North Side cuisine

BY BEN VERHILLE | MARCH 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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There’s a small segment of Linn Street that is so perfectly inside its own world, those unaware could graduate from the University of Iowa ever knowing the heart and brains behind some of the finest dining available.

Probably because undergraduates have wallet-induced ignorance.

But after I happily shared a sample of the Linn Street Lemonade at the Taste of Iowa City, I’ve had my eyes on Linn Street Cafe and have since wanted to try all the wonders of the quaint venue in the North Side Marketplace.

Like most of the restaurants ran by accomplished chefs, the focus is on fresh Midwest ingredients.

With the university separating the lively downtown from fine dining, you can almost forget you are still in a college town.

A lovely atmosphere inside, the narrow structure of Linn Street Cafe creates an intimate environment to share with your dinner partner. The dark lighting only amplifies this, making a sneak phone check obvious to all around. If you’re not prepared for a dinner full of conversation, this probably isn’t your venue. The food is the specialty, not the ability to force of awkward conversation.

Starting with drinks, when I first had the establishment’s namesake lemonade as a 20-year-old, it was just a delicious and refreshing summer spritzer. Now, it has a delightful hint of Clearheart vodka. Oh, the joys of legality.

Iowa is usually associated with fresh seafood, so I was baffled at the execution of the crab cakes. I could’ve licked the lemon-caper aioli sauce off the plate. I didn’t, but if I was in a private space, that’s not all I would’ve done with it.

But nothing compares with the entrée. Seared striped bass over Israeli couscous with grape tomatoes, green beans, and lime garlic butter.

Is your mouth watering yet?

The striped bass sat triumphantly atop the couscous, strutting its glory. The lime and garlic guiding the bass to a melt-in-your-mouth delta, tender and succulent. Each green bean and tomato absorbs the extra butter, almost as delicious as the bass. Almost.

The lack of undergraduate attendance at Linn Street Cafe is not due to the offerings but the price. So save it for when parents come to town, for a birthday dinner, or if you’re taking a really special someone to dinner.

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