New Des Moines restaurant Harbinger inspired by Iowa ingredients
Harbinger, at the corner of Ingersoll Avenue and 28th Street, has been procured from Iowa. From the food to the wood for the bar to the dishes, it's focused on local producers.
Still recognizable on the corner of Ingersoll Avenue and 28th Street, the building beckons with a new coat of paint and a logo that evokes the changing seasons. And the glass double doors with the vestibule are still in place.
People who remember Bistro Montage, the building's former inhabitant, will have little to recognize in the space.
Everything in Harbinger, one of Des Moines’ newest restaurants, has been procured from Iowa. The gleaming bar is made from wood from Cleverley Farms in Mingo. Living vegetation wall panels hung around the 54-seat dining room were made from a collaboration between Channing Jack of Mrs. Jack of All Trades interior design firm and The Growing Concern, a division of Wright Outdoor Solutions. Even the dishes are made by local artisans, including coffee mugs from Teri Breck and wooden bowls from Jason Howe.
“The idea of this whole restaurant is we’re trying to tell a story about this place we call home,” Joe Tripp said. “It’s definitely inspired by what’s growing around us. It’s hyper-seasonal. We’re a small plates new American restaurant with Asian flavors.”
He’s opening the restaurant Wednesday in partnership with Jason Simon, owner of two other local favorites, Alba and Eatery A.
Tripp credits his extensive backpacking trips to Asia for the influence that he is bringing into the restaurant. Last year, he spent 20 days in Vietnam, and this year he explored southeast Asia for 35 days, journeying from Thailand, down through Malaysia, and then to Singapore.
The James Beard Foundation recently nominated Tripp for the second year in a row for its Best Chef Midwest award.
The menu begins with an assortment of Asian-style bread, including clouds of soft mantou — a steamed Chinese bun that’s been crisped up on the outside — made with local honey, sweet potatoes and thyme. The mantou is served with a burnt spring onion butter. Harbinger uses a combi oven that acts as both a steamer and convection oven. It helps achieve the perfect texture.
The bread assortment also includes spring garlic pancakes, fingerling potato doughnuts, and Japanese gyoza-style carrot dumplings, resembling stuffed baby carrots, served with a sweet carrot hoisin, scallions and pickles.
The list of larger plates ranges from lightest to heaviest in flavor profiles, with vegetarian-friendly items peppered throughout.
“We are more of a create-your-own-tasting menu,” Tripp said. “So they are all small individual portions.”
Unique and creative dishes abound, with such promising delights as asparagus grilled over Thai charcoal, served with La Quercia prosciutto, tapioca and pecorino; napa cabbage stuffed with five-spice pork, rolled with ya chai (tea) and peanuts and served in a Sichuan broth; and heritage chicken that’s been rolled in its own skin, served with slow-cooked leeks, barley miso and carrot hoisin. Tripp also forages locally for some of his own special ingredients, such as ramps and spring nettle.
Another highlight on the menu is a selection of steamed buns with a choice of Vietnamese sausage with pickled carrots and rooster sauce (sriracha); buttermilk-brined chicken with turmeric pickles and miso honey mustard; and marinated tofu with black pepper, garlic and cilantro. Pork belly will also make an appearance on the steamed bun list.
Harbinger brings in produce from local farms like Cleverley, Bridgewater and Grade A. For Iowa meats, he uses Story City Lockers, which provides special-order pork and beef products like high-quality pork belly and Iowa beef striploin that’s aged for 60 days. Tripp also has produce delivered from local farms by way of a coop delivery service that brings one-of-a-kind produce to the restaurant. In keeping with Iowa-specific ingredients, Harbinger will not have seafood but may include Midwestern lake fish, such as pike, on future menu rotations.
Three desserts will also be available, including a lemon meringue pie made with yuzu kosho — a Japanese condiment made from fermented citrus and chilies — with a fortune cookie crust, sake-infused strawberries and Thai basil.
The wine list will focus predominantly on white wine, with about 20 bottles on the list.
“We’re trying to do the same thing with the wine program as we’re doing with the food program, where it’s just kind of ever-living, breathing thing and changing nonstop and very seasonal,” Tripp said.
Rae Doyle from Alba will manage the bar, while Ben Nelson, former sommelier of Splash Seafood Bar & Grill, will manage the front of the house. About six craft cocktails will star at the bar including the Bonded Rye, made from rye whiskey, kaiseki hojicha — a roasted green tea, aquavit and carrot water, served straight up.
Harbinger almost didn’t happen. After college at the University of Iowa, Tripp went to culinary school in Colorado and then worked under a chef who taught Tripp how to expertly run a kitchen. Tripp moved back to Des Moines with the intention of eventually making his way to Chicago.
“But I think I’ve found one of my favorite kitchens I’ve ever worked in at Alba and that’s how we are here today,” Tripp said. "(Owner) Jason Simon’s always been someone who’s allowed me to express myself creatively. That was why I stayed at Alba for five years.”
Simon encourages his chefs to travel as much as possible — he sent Tripp to visit San Francisco and Los Angeles to check out the cuisine scene on the West Coast to learn new techniques and use them for new ideas in his own dishes.
“It’s great for young guys to get out there and get their eyes open to what other people are doing,” Simon said. “It’s amazing how much you bring back to the restaurant.”
Find it: 2724 Ingersoll Ave.
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m.
Contact: 515-244-1314; Facebook