Northside Bistro opens

BY CORY PORTER | APRIL 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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The menu offered at the newly opened North Side Bistro, 203 N. Linn St., comes from the mind of a chef who learned his trade not in a renowned cooking school but from friends from all different parts of the world.

Head chef Damien Williams said he learned an understanding for different foods from working in a variety of different restaurants.

“A lot of the ideas that I have that come through on this menu come from that sort of idea of what my friends and colleagues have cooked for me,” Williams said.

Christa Walrath, a manager at the restaurant, said instead of focusing on one type of food, Williams’ influences and experiences are right on the menu.

“[We] didn’t want to really pigeonhole the menu and keep it into one specific flavor profiling, or culture, or genre or anything like that,” she said.

Originally from Iowa, Williams said he got started cooking in 2002, when some acquaintances of his told him to come by the local restaurant Givanni’s, 109 E. College St.

“The chef said, ‘Come by, we’ll try you out,’ and the rest is history,” he said.

In 2004, he met Andy Diep, the owner of North Side Bistro, while working at Takanami, which Diep cofounded with two others.

His experience at Takanami, 219 Iowa Ave., as well as the other culturally inspired restaurants he worked at in Iowa City and Seattle, where he lived for a time, has influenced his cooking.

“You’re not only cooking those cuisines with people from different countries and different parts of the world who work in those restaurants, [but] we all will cook for each other,” he said.

After coming back to Iowa to visit family, Williams and Diep went out for a drink one night to catch up.

“I opened up to him and said, ‘Hey I’m planning on doing this’ … and we sat down and talked a little bit about it … and he was really interested in the concept that I came up with,” Diep said.

Diep, who also co-owns the Japanese restaurant Konomi in Coralville, said he not only had an idea for the menu but the type of atmosphere the restaurant would offer.

“I don’t want to get into a fine-dining type of setup. I want to be more casual,” he said. “I want to be more like a social place where you come have a good meal [and] at the same time you have a good conversation.”

The casual atmosphere springs from the aesthetic of the building itself, and the construction materials came from an unlikely source — an old barn.

Diep said his landlord owned a barn outside of Sugar Bottom Park that he wanted him to look at in case he could use it for something, and when Diep did, he was impressed.

He had wood and metal taken from the barn and had it repurposed to construct some of the walls, tables, and lamps, among other things, for the restaurant.

Around 80 percent of the restaurant’s construction materials is made up of the repurposed barn, he said, giving it a rustic, Americana feel to complement the culturally diverse, worldly cuisines it houses.

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