I don’t know if it’s just the wintertime (I kind of doubt it), but Steve and I are content to be homebodies much of the time. My home cooking skills keep getting better, and I’m increasingly disappointed with restaurant food from many of the standard downtown Stamford spots. I always find something lacking, or that I could have made for a third of the price at home while adding a new dish to my repertoire. My biggest complaint when eating out: underseasoning. Okay, maybe I do have a smoker’s penchant for salt, but the seasoning job in non-fancy restaurants rarely meets my approval, and I feel awkward asking for salt and pepper. So Friday date nights are more often spent at home with our own custom menu, Steve playing sommelier, and me happily sipping my wine over the stove for far longer than will actually be spent eating.
All that said, we make it a point to carefully select the venue when dining out for anything more momentous than a random weeknight. We build our list of restaurants to try months in advance. Farm-to-table or locally sourced restaurants are our favorites, for the sake of simple, whole ingredients prepared well and in interesting combinations. As we sat kitchen-side at Spoon and Stable just over a week ago on a frigid but bustling Sunday evening, we recollected our last memorable dinner out. It was at FT33 in Dallas, for Steve’s birthday back in October, so we were definitely due!
The trip back to the Minneapolis area for my sister’s wedding was crazy-fun-chaotic. I spent almost two weeks with Tor and my mom on details that get pushed to the last minute when the bride contracts strep throat three weeks before her big day, wiping out all plans for productivity in that critical last month. Hoping the dust would settle and we’d have one night to ourselves post-nuptials, though, Steve did some research and discovered Spoon and Stable. I have a few other favorite and “to try” spots on my Twin Cities list, but the kicker was chef Gavin Kaysen’s residence as chef de cuisine at our beloved Boulud restaurants in NYC. We’re not weekly regulars or anything, but we’ve marked a few special occasions with more of those memorable dinners at Boulud Sud (the first birthday of mine spent with Steve), Daniel (Tristyn and Kian’s engagement), and Bar Boulud (a drop-dead delicious pre-symphony supper). So it didn’t take much to convince me that Spoon and Stable should be our one reserved date night while in Minneapolis.
Before getting into a few details, my final recommendation is to visit Spoon and Stable for yourself if you’re in the vicinity. My expectations were fairly high, and they were exceeded.
I’ll start with the boring stuff, since some of you may want to know. When I lived downtown for a year, I was oblivious to the North Loop neighborhood which Spoon and Stable calls home, but I’m now convinced that I want to move back to the arctic tundra solely due to the presence of this restaurant and the new Whole Foods. There were precisely zero acceptable grocery stores downtown when I lived there around 2011, and now there’s a Lund’s and WF. Progress had to happen after I left, of course. Anyway, on a very cold Sunday night, we had no issues finding the restaurant or parking a block and a half away at a meter that accepts credit cards. Valet is also available, and we may utilize it next time so Steve doesn’t have to listen to me whining about the snowbank he parked me in.
Super friendly, as if you’d expect anything less in Minnesota. Seriously, though, sometimes the downtown crowd (yes, even in the midwest) can get a little snooty. None of that here (at least not from the staff). We were warmly greeted even upon our early arrival before the 5 PM open and allowed to wait inside given the subzero temps. Our waitress had that endearing Minnesota accent (which brought mine out, I’m pretty sure) and was obliging no matter what our requests or questions. I always get nervous for the wait staff at these kinds of places, where menu selections are subject to change depending on the chef’s whim and available ingredients that day. However, she was knowledgeable about the details of each dish and any vocabulary on the menu that was unfamiliar to me. Unlike salt and pepper, I have no problem asking for the definition of a “chiboust” on the dessert menu.
Various other supervisor/manager types, the appetizer prep guys working inches from us, and the chef himself also monitored our satisfaction throughout the meal. It doesn’t get much more friendly than that, and I loved how it made an upscale restaurant experience so warm and inviting.
