-made liver mousse and pâté, pickles, fish vinaigrette … it was rich and tangy and savory, and so full of umami I almost cried.

Q: What are you looking forward to learning about and experiencing in the Des Moines dining scene?

A: I’m really looking forward to what food trends are emerging in Des Moines, and rediscovering Iowa mainstays. I’m very curious to see if and how chefs are treating Iowa’s delicacies like sweet corn, morels, venison, rhubarb, gooseberries, and walleye, to name a few.

THE DES MOINES REGISTER’S STAR SYSTEM FOR REVIEWS:

★★★★: (Extraordinary) Transcendent. A one-of-a-kind experience that sets the local standard.

★★★: (Excellent) Superior. Memorable, high-quality food; exciting environs; savvy service; smart concept.

★★: (Good) Solid example of restaurant type.

★: (Fair) Just OK. A place not worth rushing back to. But, it might have something worth recommending: A view, a single dish, friendly service, lively scene.

No stars: (Poor) Below-average restaurant.

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