Although Central Iowa usually refers to Des Moines, there are plenty of other people here who cover that, so I'll touch on my experience just north, toward Ames.
(Well, that's a lie -- I will do another shameless plug, this time for my favorite restaurant in all Des Moines, Dish. I say shameless because I am a long-time acquaintance of the owners, but I've eaten tapas all over the Midwest & find dish to be as good as any, if not better. Their selection is immense -- organized by country, which one of my favorite small plate restaurants in Omaha did before surrendering to popular opinion which was somehow confused by that -- & the prices overall reasonable, some items a few dollars too much but others cheaper than I'd expect. Overall, you'll come out just fine. The cheese plates -- grouped by type, semi-soft goat, soft cow, etc. -- are not cheap but are excellent as well as labeled with names & descriptions. I *hate* blind cheese plates where a person never knows what they're eating! Dish's wine list is also interesting & well-organized -- & includes flights, a terrific bonus -- but beware, most are served in Riedel O-stemware unless you request otherwise. My only complaint would be a somewhat-indifferent staff, which I think is a function of their age plus the atmosphere, but they are at least efficient & quick, an integral part of a good tapas experience. I would list my favorite menu items, but like most tapas restaurants, I suspect everyone will (& should) find their own favorites.
As far as Ames, I continue to recommend Audubon's, located in the Hotel at Gateway Center, a local hotel & conference center. They've recently undergone a menu change -- same chef, however -- which they say will rotate quarterly. The food has always been good, & continues to be, but the selections are now wider, more creative & internationally-influenced, & with an expanded appetizer menu. We actually ate purely from of Audubon's appetizer menu, & I can whole-heartedly recommend every item on it. The wine list is one aspect that hasn't changed much -- or if it has been expanded, it was merely more of the same -- & contains your usual American & Australian suspects which I think of "low end of the high-end" or "high end of the mid-end." They have finally begun charging a corkage fee -- suppose I probably ruined that for everyone, taking advantage of it too often! -- but it's reasonable, $10, so bring your own. You'll still come out ahead, because their food prices are an *excellent* value. We ate four good-sized appetizers & two unique desserts for $44. Audubon's truly is one of my favorite spots in central Iowa -- nice without being formal or stuffy, upscale without being ostentatious, they do what they do well without trying to be anything they're not.
Our other stop north of Des Moines was to The Cottage on Broad, an upscale restaurant located in a historic b&b type house in Story City, just a few miles up the interstate from Ames. It was disturbingly empty when we dined on a weeknight, although the staff said their "dinner time rush" in such a small town is much earlier in the evening, which made sense. Overall, it was a mixed bag, another small-town restaurant trying hard to be "a very nice place" & succeeding in some areas while not in others... below-average appetizers, above-average salads, a lot of traditional Iowa dishes (pork, steaks, prime rib, etc.). The chef, trained at the CIA in NY, tries to support local farmers & offer local ingredients, so although the Cottage's menu is limited as to scope, I applaud what they're trying to do in thinking regional/local. There is a rather bizarre "small plate" part of the menu, which frankly, is neither small nor less-expensive -- a few dollars cheaper than the "regular-sized" entrees, perhaps, but probably the size of dish that *ought* to be served as a regular entree rather than the jumbo-portions you get so often in Iowa! Anyway, our dishes ranged from mediocre to slightly above-average, the one standout being the raspberry pork tenderloin. Prices are not cheap, & although I understand the need to "pay your way" in a small area if you're going to be open 5 nights out of 7, the notion of "local ingredients" says to me that perhaps $20+ for almost every pork & beef entree is a bit more than reasonable.
So that's my recap from last week around these parts. Hope it was useful.