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.
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
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.
More change is coming to the dining operations at the Minneapolis Insitute of Arts, and soon.
The owners of Agra Culture Kitchen & Press announced that they are opening a branch of their counter-service operation -- their third -- at the museum in mid-October.
Agra Culture debuted in May in Uptown and then launched a second location in the 50th-and-France commercial district in southwest Minneapolis in July (find my review here).
The chain is the work of Andrea and Aaron Switz, the founders of fast-growing Yogurt Lab (which has grown to 10 outlets since opening in 2011). The couple tapped former Macy's chef Tim Scott to create Agra Culture's breakfast-lunch-dinner menu, which emphasizes organic and sustainably raised ingredients and includes nods to those following vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets. Scott and the Switzes parted company earlier this month.
No further details are available, but Agra Culture will replace several short-lived ventures from Stock and Badge, the partnership behind Dogwood Coffee Co. and Rustica. S&B operates the lobby-level Dogwood Coffee Bar and Half Pint, which is tailored to children; both opened less than a year ago. The company also briefly operated Grain Stack, a counter-service restaurant located on the museum's mezzanine-level dining space; it closed in June.
"We understand that the museum's preference is to have a single food vendor," said Dogwood owner Greg Hoyt. "We supply Agra Culture with coffee, and we're happy to continue to supply the museum through them."
Stock and Badge is moving out of the restaurant business. The company shuttered its not-quite-two-year-old Parka on Sunday, and is converting the East Lake Street location into a Dogwood Coffee bar.
"We're going to be concentrating on coffee and bakery," said Hoyt. "So it goes."
Just as the weather is starting to turn cool, Parka is going away.
I'm bummed (selfishly, the restaurant isn't far from my house, and its under-the-radar breakfast menu is one of the Twin Cities' loveliest) by the news. "I am, too," said co-owner Greg Hoyt. “But not enough people are rewarding us for what we do."
The space isn't going dark. Hoyt & Co. are rebranding it as a Dogwood Coffee bar, and it will feature a full line of the company's trademark carefully-prepared brewed beverages, along with Rustica pastries, sweets and sandwiches.
Parka’s last meals will be served on Sept. 21, and the space will close for a week for renovations.
“We want to give it more of a coffeehouse feel,” said Hoyt. One major change will be placing a wall to cover the now-open kitchen. Hoyt said the facility will probably be repurposed as a Rustica baking site. "They're just bursting at the seams," he said.
When a restaurant is as firmly entrenched in the city’s dining-out psyche as the Modern Cafe, it’s easy to take it for granted.
But given its influential track record, the restaurant that everyone shorthands to “the Modern” deserves better. Ever since the day in 1994 when Jim and Patty Grell opened their contemporary diner in the home of the beloved Rabatin’s Northeast Cafe, the Modern has played a key role in reviving the neighborhood and the Twin Cities' food-and-drink scene.
Twenty years in the restaurant industry is a milestone worthy of a major celebration, and the Grells are delivering just that, with a series of celebratory dinners taking place every night this week.
From Tuesday through Friday, the kitchen is setting aside its regular menu -- sorry, no pot roast -- and preparing a special six-course dinner. The evenings' dishes have been created by previous Modern chefs, who will also be spending specific evenings back in their old stomping grounds. Here’s the rundown, dish-wise and chef-wise:
* Salmon with sweet corn polenta, yellow tomato puree and puffed farro salad by Phillip Becht of the soon-to-open Victor’s on Water. Becht was at the Modern from 2003 to 2011, and he will be appearing Tuesday.
* Pork and beans, by Mike Phillips of Red Table Meat Co. Philips was at the Modern from 1995 to 1998, and he will be appearing Wednesday.
* Potato gnocchi, with pork confit and brown butter hollandaise by Scott Pampuch of the University of Minnesota. Pampuch was at the Modern from 1996 to 2003, and he will be appearing Thursday.
* Walleye egg rolls with dill and ginger kimchi, by Matt Morgan of the Bachelor Farmer. Morgan was at the Modern from 1994 to 1996, and he will be appearing Friday.
* Creamed corn, with smoked green tomato creme fraiche butter by Ella Wesenberg, who has been the Modern's chef de cuisine since 2009. She will be appearing Saturday.
Price? A very Modern-esque $55. No reservations.
"It has been really fun to get all these chefs together," said Jim Grell, adding that each is going to contribute an amuse-bouche or two on the night they visit. "Mike is going to bring his slicer in, he's got a four-year-old prosciutto," said Grell. "And Matt is set on making Ritz crackers with peanut butter and pickles."
On Saturday, the focus is taking a major turn. "We're going to scrap the entire menu and make fried chicken," said Jim Grell. All of the details haven't been hammered out just yet. "We're still kind of putting it all together," he said. "But it's going to be cheap, and we'll be doing great sides, too."
Grell added that he has one hope for Saturday's festivities. "That the plumbing will back up," he deadpanned. "Like it did on the very first day, 20 years ago. At least this time, I'll know what to do."
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