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.
The burger: Welcome to the Duluth Road Trip version of Burger Friday. I recently spent a few hours in the Minnesota half of the Twin Ports – a noon-hour layover on an Apostle Islands-St. Paul trek – and once we crossed the Blatnik Bridge (the Bong Bridge, my favorite infrastructure name, ever, was out of commission) we made a beeline for the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace for a quick sandwich stop at my Canal Park culinary go-to, Northern Waters Smokehaus.
Wouldn't you know it? The line was out the door – as always. Fidgety with hunger, we turned to the right and opted for a table inside the Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar.
Although momentarily disappointed -- goodbye bison pastrami! – but we were not disappointed.
It’s anchored by a patty with a sterling grass-fed beef pedigree, hailing from Thousand Hills Cattle Co. The kitchen takes it to a deep, almost crispy exterior char, grilling it until there are just trace elements of pink in the patty’s center.
Beran’s formula blends brisket, chuck and tri-tip sirloin, and the combination tastes as good as that sounds. For added richness, he freezes butter, runs it through an electric shredder and folds it into that richly beefy mix. “I remember reading that Erick Harcey [chef/co-owner of Victory 44, home to one of the Twin Cities’ blue ribbon-worthiest burgers] was throwing butter into his burgers,” said Beran.
Smart call. Each patty starts as a hand-formed ball, and it’s fried in a hot cast-iron pan. “We shmush them to order – it’s like the Smashburger idea, only better – using a large spatula and giving it a single press,” said Beran. Seasonings? Just salt and pepper.
From there, Beran sticks to the tried-and-true: wonderfully crunchy (and welcomingly acidic) cucumber pickle chips, crisp chopped lettuce and red onion, a juicy tomato slice and a swipe of mayo fortified with fish sauce, sweet onions and ketchup.
As for the cheese, it’s a doozy, a teasingly salty and appealingly melty slab of white Cheddar with a fascinating background story.
“We go through one of those molecular processes,” said Beran. Here’s how it works: After nudging a mix of beer, vinegar and sodium citrate – an emulsifier – to a boil, Beran whisks in white Cheddar. The fondue-style results are cooled into a sliceable (and flavor-boosted) format that melts with reliable grace, not unlike a good-old piece of individually-wrapped Kraft American.
The bun hails from the Red Mug Bake Shop in Superior, Wis., a favorite stop of mine in the Twin Ports. It was billed as a challah bun, and while I wasn’t feeling the traditional egginess, it was a fine bun all the same: soft, golden, lightly toasted, lovely.
In short, a burger anyone would hope to encounter on a road trip. A quick glance around the dining room confirmed my hypothesis; a hefty percentage of my fellow diners were also in relishing burgers.
“Duluth is a burger-loving town,” said Beran with a laugh, which probably explains some of the high sales figures. But I have to think that Beran’s prowess is a primary reason behind those big numbers.
Fries: Included. They’re great: Thick-ish, deeply golden, admirably crisp and generously seasoned.
Address book: 394 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 218-722-2355. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 am. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at email@example.com.
Recipe bonus round: The restaurant’s new-ish cookbook (those thinking of grabbing one for a souvenir might reasonably be taken aback by the stratospheric $34.95 price tag) contains nearly four dozen appealing recipes, including what to me reads as this quintessential Duluth formula.
LAKE SUPERIOR FISH CAKES
Note: Adapted from “Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar Cookbook” (Heirloom Industry, 2013). “Substitute whitefish with herring, walleye, perch, sunfish or our favorite, Victus Farm tilapia from Silver Bay, Minn.,” writes Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar chef Tony Beran. “Most white flaky fish will work well.” For julienned carrot and radish, cut vegetables then place them into an ice bath for at least 2 hours prior to serving (“to achieve a curl,” writes Beran). When ready to serve, remove vegetables from water by hand and place them on a paper towel to remove excess water.
1 lb. whitefish, skinned and deboned
½ yellow onion, minced
½ jalapeno, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
Zest from 1 lemon
1 tbsp. fish sauce
1 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. salt
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and carefully add whitefish. Cook for about 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat, strain fish from water using a fine colander and allow fish to cool.
In a large bowl, toss cooled fish with onion, jalapeno, celery, lemon zest, fish sauce, bread crumbs, eggs, pepper and salt.
