First impression: Eating at Luna Bistro is like eating in owner Kris Van Tuyl's home kitchen and dining room. Luna is a small, intimate space, seating just 41. The walls are painted a soothing light blue, with exposed brick and wood beams. Guests can see into the kitchen, where everything is handmade by Van Tuyl, using local produce. Near the register is a basket of free La Mie bread and all-spice-infused olive oil, as well as infused water - a refreshing strawberry mint flavor on the day we visited.
The diners: Because it's only open for lunch, Luna attracts a mix of downtown residents and workers. On a Saturday afternoon, we were at one of two occupied tables in the small, homey space. The other table was occupied by a Des Moines resident who was out showing a friend around the city. The out-of-towner remarked how progressive Des Moines had become since previous visits, and said she was impressed with the transformation of the East Village and downtown areas.
The food: Luna's menu is mainly filled with light, gussied-up dishes, including small plates, salads, sandwiches, a few choice entrees and a soup of the day. Displayed on blackboards above a register where food orders are taken, the menu this day included homemade ravioli, a Caprese sandwich, prawn gnocchi, and desserts such as tiramisu crepes and vanilla panna cotta.
I decided to step outside of my usual ground beef comfort level and tried the pork cheek tacos, featuring Korean-style braised pork cheeks and a spicy cucumber relish, plated next to a slice of lime and a pillow of cilantro. The pork was tender and moist, and paired nicely with the texture of the crunchy cucumber strips.
My dining partner opted for the chicken pasta: slow-roasted chicken with house-made pappardelle pasta, carrots and chicken broth, served with a slice of toasted La Mie bread and a small house salad. He initially balked at the small portion size, but after finishing the plate, he realized the hearty dish was just big enough to satisfy.
The last bite: Luna Bistro is Van Tuyl's labor of love. The food is light, natural and all house-made, with as many local ingredients as possible. Though Luna is a bit out of the way compared to other eateries in the East Village area, it's well worth the extra couple blocks.
Chicken pasta, $8.50
Pork cheek tacos, $8.99
Total with tax and tip: $20
Luna Bistro + Catering
Find it: 621 Des Moines St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-3p.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Info: 288-9848; lunabistro.com