Tartine is a delightfully surprising restaurant. It is surprising in a number of ways. First, when I think of French food I am instantly worried that it will be a disappointment. You might wonder why I’d associate French food with dullness, but let me just say that all too often restaurants restaurants seem to expect people to ignore the dullness of the food by labeling it “French.” That said, Baru 66 is one of the only Des Moines restaurants that makes French food that I get excited about, so it comes as no surprise to me that Tartine is run by the same folks at Baru 66. Another surprise offered by Tartine is the fact that it is set squarely in the West Des Moines/Clive University Avenue chain restaurant strip. Very few chef-owned restaurants have survived the homogenized chain-loving tastes of the denizens of our western suburbs. Another welcome surprise is the price list. Entrees are between $13 and $16, burgers (yes they serve burgers) range from $9 and $13. Shared dishes (olives, mussels, frites, beignet, hummus, etc.) are between $5 and $8. Paninis (pressed and toasted sandwiches) are $8 or $9 and tartines (open-faced and lightly grilled) can be had for $8 or $9 with the exception of a smoked salmon dish at $11. These prices beat any French restaurant that I’m aware of and make dining quite affordable given the high quality of the dishes.
Service was attentive and efficient. In both recent visits the waiters (Ann and Lexi) each had a delightfully easy and friendly manner totally in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere. The interior is interesting. Although this is technically in a strip mall, this is one of the newer high-end retail buildings with high ceilings and architectural features that try to break up the “strip” quality. The interior designer took full advantage of those ceilings by building out the kitchen behind faux French country walls with their own rooflines. Although this could have ended in a fake Disney-esque look, the dining area is fitted out with interesting artwork, menu boards, hand-painted features, and a variety of seating areas, so the end result does a good job of providing a mix of casual dining with a nod to a French country look. I think that the best description is “charming.”
One of the interesting menu items is the Truffled Mac & Cheese ($13). This is macaroni with creamy truffle scented mornay sauce with haricot verts. Heck if I know what that is, but it tasted great. One challenge that big cheesy pasta dishes face is to be interesting enough that they don’t get that “too much” feel as you work through the plate. This was one of those exceptional dishes that kept delivering.
I am not normally a soup person, but I was intrigued by the sweet corn and potato chowder ($3)and I was rewarded with a very tasty dish that had a rich thick texture and flavor. I followed up the soup with the pasta of the day, which was herbed risotto with shrimp and arugula ($11 plus $4 for the shrimp). We followed up the meal with macaroons ($3) and chocolate mousse ($3.50)
During a subsequent lunch visit I tried the Monte Cristo Panini ($9), which is sliced ham and ham with swiss cheese dijon which is then battered and toasted and served with a raspberry maple sauce. I don’t know how they get that wonderful crispy glaze on the outside of that sandwich, but it turns it into a confection.
You can’t go to Tartine without ever trying the Tartines, so we also ordered the Honey Ham and Brie ($8) Tartine. It is ham served on open faced bread with several slices of thick gooey brie and drizzled in honey. It was succulent and delicious.
Tartine also features several kid-friendly dishes and a large assortment of fancy desserts. Be sure to check the specials as well.
12695 University Avenue
Clive, Iowa 50325
7am – 8pm
9am – 2pm