Blue Tomato Kitchen: There's a New Pizza in Town
How did a French chef, who has trained under Michelin-starred masters and managed, cooked, and consulted for restaurants all over the world, end up in suburban Des Moines? Chef David Baruthio’s story is complex, intense, and goes well with wine–much like his food.
Raised in Strasbourg, France, Baruthio labored under master chef Hubert Meatz before fine-tuning his skills in the UK, Belgium, Switzerland, Nepal, and Mongolia. When a consulting gig brought him to Des Moines a few years ago, it wasn’t the rolling fields and blossoming food scene that made him fall in love with Iowa. It was his soon-to-be wife, Sara Hill. Her parents’ farm in Belmont helped introduce Baruthio to the bountiful produce that comes from our Midwestern soil. Soon after, he and Sara decided to open Baru 66 in Windsor Heights, with an evolving menu of chef- and market-driven dishes.
With the resounding success of their first restaurant came the confidence to expand. Last fall saw the debut of Baru at the Art Center, a casual yet well-manicured café inside the Des Moines Art Center. Baruthio’s intentions were to recreate the inspiration behind its mother restaurant–simple yet satisfying French cuisine with an American twist–in a setting where his guests can be inspired by the space around them.
Not one to lose steam, the energetic entrepreneur’s attention quickly turned to a new concept: contemporary Italian cuisine. Thus Blue Tomato was born, in the form of an unsuspecting building on the southwest corner of 63rd and Grand Avenue. Baruthio teamed up with Chef Nickolas Illingworth to craft a menu based on the Italian- born traditions of David’s ancestors. And if you know a bit about Illingworth’s background at Bistro Montage, Flying Mango, and The Cheese Shop, you can guess what the divine results were.
Blue Tomato’s interior is reminiscent of a European bistro, with a modest 60-seat capacity and dining bar, which faces the open kitchen. The restaurant’s simple layout ensures that guests can enjoy watching their food being prepared, and assures that it arrives on their table hot and fresh. A youthful color palette and local artwork keep the ambience lively. But the restaurant’s aesthetics come up short when compared with the food.
A menu of insalata, antipasta, and bruschetta kick off the party. I enjoyed the Charred Onion and Goat Cheese Bruschetta, which is topped with fresh arugula to cut the creamy, peppery flavor. Next up is an array of entrées, which ranges from the B.T. Burger served on fresh focaccia bread and Pork Piccata to hearty in-house pastas and stone-cooked pizzas. The restaurant’s fresh, hand-made approach to cuisine is apparent in the traditional Pork Meatball dish, which is baked together with rigatoni and a creamy sauce. But the star of the show is absolutely the pizza. The homemade dough is hand-tossed and slathered in a zesty red sauce that is both uncomplicated and addictive. The pizza offerings are few, but every one is perfect. The Prairie Pizza (because I had to choose only one) comes topped with local La Quercia prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, and an egg. I will reiterate: uncomplicated, but perfectly, unabashedly, wholeheartedly addictive.
Blue Tomato does not currently take reservations, so if you visit on a weekend, arrive before six to make sure you get a table. Their hours are posted on their website, bluetomatokitchen.com.
Bottom line: Move over, Gusto. There’s a new pizza in town.