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Walker Art Center's Esker Grove restaurant to open Dec. 13

After a too-long absence, a full-service restaurant is returning to the Walker Art Center.

Esker Grove, located at the museum's just-opened Vineland Place entrance pavilion, is set to debut on Dec. 13. The restaurant is the work of Culinaire, the Dallas-based culinary giant behind Sea Change at the Guthrie Theater and Fika at the American Swedish Institute.

Lunch will be served Tuesday through Friday, and dinner will be served daily. Weekend brunch service will begin Jan. 7. Lunch will include sandwiches (an eggplant tartine with preserved tomato, a grilled cheese made with apples and pungent rachlette), couscous with lamb sausages and pine nuts, smoked sturgeon rillettes and red rice with preserved mushrooms and rotisserie-roasted vegetables. 

Dinner will feature spit-roasted sturgeon, honey-glazed lamb shoulder, a dry-aged New York strip steak, a celery root tart and a farro and endive salad.

Chef Doug Flicker (Piccolo, Sandcastle) is overseeing the operation, which will be managed on a day-to-day basis by chef de cuisine T.J. Rawitzer (Masu Sushi & Robata, the Third Bird), beverage manager Jon Olson (La Belle Vie, Icehouse and Bradstreet Craftshouse) and general manager Kim Tong (Piccolo).

The restaurant will feature an annual commission of a new art work; the opening work is a collage (pictured, above) by Duluth artist Frank Big Bear.

New 'Gilmore Girls': celebrity chef cameos, plus Duluth Aerial Bridge shoutout

Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) chats with Rachael Ray in the kitchen of the Dragonfly Inn. Photo provided by Netflix.

Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) chats with Rachael Ray in the kitchen of the Dragonfly Inn. Photo provided by Netflix.

SPOILER ALERT for fans of “Gilmore Girls”: No significant storyline details follow, but there are plenty of food observations. And mention of a Minnesota connection.

Martha Stewart cooks with Snoop Dogg these days.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Ina Garten, Rachael Ray, Anthony Bourdain and Roy Choi cook for the Gilmore girls. Or so we are led to believe in Netflix’s four new episodes of “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” the highly anticipated update of the popular TV series that centered on small-town life in Stars Hollow, Conn. (Ina Garten -- the Barefoot Contessa -- should get top food-celeb billing by the number of references -- three -- throughout the episodes.)

At a time when Anthony Bourdain shows up on TV nearly as often as Anderson Cooper, the timely mention of food celebs in a show defined by its fast-paced references to pop culture and news, fits its blueprint. And it’s a veritable food fest of eating throughout the four episodes, as was true with the earlier seven seasons.

So here’s who drops by the kitchen of the Dragonfly Inn in Stars Hollow. Read on for the Minnesota mention.

Episode #1 – “Winter” (find the scene at 24 minutes: 48 seconds into the program): With Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy), the chef, unavailable to cook, Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and Michel Gerard (Yanic Truesdale) have been testing out others for the Dragonfly Inn kitchen. Roy Choi, who Lorelai refers to as “the food truck guy” stages a pop-up at the inn, where he wants to prepare a green pea congee-inspired meal with abalone. She’s skeptical and none too happy when Choi asks, “Can I screw with the dining room to make it less granny?” But when he moves her coffee machine out of its familiar place, he’s toast. Bye-bye, Roy, who is sent to Momo’s Tires to prepare his congee extravaganza.

Other food celebs make it into the conversation, though not on screen, as Michel reminds Lorelei she was nicer to Roy than to earlier chefs who dropped by. He calls out Anthony Bourdain ("parked in Sookie's spot," Lorelai notes) April Bloomfield (“too much pork”), Alice Waters (“too flighty”) and David Chang (“Al’s [Pancake World] does the same thing”).

We find out that Sookie has been gone for more than a year, to help chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill Farm, where she was working with him on developing food growing techniques and cultivating the evolution of fruits and vegetables and “saving the world.” Michel responds, “No she’s squatting in a cabin with no phone service, trying to grow a pineapple out of a coat rack.”

Now that’s a mouthful of celebrity cooks in the first episode.

Episode #2 – “Spring” (find it at 35:37): None other than Rachael Ray stops by with her own pop-up restaurant to make soup and sammies for the inn. But when the Dragonfly guests don’t order Rachael’s food, Lorelai sends her packing, though she samples a sandwich and says it is "really good.”

Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) dips into the food celeb world as she documents the “line culture” of NYC for GQ magazine, waiting to taste a variation on the cronut, that bit of pastry madness from the bakery of Dominique Ansel that drew the attention of New Yorkers in recent years. What she and Lorelai sample is the non-cronut, a cro-dough-cake from Monique Aswell Bakery (note the name play).  

Episode #3 – “Summer” (29:20): Luke Danes (Scott Patterson), Lorelai’s partner, helps out in the Dragonfly kitchen, despite the fact he’s needed back at Luke’s Diner. It’s burger day at the inn, and he’s frantically busy until a server announces, “A couple from New York at table 6 wants to know if the meat in the hamburger is Pat LaFrieda.” Luke doesn’t understand what's being asked. “A couple from New York at table 6 wants to know if I ground up Pat LaFrieda to serve him in my burger?” he sputters. “You know what? Tell them ‘yeah’ and give them this. They’ll like it. I put part of Pat’s pancreas in there.” Lorelai calmly points out to Luke that the reference is to Pat LaFrieda [of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors], a butcher she says is from New York, though he's located now in New Jersey. 

More name dropping occurs during an argument between Lorelai and Luke, who notes that Sandra Lee has dropped out from cooking at the inn on the advice of Ina Garten, who told her, “Don’t go to the Dragonfly Inn because it’s awful!”

Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) with Luke (Scott Patterson) at Luke's Diner. Provided by Netflix.

Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) with Luke (Scott Patterson) at Luke's Diner. Provided by Netflix.

Episode #4 – Fall (1:19:12): Sookie makes a surprise appearance in the kitchen, with a broad range of wedding cakes for you-know-who. Sookie senses the earlier presence of Roy Choi, Rachael Ray and Ina Garten (“What’s that smell? Is it abalone? I can’t believe you let Roy Choi in my kitchen. Is that Ina Garten?  Is that lime tequila chicken I smell?” before realizing that Rachael Ray’s sammies have been in the kitchen.

The last cake that Sookie shows Lorelai is her “milestone” treat, a diorama of major life events. Curiously, in the top right corner of the cake, which we barely glimpse, is a tall bridge over white-capped waters, with the word “DULUTH” posted atop it and a Ramada Inn behind it.

Could it be that the Gilmore girls had spent time in our fair state and mistook the Radisson in downtown Duluth for a Ramada Inn?

It’s TV, folks. Anything can happen.

Closeup screenshot (in the few seconds the cake is shown)

Closeup screenshot (in the few seconds the cake is shown)

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