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Name change: From Merchant to Spoon and Stable

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Chefs, Restaurant news Updated: October 24, 2014 - 1:25 PM

It’s a memorable day at Gavin Kaysen’s opening-in-mid-November North Loop restaurant.

“All of our plates, and glasses, and silverware just arrived, and we’re unpacking,” he said. “It’s a little hectic around here.”

Oh, and then there’s the slight matter of an announcement Kaysen dropped on social media this morning. He’s changed the name of his enterprise, from Merchant to Spoon and Stable (check out his video here).

The new name reflects the century-old building’s original use as a stable — remnants of the horse stalls remain in the dining room’s brick walls — and Kaysen’s well-known penchant for stealing restaurant spoons. As souvenirs. To date, he estimates that his collection, numbers-wise, hovers around 500.

Q: So, spoons?
A: Yeah [laughs]. I started doing it when I was probably like 20. It didn’t start out as much. You know, when you travel, you save a postcard, or you save currency — and I did, all these countries before they went to the euro, I have them framed — and I didn’t think much of it, I just starting taking spoons, thinking it would be a fun way to remember where I’d been. You know, I would be inspired by the meal, or the company. What’s funny is that people started sending them to me. I’ve had cooks who staged in places around the world, and they’d send me spoons. I’ll be honest, I have a number of spoons that I don’t know where they came from — no clue — and some of them have got a note taped to them to remind me. But I do know where the majority came from.

Q: Is your collection going to be displayed in the restaurant?
A: My brother is going to create a piece of art work with them. We're going to get out a couple bottles of wine, he’s bringing over driftwood from California, and we'll get some glue or nails so they don’t get stolen like I stole them [laughs].

Q: Are you holding any spoons back?
A: Yes, I want to be sure they’re not included because they mean so much to me. I have a spoon from my first meal at Cafe Boulud. I’ve got a spoon from Paul Bocuse, I remember that very well. I’ve got one from the French Laundry, it was given to me, I didn’t take it. There’s one from David Myers from Sona in L.A. At the end of the meal, I was presented with a cigar box, and I opened it, and inside, there was a spoon.

Q: Have you ever been caught?
A: No. I used to sometimes take them and slip them into my wife’s purse, and she’d say, "Don’t make me be that person." But there’s a spoon that I’ve never been able to get, from Alain Ducasse's restaurant in Monoco. The silverware is gold. I’d give my left leg to get one of those spoons. A friend was there, and he sent a picture of it, and said it was "the spoon that got away." He didn’t take it for me. He said, "Are you out of your mind? I’m not going to steal a gold spoon for you." [laughs]

Q: How much do 500 spoons weigh?
A: A [expletive deleted]-ton, you have no idea. When I moved them from New York, I vacuum-sealed them, separately, because they were so loud. From there, I divided them among three separate boxes, that’s how heavy they are.

Q: Are you setting yourself up for souvenir seekers like yourself?
A: Probably [laughs]. I’m going to put a souvenir charge on our POS [point of sale] system. That’s the only way to control it. I got the idea at Tru in Chicago. I was having dinner there, by myself, and there was a lady who had ordered that beautiful caviar staircase, do you remember that? When she finishes the caviar, she discreetly grabs the caviar staircase and puts it in her purse. No one says anything, not the waiter, no one. I was shocked. She proceeds through the meal, and asks for the check. When she sees the final invoice, she opens her purse, puts the caviar staircase back on the table, and the waiter takes the bill away and readjusts it. Later I asked him, "What did you do?" And he told me they have a souvenir fee, because people take the staircases all the time. It was $250. And I said, "You legitimately have that as a line item on your POS system?" [laughs].

Q: I can’t tell if you’re being straight with me. You’re really going to have a souvenir charge? How much?
A: I don’t even know. Good question. But I’m totally going to have to have a souvenir fee. We have to do something [laughs]. Or we can just let it chill out for six months, and then get the word out that we’ll have a Sunday where everyone can come in and return the spoons, no questions asked [laughs].


