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We asked two Des Moines chefs, George Formaro and Jacob Demars, to taste and rate 10 new foods at the 2019 Iowa State Fair. Brian Taylor Carlson/Wochit, Brian Taylor Carlson/Wochit

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A new restaurant is coming to Windsor Heights by way of Rockport, Massachusetts. 

R I Restaurant opened its doors on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6587 University Avenue in the former space of Baru 66.

The fine-dining restaurant will offer playful takes on New England tourist town seafood dishes creatively meshed with Iowa ingredients. The menu includes appetizers, entrees and desserts.

"I wanted to bring things in from Massachusetts like baked stuffed clams, fried seafood and a touristy attitude but elevated to an upscale dining palate," said chef and co-owner Jacob Demars, 32. He owns the restaurant with his wife, Kathleen McGuire, 32, a senior finance manager at LCS. 

"R I" stands for "Rockport, Massachusetts to Iowa," the greatly simplified journey Demars took to toss his toque into the culinary ring of the Des Moines restaurant scene.

The 2,300-square-foot dining space has changed quite a bit from the days of Baru 66. Elegant steel gray walls are adorned with panels and prints.

An audience of tables seating 40 are appointed with black tablecloths offering a sophisticated charm before the new open kitchen, a must-have for Demars — whose most recent stint was as executive chef at Trostel's Dish in Clive. Before that, he was known for his lavish 10-course pop-up dinners around the metro.

Demars intends to keep the show going with the help of Emika Martin, his dining room manager and bartender who he met while working as executive chef of Marlene's at Sevastopol Station in 2017. 

Follow Chef Jacob Demars through the years in Des Moines:

Menu highlights

The opening menu includes an assortment of dishes including vegan, gluten- and dairy-free options.

"Rather than doing a normal season change every three months, I want to be cautious about my ingredients and switch them out to a more seasonal take," Demars said. "I'm keeping the menu small so we can focus on every aspect and make sure everything is right."

  • Risotto Carbonara: Arborio rice, citrus butter, Parmesan cheese, egg yolk, cracked black pepper ($14)
  • Cape Ann baked stuffed clam: New England clam chowder, fontina espuma ($12)
  • Cornish game hen: Pineapple and oat, spicy granola, basil yogurt emulsion ($13)
  • Pan-seared ocean trout: Roasted broccoli, herb vichyssoise, couscous, lemon puree ($27)
  • Dry-aged duck breast: Roasted butternut squash puree, millet salad with ginger and pear, poached Belgian endive ($30)
  • Eggplant: Sauteed green cabbage, carrot, onion, and poblano pepper ($20)

Desserts include a chocolate fondant bar with milk chocolate frozen yogurt, malted milk whipped cream and white chocolate brittle; vanilla custard with an apple pie core and white chocolate coating; and a play on coffee and doughnuts with arabica coffee ice cream, doughnut batter and crumbles, a vanilla tuille cookie and French vanilla puree (all $10).

Beverage highlights

Demars and Martin collaborated on the one-of-everything wine list and kept it small to see what guests would like to see. Most selections of red, white and sparkling wines are available by the glass and bottle (by the glass, $7-$15; by the bottle, $17-$75). Look for an expansion in the months ahead. Corkage is $25.

Martin masterminded the craft cocktail list with a modest choice of spirits and flavor profiles. 

  • A Little Spice is Nice: Tito’s Vodka, ginger liqueur, cranberry juice, orange juice, lime juice, seltzer, ginger slice ($10)
  • Apple Bobbing: Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey, apple cider, star anise syrup, apple jelly, apple, cinnamon ($12)
  • Adult Chocolate Milk: Pusser’s Rum, Kahlua, coconut milk, chocolate syrup, nutmeg, cookie stirrer ($12)

Eight beers by the bottle include ales, lagers, IPA and cider including Exile, Omission, Leffe and Kronenbourg 1664.

Non-alcoholic beverages include Coke products, French press coffee, juice, hot tea and bottled sparkling and still water. 

"We are excited to continue Demars' passion and the history of the space and bring Demars' food to Des Moines and Windsor Heights," McGuire said.

R I Restaurant

Location: 6587 University Ave., Windsor Heights

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; closed Sundays and Mondays.

Contact: (515) 277-1840; rirestaurant.com; Facebook

Brian Taylor Carlson is the food and dining reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach him at btaylorcar@dmreg.com or 515-284-8552 and follow @briantaylorcarlson on Facebook, @BriinDSM on Twitter and @briindsm on Instagram.

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