Although this is unverified, I'd like to think I was fortunate enough to recently find two of the better restaurants in Ames, Iowa -- the home of Iowa State University, & the decidedly less-urban cousin of Iowa City & the University of Iowa.
As a road warrior, I'm always appreciative of a decent hotel restaurant (few & far between that they are). Audobon's at The Hotel at Gateway Center fit the bill as well as (& better than) many. It calls itself "a contemporary American bistro with an impressive collection of Audobon prints," & although it didn't strike me as terribly contemporary... or much of a bistro... & frankly I didn't even notice the artwork... it was a pleasant dining experience nonetheless. Part of their success comes from not overdriving their headlights -- the menu is fairly small (heavy on beef & poultry, light on seafood, & at least two vegetarian choices) & the accompaniments & salads pretty basic, but in place of that, they appear to put a lot of effort into the *quality* of the food. The vegetables were large & ripe, the filet (mine) & the pork chop (my companion's) were high-quality, non-fatty cuts, & everything was very reasonably-priced. My steak, in fact, was at least as well-prepared as higher-priced filets I've eaten in nearby Des Moines. Our co-ed server was nice enough if not exactly "experienced," & the kitchen was gracious toward our handful of substitutions. My only complaint would be that both the wine list & the dessert list could use a little perking up.
Overall, it was good "upscale casual" dining (the most over-used expression of the last 5 years, IMO).
Our second night in Ames was at Aunt Maude's, which seems to be the most well-known eatery in town. Although the decor was a bit serious & stuffy, the menu was a good deal more modern than I feared at first glance. My companion & I both ordered from the rotating "chef's special" menu, which seemed to have the more-creative choices, & were not disappointed -- two of our items are always a bit of a gamble when dining somewhere new (calamari, & scallops), but we were very satisfied with both. The staff seem to take their jobs seriously -- our server took hers a bit too seriously, in fact -- but I'd imagine Aunt Maude's is considered a "special occasion night out" by northern Iowa standards, so the tone was understandable from that perspective.
Neither the food nor the wine comes cheap at Aunt Maude's, & I doubt such a place would have been *quite* as much a success with more competition in a larger market, but it's definitely a jewel in Ames.
Anyway, that's the Iowa report from here.