Atmosphere/First Impression: 4/5 stars.
The minimalist industrial look is pulled off mostly successfully. Slanted mirrors on the wall mock windows but can't hide that the dining area is a dungeon. Dim lighting is nice for a dinner, but Azalea takes it a bit too far to the point that I was unable to properly see all of the colors and aspects of my dish, to the point of having a hard time really identifying an item that was in a slaw. Still, these are relatively minor complaints. The room is classy, no-frills, music is at the right volume, and the overall feel of the restaurant is very good.
Service was average or slightly above, but worse than one would expect for the price. Our waitress seemed hurried a few times, once to the point of ignoring a patron's request. She specifically asked a patron how the gumbo was, and the patron replied honestly (that it was rather mediocre), to which the server replied, "People who like and know gumbo really like it." The patron lobbed back with, "I love gumbo, but I don't love bad gumbo. This tastes like it came from a frozen package."
Food: 1.5 / 5
The gumbo DID taste like it came from a frozen package. Small chunks of bland "andouille" (allegedly) sausage and tiny shrimp rested amid a thick, oppressive sauce tossed over cheap, overcooked rice accompanied by mushy tomatoes and peppers. Everything was mushy, tasteless, ugly, and smothered in a boring sauce. You can make better gumbo out of a Zatarain's box.
The ahi tuna was ordered rare but was warmer than lukewarm in the middle (and everywhere else) at time of serving. It was murdered by sesame seeds and an overpowering sesame sauce. There was absolutely no tuna flavor present. Tuna is a delicate flavor, and it was not complimented at all in this dish. Worst ahi tuna I've tasted in a long time. The tuna and gumbo were not only disappointing, but borderline inedible to me.
The beef tenderloin was quite good. But it's not hard to take prime Iowa beef, cook it to medium rare, and have it be very good. Anyone can do that at home, and for far less than $38. Not a terrible price, but an overall lack of creativity (it was served on a crostini of sorts--toast, basically) made it unexciting. One of the accompanying aiolis was rather tasty, though, so credit is deserved for that.
The ham pasta tasted primarily of bacon grease and had the texture of warm paste. A very mediocre dish.
The only real star was the calamari appetizer, which was presented wonderfully and brought with it a delicately-balanced combination of calamari, breading, and two sauces, including a tomato sauce that very nicely added some acidicy and earthiness. If all the food were this good, we would have had a great experience.
The portabella fries were average. Very nice presentation, boring breading, mediocre sauce.
All in all, Azalea takes the phrase that "people eat with their eyes" too far. The restaurant looks nice. The food looks great. The problem is that the food simply doesn't taste very good. It lacks inspiration, and some very basic foods were butchered by poor technique.
Not only does Azalea fail to be worth the entry-level gourmet price it asks, it fails to be worth half of that. Calamari aside, you can get better food for $10 at a dozen restaurants in town, and you can get better gumbo at Hy-Vee for $2.
I heartily discourage anyone from going here expecting expertly-prepared food.
Atmosphere/First Impression: 4/5 stars.
My boyfriend and I have been to Azalea twice, and both visits were pleasant but lacking. The atmosphere is cool, and the wait staff in the dining room is excellent. However, both times the service at the bar was mediocre at best. The food is okay; the best items are on the appetizer menu. It is expensive, but I don't think unreasonably so when you take into account the quality of the ingredients used.
I was more impressed with the menu on the second visit than I was on the first, and I think the restaurant has potential to be outstanding. We'll likely go back, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice evening in Des Moines.
Our mood was diminished by the fact that the hostess forgot she was there for us, and not us there for her. Our waiter was great-food ok. Would not recommend it to others.
Do not, do not order the profiterole. It is a pastry that in Paris is a melt-in- your mouth.
Azelea does not have it down. The pastry was so tough I could have used a knife.
Wife and I had a terrible experience here. The food is good, but not nearly worth the price. The overarching theme of the place is unique flavor combinations, but in trying to be as unique as possible, the chef apparently forgot to make sure the combinations tasted good. The ambiance was fair, but was not welcoming. Our server was pleasant while she completely botched both of our orders. I might give it another chance if friends want to go, but at these prices, I'll put my money on a sure thing, Sage.
I've been to Azalea's and won't bother to go back. I didn't think the food selection was that great. It was overpriced as well. Oven pizza was burnt. Chicken & dumplings were greasy. Servers were great, but the hostess did not make me feel very welcomed. Don't bring a big group if you can't meet their "minimum requirement". They won't allow gift certificates for the difference and don't care to work with you. I would rather bring my group somewhere more friendly, welcoming, & worth the money.
Although everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, the previous post does absolutely nothing to relay WHY they rated Azalea 0.5 stars other than to be irritated by the fact that they were not noticed. This restaurant is expensive, so expect to pay for quality. The noses that the previous poster speaks of are not high in the sky; dishes are very well prepared and use local ingredients and take into account local flavors and preferences. This is the type of restaurant that DOES pay attention to what it's customers want and executes it wonderfully.
Don't bother. The restaurant is highly overrated. Atmosphere is cool and unwelcoming. Food is not worth the price. Those who run the place have their noses so high they can't even see their own customers & acknowledge them. Locals want to think this place equates with the upper class restaurants in other cities. Unfortunately, it doesn't come close.