Q: When did you decide to change the name?
A: About two weeks ago, when I began to realize all the other restaurants named Merchant. I didn’t know about them. There’s one close to us, in Madison, Wis. More than anything else, I was putting on my small business owner hat, and asking myself, ‘How will this help or hurt the guys in Madison, or in New Jersey, or in L.A.? I don’t want to the cause of any hurt. I want our name to be genuine to this space.

Q: And you went to your mentors for advice?
A: Yes, I went to Daniel [Boulud], and I asked Thomas Keller. I said, "Chef, do think this is bad, changing the name?" My biggest concern is that people would think it was weird; you know, the prime rib special that’s now $9 when everyone else is charging $18. Chef said, "Naming the restaurant is the hardest part of the build-out, and I’m always glad that I didn’t have to name the French Laundry, because it was already called that. Whatever is on the front door, you have to believe that. You make it that name."

Q: How many names did you brainstorm?
A: It’s funny, Spoon and Stable was the first name that I came up with, way back, but I set it aside. Actually, when I originally wrote the business plan, I was calling it Dorothy’s [for Kaysen’s late grandmother, Dorothy Ann Kaysen]. Then I walked through the space and saw the stable and thought, yeah, this makes sense. Why didn’t I just listen to myself the first time? It could have been a lot easier. But that’s part of the process, and I learned a very valuable lesson. That’s being a business owner. You learn these things. I want to learn from my mistakes, it makes you better.

Burger Friday: Vacation thoughts

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: October 10, 2014 - 6:44 AM

Burger Friday is on vacation, soaking up some fall color. On that note, here's some burger color, from Burger King in Japan. Behold two variations on the "Kuro" burger, featuring black buns, black sauce and black cheese (kuro is black in Japanese).

The ingredients are tinted with bamboo charcoal and squid ink, and prices start at the equivalent of $4. 

According to Forbes, Burger King is offering the novelty burger to celebrate its five-year anniversary in Japan, and the response has been huge. "As many as half the customers are ordering the trendy new item off the menu at Burger King outlets," notes Forbes.

Naturally, McDonald's is getting in on the action, offering a Halloween-themed "Spooky" burger. "Some customers, however have termed the imitation 'niban senji,' the popular Japanese expression denoting second-best," writes Forbes. 

(Photo: Burger King employee Rumi Sekine with the Kuro Pearl burger on the left, and the Kurl Diamond burger on the right, from the Associated Press). 

Burger Friday returns Oct. 24.

Burger Friday: Cocoa Loco

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: October 3, 2014 - 7:19 AM

The burger: At first glance, newcomer Cocoa Loco (it opened in July) might come off as a coffeehouse, right down to the pastry case. But there’s a kitchen behind that counter (and table service, too), and in the post-breakfast hours, it focuses on burgers, of all stripes. Burgers weighed down with thin-sliced brisket, onion rings and bacon. Burgers seasoned to resemble meat loaf. Burgers made to resemble Reuben sandwiches.

That’s just the designer versions. The menu also has a giant mix-and-match thing going on, with a choice of patty (beef, black bean, turkey or grilled portabella), grilled bread (sesame seed bun, pretzel bun, gluten-free bun, ciabatta), six cheeses (each $1), seven 40-cents-extra toppings (from caramelized onions, chipotle-infused mayonnaise) and five $1 potential add-ons (avocado, grilled pineapple, fried egg).

Me? I went old-school and opted for the single third-pound beef patty, From there, I went with Cheddar, and  a sesame seed bun, sticking with the freebie garnishes: pickle chips, shredded iceberg lettuce, a decently juicy tomato slice and a few raw onions.

My first impression was a favorable one, and it was all about the bun, a light and lightly toasted beauty. It’s from Mainstreet Bakery, a wholesale operation in Edina, and it hit all the right burger requirements.

