For our 13th wedding anniversary recently, Cindy wanted to go out to dinner at a place that she's wanted to dine at for quite some time, the Red Crow Grille in Bettendorf (see map). I'd eaten there once before with one of my local dealers after a training session and I thought it was very good, but very high priced. Still, whatever Mama wanted for an anniversary dinner, Mama got for an anniversary dinner.
Laura Sandoval, the owner/manager of Red Crow Grille, is a Quad City native who moved back to the area in the 90's with her husband from California. She had been involved in a number of restaurants during her years out west and her dream was to open a fine dining restaurant that had an exquisite wine list she helped cultivate from her learning about various wines during trips to California's wine country. Sandoval opened the Red Crow Grille in 1999 and in 2002 the restaurant achieved Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence in food and wine.
The executive chef at Red Crow Grille is a local Quad City native by the name of Brian Olsen. Olsen studied at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu school in Minneapolis and then worked at various places in Minnesota before moving back to Iowa to work at Red Crow Grille. He started as a prep cook, quickly working his way up to sous chef in a matter of months. And one year later he was named the executive chef. Olsen's style of cooking involves a lot of homegrown and farm fresh items that he buys locally.
We had made a 7 p.m. reservation earlier in the day, but it was mid-week and the place was less than half full when we walked in. We were given a seat at a table near the front window and given our menus. I noticed that we didn't get a wine list and I asked our waitress, Sara, for one when she came over to introduce herself. Sara pointed out that their wine menu was printed in the back of the menu. I took a look at it and was surprised to see just a handful of wine listed - good wines, mind you. But just a handful compared to what I thought they'd have. I thought it was rather odd for a place with such little selection to be given the Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator.
Nonetheless, I found a Judd's Hill 2005 Merlot on the menu. Hoping that it would be ready to drink, I ordered that for our meal. I found out much later, however, that Red Crow Grille has a reserve wine list. I suppose I should have asked earlier, but she made it sound that all the wine they had was from that small list in the main menu.
Red Crow Grille offers four course dining with the first course being an eclectic batch of appetizers. Although we were tempted to get something, we just went straight to the second course and ordered our main entree. The soup of the day was a creamy tomato soup with basil and small chunks of jalapeno's. Cindy thought that sounded great and took that. I got the bibb lettuce salad with creamy bleu cheese topped with applewood smoked bacon chunks and fresh tomato wedges.
For the main entree, Cindy order the salmon topped with a caramelized sauce and sided with potato confit and caramelized onions. I went with the bone-in rib eye steak, medium rare, with a side of brie whipped potatoes, topped with a caramelized onion cream sauce. And that evening they also had fresh morel mushrooms offered a side. I couldn't pass those up, so I ordered some mushrooms, as well.
Red Crow Grille is laid back for a fine dining establishment, which is the kind of place we like. It's not too loud in the place and it's very comfy and cozy. The atmosphere is upscale, but there's a lack of pretentiousness about the place. Cindy was happy with the restaurant from the moment we walked in.
The 2005 Judd's Hill Merlot was still too young to drink, however. I've found that most of the Judd's Hill wines we've had in the past really need a good five to seven years to fully age before opening up and giving their best. I was hopeful the bottle would open up some after it was initially opened, but it never really did. It turned out to be the only disappointment of the evening.
Well, that and the fact that I never knew about the reserve wine list until Sara offered the reserve list to a table ot well-dressed gentlemen seated next to us later in the evening. Now, Cindy and I weren't overly dressed up - I had a pair of shorts and a nice shirt on, Cindy had jeans and a nice top. Sara made the common mistake of judging her customers by the way they dress.
Our main entrees showed up and they were wonderful. The steak was cooked a little more medium than medium-rare, but that was fine. I was really happy with the mushrooms. They really tasted great. Cindy was very happy with the salmon and offered me a bite. It was very good. The meal was everything she expected it to be.
By the time Sara brought around the dessert selection, we were contemplating skipping the course. But Cindy talked me into sharing some tiramisu with her. She had an espresso and I ordered a Macallen 18 year scotch on the rocks for an after dinner drink.
When Sara brought us the bill, I said, "Can I ask you something? I'm just curious. When we came in and sat down and I asked about the wine list, you said it was in the back of the menu. Yet, when those gentlemen came in, you immediately offered them the reserve wine list. Was there some reason why you thought they would be interested in the reserve list and we wouldn't?"
Obviously caught and starting to feel a little embarrassed, Sara sort of stumbled and stammered an answer out. I said, "Look, you did a great job tonight. You seem like a real likable person, you're gonna get your tip. But I guess I want to know that because we are dressed more casual than those gentlemen, did you not think we would like to see the reserve list because it may be too expensive for us?"
By this time, Cindy was saying, "All right. You made your point."
I said, "No, I just want Sara to know that she should never judge her clientele by the way they're dressed. I learned that lesson years ago when working at a stereo shop in Iowa City. Our money spends just as well and easily as those gentlemen at that table."
I said to Sara, "Just for grins, can I see the reserve wine list to see what I missed out on?" She said she'd bring one to me right away. Now, our bottle of Judd's Hill was something like $55 bucks. There were a couple of wines on the reserve list that were in the $80 to $90 range that I would have picked over the Judd's Hill had I known they had it in their reserve bin.
I wasn't trying to embarrass the waitress, rather than to make a strong point that she could have easily upped the bill - and subsequently, her tip - by asking a simple question - "Would you like to see the reserve wine list?" I learned long ago that you'll usually never embarrass a customer by trotting out your best. Sara did get a good tip - over 20 percent on a bill that came to a little over $140 before tax.
And it was a good meal. Red Crow Grille was everything I remember it being from my first visit five years prior and it certainly didn't disappoint Cindy. I would have to say that if you're looking for the best in fine dining in a completely laid-back atmosphere in the Quad Cities, Red Crow Grille is the place.