Morrow dishes up consistently great food in the fomerly shuttered (for how many years?) space in the Kirkwood Hotel/apartments lobby. The bar was lively on both visits, boasting a nice wine list. Atmosphere in dining room was "warm industrial", a wonderful contemporary space softened with just the right touches, comfortable for suits or jeans. Sea bass in Japanese broth brought raves on both our visits. Would definitely reccommend reservations, especially on weekends and during Civic Center shows. Waitstaff brings experienced top notch service to this fabulous locale.
With Azalea, Mr. Jeremy Morrow has created a new restaurant in downtown Des Moines to equal or exceed Restaurant 43 or Bistro 43, his previous successes at Hotel Fort Des Moines.
Azalea is a cut above most other local restaurants. It is in the same class as Sage, Mosaix and Dish. It has size, edge, excitement, professionalism and superb food.
Located off the lobby of the former Kirkwood Hotel (now loft apartments), across from Zen, their sushi and noodle restaurant on the other side of the lobby, Azalea is unmarked from outside the building. A and D actually tried to find it on a prior outing but were confused by the Zen sign in the window.
The art deco interior and vintage decor make Azalea an interesting, big, alive space. Banquettes line the walls and the white linen service tables are well-spaced in three different dining areas and feature romy, comfortable dining chairs. There is also a loft area; the bar area is just at the entrance and offers ample dining seating along with very attractive bar seating. Azalea offers a very eclectic wine list; wine by the bottle is a bit pricey, but by the glass is reasonable.
Service is excellent. Morrow has re-assembled many of the top servers in Des Moines who had migrated away from Bistro 43 to other top venues, and have now returned to offer their skills at Azalea. From observing, A and D recognized a large number of Des Moines' very best professional servers. Clearly, Azalea has created service vacancies at other top local restaurants. It is easy to see why: the restaurant was packed on a Thursday and there is a lot of money to be made at Azalea for excellent wait staff. And they ARE excellent.
A and D ordered a Zen roll, which from the menu description hinted it might be a tempura dish. When it arrived it was a nigiri zushi roll, ample if a little surprising. It was delicious at $9. We also ordered the calamari appetizer with roasted tomato aoli. Incredible dish! One of the very best calamari dishes A and D have had anywhere; generous, perfectly prepared, crispy and packed with flavors. The two appetizers were indicitive of what would follow.
Azalea has an open kitchen facing the dining rooms. A staff of six chefs work in a ballet of activity that showcases their experience. A salad chef works his perfect salad magic quickly, efficiently and with flair; he also tends the wood-fired oven. The sous chef executes calmly and flawlessly with three comis chefs assisting. A head chef expidites and checks all dishes for quality. This is a professional, well-run kitchen that works on time and accurately with dishes prepared exactly as ordered.
The breads are doubtless South Union Bakery and scrumptous. One ingredient that requires comment is the butter. It is a California butter from the ManaLea dairy and is one of the most delicious butters we have ever tasted. It has hints of vanilla and is as creamy and flavorful as any imported, artisanal butter we have tried--anywhere--including England, Scotland or Europe.
The salad course brought A a perfect Caesar salad with a masterful dressing, redolent of fresh garlic and chewy, spiced croutons made from focaccia bread. D had the Cleverly Farms greens with roasted figs, pistachio nuts and a perfectly simple dressing. Superb! The salads are a la carte and were $8 and $9 respectively.
The mains were a tomato, mozzarella, basil wood-fired pizza for A at $9, and D ordered the braised short ribs with sticky rice and kim chee (fascinating pairing) at $16. Both of these dishes sung! The short ribs were 'fall-off-the-bone-cut-with-a-fork" tender and absolutely packed with flavors. The pizza was well made and loaded with ingredients and flavor as well (and provided a nice breakfast the next morning).
A and D passed on dessert as both were perfectly satisfied with the three courses. There was the suggested hint, however, of a blue cheese cheesecake that will be tried on the next visit.
We suggest reservations. Azalea doesn't open until 4 pm and they don't take reservations by answering machine. Reservations are accepted beginning at 2 pm although A and D called every 15 minutes between 2 pm and 4 pm and only reached an answering machine. Finally, a human answered at 4 pm. Short window for reservations. Minor glitch in service there.
The interior is interesting. The restaurant has a slightly unfinished look. The very high ceiling looks as if it is in its original old hotel decaying state; a coat of black paint above the 12 foot level would help. The columns throughout the restaurant are uncoated, original cement. These are minor, but important unfinished elements of the atmosphere of Azalea.
Please note: Azalea is listed here at desmoinesALIVE as a Japanese restaurant. It is NOT a Japanese restaurant. The restaurant across the lobby is their Japanese restaurant, Zen. Azalea is a contemporary restaurant with American, European and fusion bistro accents. It is upscale and alive, yet the total bill for A and D, with drinks, was $87 plus a generous gratuity for very good service.
Food is superb. Service is excellent. Ambiance is emerging. Professionalism is high. Top value. Azalea is another Jeremy Morrow brilliant success! Highly recommended.
Great restaurant, wonderful ambiance and very courteous staff. The food is to die for and the wine list is very nice. Try the Purple Angel!
FANTASTIC Shoulder Steak with great appetizers. Nice plate presentation. Great place to talk.
Pretty spendy for what you get. If you want to drop that much cash go to django instead the food is MUCH better
Azalea pizza. 'Nuff said.
Located on the first floor of The Kirkwood at 4th and Walnut. Open late April 2007.