Using your hands, form mixture into 8 2-ounce patties (roughly 1/4 cup portions).
Fill a heavy skillet or fryer with enough vegetable or canola oil to cover the cakes (only up to half the height of the pan) and bring the oil to 375 degrees. Fry cakes until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, remove cakes from oil and transfer to a paper towel-covered plate.
To serve, 1/4 cup Tomatillo Yogurt (see Recipe, below) across each of four plates. Place 2 cakes on top of each plate. In a medium bowl, toss pickled beets (see Recipe, below), julienned carrot and julienned Daikon radish (see Note) and sprinkle over cakes.
Makes 1 cup.
2 1/2 tomatillos, thinly sliced
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. plain yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss tomatillos with salt then arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer tomatillos to a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse until well-blended. Line a medium bowl with a paper towel, transfer pureed tomatillos to bowl, then squeeze out excess liquid. Place tomatillos back in food processor, add yogurt, soy sauce and honey and pulse until well-combined.
Makes about 1 cup.
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
1 star anise pod
1/4 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 large red beet, peeled and julienned
In a medium pot over medium-high heat, combine balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, water, star anise, cinnamon stick, sugar and salt and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat and bring to room temperature. Place beets in a glass jar and strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the jar. Allow beets to sit, uncovered, for 24 hours, and use as desired. Store in a tightly sealed jar for 3 to 4 weeks.
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.
Officially, Landon Schoenefeld of HauteDish in Minneapolis is the winner of this year's Chef Challenge at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. He earned the title of Master of the Market with his Chilled Cream of Tomato Soup, with layers of flavor that included an eggplant puree and a medley of gorgeous summer mini-vegetables that was the backbone of a ratatouille, to be blanketed with a luscious cream of tomato puree.
But the real winner is the home cook, who can make this deceptively simple recipe for dinner -- as well as the one from his competitor, Drew Yancey, executive chef of Borough. Drew prepared his take on the classic Spanish sauce romesco and served it as part of a carefully plated display of beautiful fresh, carefully prepared vegetables.
The dueling efforts show how technique, great ingredients and a good eye are important in the prep of not only restaurant-quality dishes, but those we prepare for the ones who gather at our table.
Here's how the competition worked: With 20 minutes and $50, each chef raced to buy their ingredients among the stalls at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Then, with a 30-minute limit for prep, the chefs served up their dishes to four judges: Lynne Rossetto Kasper of the radio show “The Splendid Table;” Ragahvan Iyer, cookbook author; Stephanie Meyer of Minnesota Monthly, and me.
The North Loop Neighborhood Association donated $500 to YouthLink Homeless Shelter, in honor of the competition. The funds will be used to continue cooking lessons that emphasize quick and easy meals with local ingredients. For the recipes, see below.
The competition is sponsored by Country Financial.
Chilled Cream of Tomato Soup
Note: This was the winning recipe, from Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish in Minneapolis, from the Master of the Market competition at the Minneapolis Farmers Market.
• Eggplant purée (see recipe)
• Ratatouille (see recipe)
• Garnishes: Sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes (the more variety and color the better), pickled teardrop peppers (or substitute peppadew), tiny fresh basil leaves, sea salt, olive oil
• Cream of Tomato Soup base (see recipe)
Put a pool of the charred eggplant purée on the bottom of each soup bowl. Add a nice scoop of the ratatouille on top. Arrange the sliced heirloom tomatoes and peppers artfully around the ratatouille and eggplant purée. Carefully top with the tiny basil leaves and flecks of sea salt. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Let your guests bask in the wonder and glory of the season, before you pour the soup base over the vegetables. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Charred Eggplant Puree
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Note: From Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish in Minneapolis.
• 1 large eggplant
• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• Juice of 1 to 2 lemons
• Salt to taste
Char the eggplant over an open flame until it is completely black and burnt. Purée with the olive oil and lemon juice; season with salt.
Makes about 4 cups.
Note: From Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish in Minneapolis.
• 1 medium eggplant, fine diced
• Olive oil
• 1 zucchini, fine diced
• 1 summer squash, fine diced
• 1/2 red onion, fine diced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/2 c. finely chopped sweet pickled peppers
• 8 fresh basil leaves, cut in chiffonade (in thin strips)
• 1/4 finely chopped tomato
In a sauté pan over medium heat, sweat the eggplant in olive oil until golden brown; drain in a colander. In the same sauté pan over medium heat, sweat the zucchini and summer squash together in more olive oil until softened; drain in a colander.
