Iowa City’s Share Wine Lounge & Small Plate Bistro is a tough place to pigeon-hole. It is located in the Iowa City Sheraton. The entrance is just at the east end of the ped mall at 210 South Dubuque Street. Is it a hotel restaurant? Is it a chain (locations in Pittsburgh, PA, Culver City, CA, Tampa, FL, and Iowa City)? And what sort of restaurant is it?
Share seems to be somehow associated with Davidson Hotel Company, a higher-end hotel operator as all of the Share locations seem to be located in hotels that are operated by Davidson. Normally, I like to focus on locally-owned restaurants, but a deviation from the norm is allowable if someone is willing to bring a fairly unique concept to Iowa, if it is well executed, and if the food preparation shows some real passion.
Of course, this expectation may have more to do with the fact that this is Iowa than anything else. You would not expect anything but the best food at the Four Seasons or I always expect that the better Hotel restaurants are usually competent in preparing food but I seldom expect local ingredients, local recipes or that extra touch that tells you that the food was prepared by a professionally trained chef who has some passion for food preparation. Of course, Iowa does not really have its share of top end luxury hotels. Des Moines has its downtown Marriott but I can attest that food quality has wavered wildly over the years.
First, what is Share Wine Lounge & Small Plate Bistro? As the name implies, it offers a fairly long wine list along with plates that are suitable for sharing, in the tapas tradition. Fans of Trostel’s Dish in Clive, Iowa know about this way of serving food, though the serving sizes at Share struck me as larger. In fact, the serving sizes seemed to be larger than other tapas restaurants I’ve tried, including the superb El Farol in Santa Fe.
The service was top-notch and utterly professional. The waiter knew all about the dishes and was able to speak intelligently about the very good 2007 Sonoma County Coppola “Directors” Chardonnay bottle that we selected. The fact that the service was well-trained and enthusiastic coupled with expertly prepared food is a signal that top-notch management must be involved and that they are hiring competent chefs. The biggest impediment to Share in Iowa City is the fact that a lot of people who are in town for a game will just want to go to the same place that they went to “back in the day.” It helped that this was a slow non-game weekend in Iowa City and the crowds were non-existent (the best time to visit Iowa City in my book). Share features a wine bar and they also serve a large number of wines by the glass. I understand that Share has also struck a deal with Francis Ford Coppola Winery to feature that winery’s products.
The food itself was very agreeable. We started by passing around some shrimp and lemon gremolata flatbread. It was topped with mozzarella and sweet basil. The bread was very tasty and had just the right amount of chewiness. Next up was a roasted pear salad and a portabello and prosciutto salad. Both were large and had complex flavors. The most interesting and exciting dish was the spinach gnocchi. The gnocchi pasta was hand-made and sauteéd with garlic infused olive oil, sweet basil, artichoke hearts and toasted pine nuts. It has in fact started us on a quest to try to make gnocchi that good here at home. So, far, we can’t compete.
If you are in Iowa City and you want to try some tapas-style dishes, then give Share a try.