The other key element, the patty, is an obviously not-frozen mix, pressed relatively thin but wide, hanging over the bun’s edges. While it was crying out for salt, it was cooked precisely to order, with an easygoing char that revealed a slightly pink interior. Nice.

I paid an extra $1 for a thin, bubbled slice of forgettable Cheddar; I should have gone for the American, which would have probably had a more agreeable melt and more salt. Still, for a basic burger? Not bad. Not bad at all. If I lived in the neighborhood, I’d be a regular.

Price: $6.99 for a single patty, $8.99 for a double patty.

Fries: Included. I have to admit that I’m powerless over this style of thin-cut, lightly salted, just-shy-of-golden fries. My one quibble – ok, two – is that the ones I tried were bordering on being over-fried. And under-salted. But otherwise, lovely.

Ice cream treats: The restaurant’s owners – they also operate the Lone Spur Bar & Grill, a few doors down in the same strip mall – are obviously tapping into the huge audience from nearby Hopkins High School, with 14 flavors of shakes and malts in two sizes: big ($3.99) and bigger ($4.99), the latter served with the overflow from the iced-up malt can. I tried a banana-hot fudge malt, which was creamy and occasionally (in a good way) lumpy, with a just-barely malt-ey aura.

Bargains: Every Wednesday, the basic burger -- and a small shake or malt -- is available for $8, a $3 savings. Oh, and the deal includes fries. There’s also a kids-eat-free setup on Monday and Thursday: with every adult entrée, the kitchen will send out a free kid’s entrée.

Address book: 11056 Cedar Lake Rd., Minnetonka, 952-322-7395. Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekends.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

Goff now cooking at Bryant-Lake Bowl

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Chefs, Recipes, Restaurant news Updated: October 2, 2014 - 5:07 PM

How great is this? What just might be one of the Twin Cities' tiniest commercial kitchens is now the realm of one of the area's most influential chefs. Yep, that's Ken Goff -- the former longtime chef at the Dakota Restaurant & Jazz Club -- leading the cooking at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.

“As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate a truly great restaurant experience because I have a better understanding of what went into making something wonderful,” said Goff in a statement (that's Goff, above, in a 2013 Star Tribune file photo).

Since leaving the Dakota in 2005, Goff has been teaching a new generation of culinary professionals at Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights.

Goff, one of Minnesota’s first chefs to emphasize local sourcing, has a resume that reads like a fantastic walk through late 20th-century Twin Cities dining, peppered with storied names such as La Tortue, 510 Groveland, the Loring Cafe, Faegre’s and Nigel’s before his two-decade tenure at the helm at the Dakota.

Here's an indication of the length of Goff's impressive career: His first mention in the Strib’s archives is a 1987 three-star review of Faegre’s, by my former colleague Jeremy Iggers. There are of course several dozen subsequent mentions. One that stands out is from a 1990 Taste feature because it includes a recipe that Goff made famous during his Dakota years, for brie-apple soup. Doesn't that feel like a perfect fit for today's cool and rainy weather?

MINNESOTA BRIE AND APPLE SOUP

Makes 3 to 4 quarts.

3/4 c. chopped onions

1/2 c. finely sliced leeks

1 1/2 lb. tart apples, peeled and cored

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. dried thyme

2 quarts whipping cream

6 small red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-in. dice

1 whole branch fresh rosemary

1 lb. domestic Brie cheese, cut into pieces

Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Apple and rosemary, for garnish

Directions

In a large pot over medium heat, stew onions, leeks and apples until onions are well softened. Add chicken stock, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil and cook until onions are completely tender.
Remove bay leaves.

In a separate heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat, cook cream, potatoes and rosemary until potatoes are completely softened. Remove rosemary. Combine contents of both pots and carefully puree in a blender a batch at a time, adding cheese bit by bit. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve garnished with a very thinly sliced apple and a sprig of fresh rosemary.

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