In the same pan, sweat the red onion in more olive oil until soft. At the last second, add the garlic and sweat for a moment more before draining in a colander. At this point you can combine all the sautéed vegetables together in a mixing bowl and add the pickled peppers, basil, tomato and enough olive oil to dress the vegetables. Season with salt.
Cream of Tomato Soup Base
Makes about 8 1/2 cups.
Note: From Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish in Minneapolis.
• 6 large ripe heirloom tomatoes (he used a mixture of Brandywine, Candy Old Yellow and Black Krim)
• 2 to 3 garlic cloves
• 20 leaves of basil
• 1 1/2 tbsp. sea salt
• 1/2 c. local honey
• 1 c. cream
• 1 c. extra-virgin olive oil
Cut the tomatoes up in large chunks and toss with garlic, basil, salt and honey. Allow the tomato mixture to macerate for 15 to 20 minutes.
Purée the tomatoes in a blender for up to 5 minutes or until completely smooth. Add the cream and olive oil with the blender running and purée for a minute more. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt and honey if needed.
Once again, the North Loop is proving its position as the Twin Cities’ hottest stretch of restaurant real estate.
This time, be on the lookout for Brut, the collaboration between chefs Jamie Malone (pictured, above) and Erik Anderson. Malone’s departure from Sea Change was announced today. “Not everything is all together or in place yet, but it’s something we have been working on for a while,” said Malone.
The couple hasn't nailed down a specific North Loop site just yet, but they’ve definitely targeted the neighborhood.
“It’s where we live, and we want to stay here,” said Malone. “We want this restaurant to be what we do when we retire [Malone is 31, Anderson is 41]. We want to be working in the community where we live, where we are a part of. We don’t want to work at a place that we’re driving to every day.”
As for the food, “We want to keep it classical, French-style cookery,” said Malone. “Right now we’re thinking a shellfish type of thing, but we’re really waiting until we find and secure the space, and that will dictate how we do things.”
Size-wise, they’re aiming at roughly 80 to 100 seats in the dining room, along with an emphasis on a roomy bar. “We want to make the bar very casual, a place you can go a few times a week and have snacks, a glass of wine or maybe a cocktail. Not so expensive that it feels like an occasion.”
The Brut name is a reference to the dry-to-the-taste sparkling wine and chosen, Malone added, “Because we both love drinking it,” she said with a laugh. “We think it goes well with a lot of the food that we want to cook. And there are lot of interesting sparkling wines from around the world, lots of things that aren’t super-accessible — at least right now — in a restaurant setting.”
(And no, it has no connection to the 1960s men’s cologne of the same name, “Although we should work that in somehow,” said Malone with a laugh. “I love that.”)
The couple met in 2008 when they were both cooking at the then-new Porter & Frye — although Malone knew of Anderson when she was a student at the Cordon Bleu and he was an instructor — and they later worked together when Anderson was running Sea Change. When Anderson left for Nashville in 2011 to open Catbird Seat, she replaced him at Sea Change. Both chefs have national profiles, most notably as Food & Wine magazine Best New Chefs, he in 2012, she in 2013.
To give diners a taste of what’s in store, the couple is planning a series of four-course pop-up dinners at the former Lynn on Bryant (5003 Bryant Av. S., Mpls.), on Aug. 8, 9, 15, 16, 29 and 30. The details — price, reservations, etc. —haven’t been hammered out yet, but Malone and Anderson will keep folks posted via their Twitter account, @brutMN.
“We want it to be a fun, summertime, kind of thing,” said Malone. “And we need something to do besides go to the dog park every day.”
More Malone news: Twin Citians Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine, producers of the Perennial Plate, are turning their attention to a remake of PBS’ “Victory Garden,” in collaboration with Edible magazines. Their first of 13 half-hour episodes is going to be filmed in Minnesota and will feature — you got it — Jamie Malone.
Meanwhile, at Sea Change, Malone is being replaced by the restaurant’s longtime sous chef (and former Alaska fisherman), Ryan Cook.
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