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Dinner at Spoon and Stable

Posted Saturday, November 15th, 2014 10:40 pm GMT -6 in Family, Food

Minnesotans always seem so proud when one of our own make it big. This usually happens somewhere else, so it’s an extra big deal when those people move back to their frozen homeland (see Garrison Keillor). The latest to join this list is another GK – the James Beard 2008 Rising Star Chef from Café Boulud, Gavin Kaysen. Originally from Bloomington (and an Academy of Holy Angels alum), Kaysen shocked the cooking world when he announced this spring he was leaving his post as executive chef after seven years and returning to Minnesota to open his own place in Minneapolis.

All the pieces fell into place over the summer, as Kaysen lured a team of all stars: Bill Summerville (wine) and Diane Yang (pastry) from La Belle Vie, Robb Jones (2013 Bartender of the Year at Saffron), Stephen Stritch as service manager (former banquet manager at the Waldorf Astoria) and Christopher Nye as chef de cuisine (Café Boulud). He found a spot in the North Loop directly across from our favorite restaurant, The Bachelor Farmer, and started working with local design firm Shea to build out his new baby. The working name was Merchant right up until the end of October, when this video announced a new name, Spoon and Stable.

The new restaurant was to begin accepting reservations on November 10th and you could sign up to be reminded via email, which I did. Online reservations would start at ten, but the golden email arrived around 9:00am and said email subscribers had a one hour head start and could call in for spots. Since the phone line was non-stop busy, I switched to concert ticket mode and started refreshing my browser. When the main website didn’t have anything listed at ten, I searched OpenTable and found the right page. Around 10:15, the select day page loaded and I picked Friday at 7:00pm, which showed availability. We were in! I forwarded the confirmation to Colleen and we were both really excited. About an hour later, however, my heart sank…

Apparently OpenTable did not have authority to book people on Friday or Saturday, as the restaurant wasn’t scheduled to officially open until Sunday. The first email from OpenTable said:

We are contacting you on behalf of Spoon and Stable in St. Paul MN. about the reservation that you have booked there.

Unfortunately there was an error in the availability published on OpenTable.com, and the time and date you booked your reservation for is not actually available for reservations. The restaurant will begin taking reservations for dates after they open on 11/16/2014. Your pending reservation will be cancelled within the next few minutes, please feel free to book again on or after 11/16/2014 when the restaurant will be opening.

We are very sorry for the mix up! This was an error on the OpenTable site and not the fault of the restaurant.

To make matters worse, OpenTable sent another email about an hour later that said “Please note that there is a typo in the email below. Spoon and Stable is located in Minneapolis, not St. Paul. We apologize for any confusion.” Meanwhile, food critics on Twitter were reporting that the restaurant was already booked through January. Argh.

I knew this was an OpenTable issue and tweeted “OpenTable just told me my Friday @spoonandstable reservation was a mistake and that they really aren’t open until 11/16.” This is when the stellar service recovery effort began – the restaurant responded to my tweet directly with “we have a solution and look forward to serving you all soon.” A few hours later, someone called me to apologize and said they will open on Friday to honor the reservation at 7:00pm. Bravo! I now liked the operation before ever stepping foot in the building.

Since I follow most of the individuals on Twitter, I discovered that Thursday was a special “pre-opening” event that included visits by people that had several other chefs in town a bit star-struck: Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and (earlier in the week) Marcus Samuelsson. Nashville to Minneapolis chef (and former Bill Summerville fried chicken and champagne cohort) Erik Anderson was there. Several other local chefs sent over care packages during the week (Heyday and Pizzeria Lola), while Marvel Bar even threw a “There Goes the Neighborhood” party for the entire Spoon and Stable staff. I love this town.

