The world loves a good homecoming story. When LeBron James returned to Cleveland, it sparked a media storm the size of Lake Erie.
Comparing Gavin Kaysen — a Bloomington boy-turned-renowned New York City chef — to King James is ridiculous and he’d likely be the first to say it. “It’s just food,” he said in his new North Loop kitchen.
“Tell that to the throngs who already snatched up prime-time reservations through the rest of the year.”
But the buzz surrounding his Spoon and Stable restaurant, which opens Sunday at 211 N. 1st St., has been big since word broke this spring that the Academy of Holy Angels alum was returning to run his own place. Family is the main reason the James Beard-winning chef and father of two traded the Big Apple for the Minneapple.
“Yesterday I went to ‘Dads and Doughnuts Day’ with my kids,” Kaysen, 35, said, taking a brief load off in his partitioned private dining room last week. “I took one son, my dad took my other son. I never did that in New York. I was never able to go to school functions. I was never able to be a part of any of that.”
Life hasn’t exactly slowed down, given the 17-hour days he’s logging in preparation for the Twin Cities’ most hotly anticipated restaurant opening in years.
The move has garnered attention from local and national media, and Kaysen admits he quit keeping up. In-town interest swelled as cocktail ace Robb Jones, pastry chef Diane Yang and wine guru/general manager Bill Summerville — a Big Three, if you will, of local talent — jumped on board. And Andrew Zimmern became an investor.
“It definitely sets up unrealistic expectations,” said Summerville, who like Yang is coming from La Belle Vie. “We’re another restaurant. We’re not reinventing the wheel.”
Tell that to the throngs who already snatched up prime-time reservations through the rest of the year.
Spoon and Stable’s name stems from Kaysen’s now infamous spoon collection — he swipes ’em as mementos — and the century-old building’s former use as a stable. Remnants from the 5,900-square-foot space’s horse-holding days adorn the wall, as does a portion of Kaysen’s spoon stash in a piece designed by his artist brother. But the 70-seat dining room’s centerpiece is Summerville’s nearly two-story wine “stable,” which houses most of his 175-bottle collection.
“It’s like my gift from Gavin,” he said.
After eight years at New York’s Cafe Boulud, Kaysen has created a menu divided into five main sections: land, sea, pasta, chilled (bison tartare, scallop crudo) and garden (which features a savory pumpkin soup with coffee brioche and apple confit). Entrees range from $18 to $33 and include a pappardelle with goat ragu and sheep’s milk cheese, poached sturgeon, grilled skirt steak (one of Kaysen’s faves), plus a few off-menu vegetarian dishes.
“It’s not pretentious food,” he said.
Designed by Shea Inc., the dining room is elegantly un-stuffy, with high ceilings, skylights and a six-seat chef’s counter overlooking a wide-open kitchen. Though the full menu is available in the 35-seat bar area, an array of upscale bar snacks — tarte flambé, duck meatloaf sliders with foie gras and a tamarind glaze — headline the bar menu. Through a glass garage door at the front of the building, guests can see the Bachelor Farmer across the street.
After deftly helming the cocktail program at Saffron in downtown Minneapolis, Jones is going back to basics at Spoon and Stable. He is focusing on recognizable classics — not warping and renaming them under the guise of bartender geekery.
“We might have the opportunity to do fun stuff like that once in a while, where we can get a little weird in the future,” he said. “But the fact that it’s a restaurant, we have to remember who our clientele is first. We don’t want to do anything too outlandish or too nerdy.”
Don’t expect fernet drinks anytime soon. But a few surprises lay alongside his Cynar-spiked Manhattan, rum Old-Fashioned and black tea Negroni. A Cosmo named after Kaysen’s mother attempts to reclaim the maligned cocktail with a “Thanksgiving-y” cranberry cordial heavy on clove and cinnamon. Elsewhere, a crusta makes a rare cameo in a stirred variation with cognac and a pear liqueur.
“The sugar rim is the hardest thing for us to get used to,” Jones admitted, laughing. “It’s not a crusta unless you’re making a little rim.”
It had been 16 years since Kaysen called Minnesota home and amid the hoopla of his return, the decorated chef says he’s focused on making Spoon and Stable a comfortable neighborhood restaurant.
“I’m convinced there will be some people who will walk in and be like ‘Oh, it wasn’t fine-dining New York food.’ But that’s not what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Get the man a Heggies and he’ll officially be repatriated.
Michael Rietmulder writes about beer, cocktails and nightlife.