Ah, dining outside of NYC is such a breath of fresh air. Meaning, you have enough air to breathe because you’re not sharing oxygen with the complete stranger four inches from you. As a normal person with no design background and simple, classic taste, I thought the room was pleasant, conveying a trendy but simple, laid back vibe. And it’s just that: one big room with a vaulted ceiling. The white floor to ceiling liquor shelves at the bar were especially striking, as was lots of brick throughout. Most of the tables were filled, but I never felt it was too loud, and Steve and I conversed easily (minus the 2 seconds when a pan got dropped in the kitchen). I’m pretty sure there was music, but I don’t remember details about the volume or genre. I’m ridiculously sensitive to noise, whether too loud, too soft, or just plain weird, so my lack of memory of it is all positive.
Alright, time for the meat and potatoes, so to speak. Actually, there was almost no meat in front of me, except for a unique and glorious bison tartare to start the meal. No matter how vegetarian I become, I suspect tartare will always lure me to make an exception, as it did at Spoon and Stable. The tartare was served with socca chips (I had to ask what they were, because I missed the whole socca-trending-on-food-blogs thing this past summer), which inspired my recipe for the ones coming to this blog very soon! I could have used a couple more chips in a serving, but I had no problem finishing up the remaining tartare with a spoon–and even sharing some with Stevie.
The menu is definitely not intended to be vegetarian friendly, but I was able to keep the rest of my meal that way, and deliciously so. We started with the super popular (it seemed about 20 orders went out in the time we sat there) roasted carrots over a curry yogurt sauce, topped with crunchy, fresh carrot shavings, lime zest, and some greens–I believe including some of the carrot tops. Steve geniusly deduced that the carrots tasted like curry, and I suggested perhaps that’s why they described them as such on the menu :)
We also did the creamed spinach side as a starter because…it had cheese curds on it (pictured above). Until now, I have not encountered a fried cheese curd acceptable to me except at the great Minnesota get together. Most curds you find at sporting events or smaller fairs have a gross, dry, chicken finger-like breading on them–no thank you. These ones definitely looked classier (a deeper brown, and smaller) than the state fair version, as I’d expect, but they were still everything a cheese curd should be: namely, greasy. Not too much, but c’mon, it’s still fair food at heart. Whoever decided to pair the curds with creamed spinach: you are a genius, and I love you. This was awesome.
After the rock star apps, I wasn’t sure my mushroom risotto (pictured above) could possibly compete. To elevate it beyond home-cooked mushroom risotto (which I had recently made on Christmas Eve), Spoon and Stable tops theirs with a parmesan yolk. It looks like a yolk. It acts like a yolk. It’s…made entirely of parmesan cheese! That, plus the perfectly creamy risotto just kept building on our superb apps. Steve had the chicken. Another common dish that rarely stands out, what with its tendencies toward dryness and run-of-the-mill sauces. Again, though, impressive. I didn’t take a bite, but Steve said it was super moist and that the salsa verde–a thin, saucy version, added exciting flavor. He promptly inhaled it before I had the chance to snap a photo.
That didn’t stop us from ordering just a little dessert, though. After the waitress delivered a complimentary little box of dessert bites, which included a macaron from the bowlful I had been eyeing throughout the meal, we dug into a milk chocolate torte. It was light for a chocolate dessert, so we were able to finish most of it, and Steve loved the pairing with seasonal, light, orangey flavors, including mandarin sherbet.
We’re always happy to find Oregon wines on any list, after our visit to their wine country in 2012 (above). We fell in love with Domaine Serene there, and found a bottle from the vineyard from 2009 on Spoon and Stable’s list. Definitely an easy sell to us. It was one we hadn’t tried before, kind of a generic Pinot Noir that they bottled before the more specific varieties available now, such as the Yamhill Cuvee. It was reasonably priced and fun to explore something familiar in a new format.
I forgot to mention that despite (or due to?) our last minute reservation, we were seated at the bar basically attached to, and overlooking, the wide open kitchen. Steve has worked in restaurant kitchens, but I never have, and I’m completely fascinated by the operation. I’m guessing that in this caliber kitchen, culinary school is a requirement, but I was seriously ready to hop back there and start plating carrots for free. It looked so fun, and the energy in the open kitchen really emanates throughout the restaurant. My dining experience at Spoon and Stable gets the highest praise, but our seats really took it to the next level and made it that much more memorable.