Our anticipation for Friday night was intense. We pulled up and discovered they have $5 valet in a lot right next to the building, so we gladly took that option and quickly got out of the cold. We walked in and my first impression was how small the whole place is – the stated capacity on the wall said 169, but the actual dining room section doesn’t have many tables. It’s a beautiful space, though, and we were seated at a two person table with a perfect view of the large, open kitchen. The hostess took our coats to a secret room that Colleen got to visit later in order to make a positive ID. It was so fun watching the whole operation while we there: Diane! Gavin! Bill!

Our server Mariann poured us two complementary glasses of Champagne and apologized for any difficulty we may have had with the reservation process (yet another positive service recovery checkmark). We were brought menus and ordered two items from the bar – Colleen had a glass of the house reserve white (Delaire Graff, Stellenbosch, South Africa 2011), while I just had to order the Minnesota Monthly Drink of the Week, a Robb Jones twist on an Old Fashioned. Both were wonderful – I especially liked the roasted pineapple, which I’m sure came from the Diane side of the operation.

Colleen and I both explored a little in between courses. There is a long, candle-lit hallway behind the kitchen area that leads to the restrooms, passing by the two private dining areas along the way. The restroom I visited had a clean, modern design and the rolled up cloth washcloths were a nice touch. The bar sits in the front of the space and seemed very busy all night (it’s going to be first-come, first-serve there). Our server said that will be the best way to come back for the first few months. She also mentioned they have a special bar menu in addition to the full regular dinner menu. The Summerville “wine stall” is impressive and it was entertaining watching servers go up and down the ladder.

Wheat sourdough bread and sea salt butter were brought to the table with a very unique presentation that included a tiny burlap sack and a black granite slab. We then both selected items from the garden section of the menu. Colleen had the Fairytale Pumpkin Soup (coffee brioche, apple confit, sage – 8), while I ordered the Winter Green Salad (pears, goat cheese, pecans, sherry vinaigrette – 8). We really liked both – hers having a unique doughnut shaped crouton presentation, while mine had an excellent assortment of flavors and textures. Clean plate club for me on that course.

Next, Colleen ordered the Ravioli from the pasta section (roasted eggplant, sauce puttanesca, ricotta salata – 11/18), while I chose the Cider Glazed Chicken (fennel sausage, rutabaga, roasted carrots, thyme jus – 25). We also shared a side of Crispy Potatoes (rosemary & garlic – 7). All of the pasta selections come in two sizes and Colleen had the smaller portion. She said the roasted eggplant was delicious, but thought the pasta was just OK. My chicken dish was perfect – the quality of the chicken breast was very high and it was cooked exactly right. I liked most of the sides too – the fennel sausage, carrots and thyme jus tasted great together (Colleen liked the rutabaga – I’m just not a fan of that particular vegetable).

With Diane Yang at the helm, there was no way we were skipping dessert. I ordered the Chocolate Chiboust (hazelnut praline, banana, malted milk ice cream – 10), which rightly deserves it’s place as a website header photo – beautiful and delicious. Colleen ordered the Dessert Cheese Plate (with huckleberry compote – 15), which arrived on a beautiful antique plate with five different cheese selections and chickpea crackers. We were also presented with a small tin box at the end of the meal with two petits fours inside – a candied fruit jelly and a miniature mousse-filled creampuff.

I ordered a glass of Madeira dessert wine (NY Malmsey, Rare Wine Company – 12) and our server said Bill was the Madeira King. He stopped over to tell me more about this type of wine (which I’d never had before). I love hearing people talk about things they are passionate about, so that was fun and interesting. Still can’t get over the aroma – so different from what I usually drink.

The final check was very reasonable for this level of quality and service – about $165 with tax and tip. I thanked Chef Kaysen on the way out for opening early and told him we had a wonderful time. He seems like such a nice, down to earth person – it’s great to see people like him succeed. We were given two gifts on the way out: signed opening night menus (“Happy Cooking!”) and Rocky Road Muffins that had tags with “It was a rocky start, but we’re off!”

Indeed you are, Chef, indeed you are…

Highly Recommended

Originally published by DK on November 15, 2014 at 10:40 pm

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