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New 510 Lounge opening in former La Belle Vie space on Thursday

Eight months after announcing that he was taking on the former La Belle Vie space at the landmark 510 Groveland building in Minneapolis, Kenwood chef/owner Don Saunders is quietly opening his 510 Lounge on Thursday. The doors open at 4:30 p.m.

The plan? The former La Belle Vie lounge is the open-to-the-public centerpiece, a seven-days-a-week enterprise featuring cocktails, wines and a roster of shareable foods that range from oysters, caviar and cheeses to black rice croquettes, mussels in a pistou broth and smoked duck ham with pickled cherries. There's a major dessert program, too. The former La Belle Vie dining room – which was also home to 510 Groveland in the 1980s and 1990s – will be reserved for private events. Saunders took a few moments out of his busy schedule to discuss some details.

Here is he on . . .

The lounge’s low-key opening: “We’re doing a little friends-and-family event on Wednesday night. Then, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we’ll be open to the public. After that, we’re going to give everyone a break for four days. Then, on Thursday, July 6, we’ll open for good. We’re calling the next few days a preview weekend, and we’re not promoting it, because, strange as this might sound, I don’t want to open crazy-busy. I’m obviously not trying to keep it a secret, and I’m all for anyone talking about it. We’ll get the word out on social media, too. I do feel like there’s buzz about the place, but you never really know until you actually open. What we’re doing -- opening for three days, and then closing for four -- is probably confusing. But I see this preview weekend as an opportunity to get our feet wet, and work out some kinks. And then hopefully the people who come in for this preview weekend will send out another wave of buzz for when we open for real on the 6th.”

The lounge’s renovated looks: “I’m very pleased. It’s super-cool, it all came together really nicely. There’s a lot of color, and pattern, and because some of the chairs are temporary – the ones we ordered didn’t get manufactured on time – there’s eventually going to be even more color and pattern. All of the art is by local photographer Shelly Mosman, and I think it’s going to be a big talking point. ‘Shocking’ isn’t the word, it’s not way out there. But her work is pretty modern looking, there’s a lot of emotion to it. So, hopefully, everyone will dig being in there. On Monday, we had a Kenwood employee and former-employee night, and we got to see people in the room, eating, for the first time, and that was really great. It’s got a comfortable and chic vibe.”

Cooking in that vaunted kitchen: “To be honest, it’s really cool. To me, it’s kind of carrying on a legacy. With all that history, it feels really special to be cooking in that kitchen.” [That's Saunders, above, at his Kenwood restaurant, in a Star Tribune file photo].

The differences between opening the 510 Lounge vs. the Kenwood and its predecessor, In Season: “This has definitely been a bigger and more involved project than the others, with a lot more moving parts and different stresses. But at the same time, I have a larger team of people that I’m working with, and that has been great. At In Season and the Kenwood, I was doing everything. I was writing the wine list, I was training servers, I was experimenting with dishes. This time I’ve had more of a delegating role, and more of a planning role. I’ve got a really good team, and everyone has been doing a fantastic job.”

Hosting private events in the former La Belle Vie dining room: “They’ll come along a little bit later. We purposely planned to get the lounge running for a good solid month before we took on any private events. Our first ones are in August, and even then, we’re limiting them to probably one a week, to get our feet wet. It’s a big space, and that can be a good thing, because it gives you lots of room to work with. But it’s also a challenge in that you’re running food for what seems like miles. At the Kenwood, I can walk 10 feet and be in the middle of the dining room. We’ve got a few [wedding] rehearsal dinners in the fall, and a number of small weddings, and a few corporate events closer to the holidays. There’s a bar mitzvah in the mix. And the Super Bowl will be another whole animal. We’ve already had some interest with that, and are talking back and forth with a few clients."

Menu favorites: “Taking in the history of this place, I did a few dishes that were inspired by the past two restaurants, La Belle Vie, and 510 Groveland. And a dish from the Kenwood. They’re three tips of the hat. Glazed salmon is an explicit, original recipe from the 510. I got it from Kathleen Craig, the restaurant’s former GM. And every time I talked to a La Belle Vie lounge regular, they would all ask, ‘Are you bringing back the lamb sliders?’ At first, I was totally against doing that. I wanted to go in a completely different direction. That’s not us, you know? But then I realized that a hamburger belongs in this lounge, and we’ll make our own. Our version, it’s completely different, but it’s a lamb burger, and that’s the tip of the hat. At the preview last night, the smoked Steelhead trout tartine was a huge hit, so was the Wagyu beef. I like the hamachi crudo with watermelon and Serrano chiles. I love the simplicity of it, you have this sweet-fat-salty-spicy bit all in one.”

Selecting sausages and smoked meats from Indiana-based Smoking Goose:Great Ciao [the Minneapolis-based fancy foods purveyor] found them. We did a tasting with a bunch of high-end Spanish, French, Italian and domestic stuff. Two really stuck out. Anything from Smoking Goose was ridiculous, you can’t go wrong with anything they produce. We’re opening with their fennel-garlic sausage. And I’m super-excited about that Bayonne ham [from France]. I’m a big prosciutto fan, as is most anyone with any common sense, but this Bayonne ham, it’s like prosciutto, but it’s sweeter, and it’s got a kind of a fermented taste. It’s amazing. The whole left side of the menu – caviar, oysters, cheese, charcuterie – is to highlight what we think is the best out there. We’ll be constantly updating it, to keep it fresh, and to keep people wondering what we’ll find next.”

