Steve turned 40 yesterday! When I asked him how he wanted to celebrate his milestone birthday, he replied that he wanted to visit my sister and brother-in-law in Des Moines, do something fun with the girls (and most adorable nieces on the planet), have a great dinner at Django and do drinks at The Royal Mile. Anything else, he said, would just be more icing on the cake (which was chocolate with peanut butter frosting). We had a small gathering at our house last weekend but his actual birthday weekend was non-stop celebrating.
We arrived in Des Moines on Friday and were greeted by big smiles and shouts of joy from the younger crowd. Lydia and Julia had been playing in the front yard and watching the street for our arrival. What a great way to start a weekend. Ralph, being a great cook, had a delicious dinner of grilled chicken, couscous and fresh salad for us. We dined outside and enjoyed a cold beer while the girls played in the yard. Saturday, Blair and Steve took off to do their thing while Ralph, the girls and I headed downtown to the sculpture park for a walk and a picnic. I’m amazed at the wonderful art in Des Moines. Apparently a prominent family, the Pappajohns, were art lovers who collected sculpture and donated their private collection to the city for a park. The latest edition, a piece by Keith Haring, was being installed and we were lucky enough to see it. After lunch, Ralph decided it was time for the girls to have “quiet time” which means they read quietly or nap while she takes a break. She was hoping they’d nap, but they decided to lie on the couch and giggle until they got into trouble. Soon Steve and Blair returned home so Ralph and I ventured out to the mall for some retail therapy. I found a cute pair of distressed khaki crop pants at The Gap for $14 and Ralph found some crop jeans for $20. I wore my pants the next day and Lydia asked me why there was paint on my pants. I told her it was the fashion and she replied it looked like bird poop. Ah, the wisdom of a four year-old! I had to laugh because, well, she was right!
Saturday night was the big Steve birthday celebration and once again Des Moines did not disappoint. We started at an English Pub downtown called The Royal Mile. Known for its huge beer and scotch selection, along with great pub food, The Royal Mile is a fun start to the evening. We sat outside on the patio and laughed at the horrible punk band playing outside at a neighboring bar. We had some great beer (my new fave: Old Speckled Hen), delicious Thai Curry Eggroll appetizers and big laughs over the band. From there we went to Django, a French restaurant located in the Hotel Fort Des Moines in downtown. We’d eaten there last year and had such a wonderful meal and experience that Steve knew it would make the perfect birthday dinner. Without reservations the wait was about 20-30 minutes so we decided to have a drink at the bar. Steve asked the bartender, Elizabeth, if she knew how to make an Old Fashioned then grilled her on how she does it. Sufficiently impressed by her knowledge, he ordered his drink and declared it perfect. Blair got a Mojito and Ralph ordered red wine. I wanted a gin martini but was afraid I would get drunk too fast (I’m a cheap date) so Steve handed me his phone which has a drink app on it. I looked up gin then started scrolling through the list until I came to The Bennett. I handed the phone to Elizabeth, who said she could easily make it, and I soon had a delightful pale pink drink in front of me. Lest you think I’m a fou-fou drink person I’ll explain that The Bennett has gin, fresh lime juice, a little simple syrup and bitters. Not fluffy at all because the gin cuts the sweetness. Delicious! We toasted to Steve and his birthday. We were having so much fun at the bar chatting with our new friend Elizabeth and telling customer horror stories that we decided to stay at the bar for dinner. We ordered an appetizer of delicious cheeses and cured meats then Ralph and I split what must be the most fantastic hamburger ever made. The hamburger was something Steve discovered the first time we visited Django and is the reason we return. What it really is is ground steak with high quality Swiss cheese and a French sauce that should be illegal. I think it contains Brandy, butter and heavy cream, but I really don’t want to know the details. The burger was paired with French fries, of course, but they were unlike any I’ve tasted. They were perfectly crisp, perfectly salty and perfect with the burger. I couldn’t finish my fries even though Ralph and I had split the burger, but Ralph ate all hers. Elizabeth treated Steve to a birthday dessert chosen by me and, on her recommendation, I chose French Toast. Yep, real French Toast with bacon-infused maple syrup and cinnamon gelato. Heaven! We left in a food coma and decided it was one of the best meals we’d ever eaten. Well worth the discomfort.
Sunday was a little more low-key. Ralph took the girls to the pool while Steve and I went to Half-Price Books and the Apple Store. Blair smoked a pork shoulder for dinner. Ralph made an incredible chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and we had a nice celebration on the patio. The girls were giddy about Steve’s gift: a trip to the Iowa State Fair in August. The Smiths are treating Steve to a day at the fair, complete with all the fair food he can handle. Ralph said it would be a rough day as they start out with fresh mini doughnuts and go on to corn dogs, gyros, frozen lemonade and more. My stomach is already turning at the thought. Of course being lead around the fair by two adorable guides will be the best part. We ended the evening by enjoying a 202 Stephen Vincent Pinot Noir that we’d been saving for a special occasion and I think a 40th birthday is the perfect reason to celebrate. It was worth the wait as it turned out to be an outstanding wine.
We’re home and I’m actually looking forward to getting back to my routine. I loved visiting my sister and the entire Smith clan, but enjoy getting back to the grind. I especially need a break from all the food rules I broke all weekend! Hope your Memorial Day weekend was safe and relaxing!