Sweets: “I’m really excited about the desserts. We have a mutual win-win situation with a pastry chef that crossed paths with us. She and her boyfriend were moving back to Minneapolis from Cincinnati – they had moved there, to try something different, but they missed Minneapolis, and decided to come back. She’s Jo Garrison [a Rye Deli, Heyday and La Belle Vie veteran] and she reached out to us when she saw that we were doing the project. She’s so talented. Her desserts are 100 times better than if I was doing them, and she’s also a joy to work with. She’s a big-time bread baker, too, but with the logistics and timing in our kitchen, we’ll be outsourcing our breads, primarily from Steve Horton at Baker’s Field. Oh, that’s another way our lamb burger took shape. It was the bun. Steve does this version of a hamburger bun that’s super-hearty, it has a little sweetness to it, and a lot of sourdough tang. We tried it with a beef Cheddar burger, and the bun just stole the show, it was too much. But with lamb? It’s insane. Lamb was meant for that bun.

The lounge’s hours: “We’ll open at 4:30 every day. We close a bit earlier on Sunday nights, but every other night we’re open to 1 a.m., and we serve food until midnight. We’re going to try and hopefully get a later-night rush. I loved it when the 112 opened, and so many people in the industry crowd came in after work. They really got the buzz going, that was such a smart way to open. I’m following that lead a little bit.”

Parking: “We’ll  have valet parking, seven days a week.”

510 Lounge is located at 510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-315-5841.

Wild Rice, culinary jewel of Lake Superior's south shore, is closing

Cue the tears: Wild Rice is closing. 

The Bayfield, Wis., restaurant, one of the Midwest's great culinary destinations, announced that this summer will be its last. 

"After 16 years of being By the Water, In the Woods, On Lake Superior, we announce that Saturday, Oct. 14th will be the last day of service to the public who have supported us faithfully through all of these seasons," reads the message on the restaurant's website.

Owner Mary Rice opened Wild Rice in 2001, a mainland follow-up to her first fine-dining operation in the tourist-magnet region, the former Clubhouse on Madeline Island. (Rice also owns Bayfield's casual Maggie's, and operated the breakfast-focused Egg Toss for nearly 21 years; she recently sold it). The restaurant's name is a play on Rice's last name, as well as a tribute to Zizania palustris, or wild rice, the staple of region's ecology and food economy. Bayfield is located about four hours northeast of the Twin Cities.

A key to the restaurant's enduring popularity is its impressive, long-serving leadership. Chef Jim Webster (pictured, above, in a 2010 Star Tribune file photo) has been at the helm at Wild Rice for the restaurant's entire run, and was the force in the Clubhouse kitchen from 1983 to 2000. As a measure of his excellence, Webster has racked up four semifinalist nods for the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef: Midwest award, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014. General manager Randy Anderson has a similarly lengthy and distinguished tenure.

"Jim and Randy plus our entire staff will be here to provide you with the dedication to excellence you’ve come to enjoy," notes the website's message.

 

Wild Rice is not just a memorable food-and-drink experience, it's also a distinguished and beloved architectural landmark, the work of Duluth architect David Salmela. Shortly after the doors opened, Star Tribune architecture critic Linda Mack wrote this appreciation:

"David Salmela, in his first restaurant commission, has created a work of genius equal to the culinary feasts offered by the restaurant team of owner Mary Rice, chef Jim Webster and sommelier Randy Anderson. The designers, including Minneapolis landscape architects Coen + Stumpf [now Coen + Partners] and graphic designers Sassafras Design, have melded the best of two worlds: an attention to detail worthy of the top Parisian restaurants and a style as American as its eponymous food, wild rice. It's a shame this team doesn't have another project in the offing. They could revolutionize eating in America."

They certainly revolutioned dining in region, creating and sustaining a fine-dining experience in a rural setting that is the equal of its urban counterparts. And following the trend in cities across the U.S., including Minneapolis-St. Paul, that fine-dining experience is disappearing.

There's hope for the extraordinary facility, which is located on a wooded site on the bluffs above Lake Superior. 

"As this final chapter of Wild Rice Restaurant ends Wild Rice Reborn begins," reads the website's message. "Wild Rice is exploring a partnership with Artspace, to be reborn as A Center for Arts and Well Being. Artspace is the nation’s leading nonprofit developer of arts facilities. We feel Artspace will be a wonderful complement to this beautiful building and the arts community of Chequamegon Bay."

That’s the hope, anyway.

Artspace’s involvement is in its preliminary stages, said Kathleen Kvern, its vice president of national advancement. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit, which owns and operates 46 affordable artist housing projects around the country, and has another 10 to 15 in development, has a long, well-documented development process. In Bayfield, that process began three years ago, with a study on the area’s viability.

“From that study, we did determine that there is a market for the arts in Bayfield,” said Kvern. “There’s a real need to provide stability and sustainability in the area for artists. We know that the arts is an economic driver, and can be a real force in rural areas.

“What we also heard up there was this desire for aging in place,” she added. “Lots of artists are getting older. Mary [Rice] is an artist, and she’s getting older, she’s retiring, which is why she’s decided to do what she’s doing with Wild Rice. It’s also about retaining young people, who want year-round affordable housing and year-round jobs, and if they don’t find them, they leave. These are the issues that Bayfield is dealing with, and although one Artspace project isn’t going to solve all of that, it’s a reason that the community brought us in.”

After garnering financial support from several foundations, Artspace is currently in the second phase of its research, which involves conducting surveys (find them here) to determine actual numbers.

“The surveys will quantify how many people would live in an affordable arts project,” said Kvern. “All of that is to say that, sure, the Wild Rice space could be a fantastic place for something to happen, and that when we get the results of the surveys it may show a need for flexible artists' space, in addition to housing.” 

Stay tuned. In the meantime, pick up the phone and make a reservation

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