It’s like winning the lottery. Except here, you win the chance to pay for a highly coveted seat at a multi-course tasting extravaganza at Demi, the new dining experience launched by bold-name fave chef Gavin Kaysen, owner of the adjoining and beloved Spoon & Stable.
Here’s the drill: Go online to discover the next designated day reservations will be accepted (first of the month, starting at noon) for a night of elegant eating in the near future. Choose your menu (Barrington, $95, is most popular; or WC Whitney, $125, optional wine pairings extra) and prepare to join the group of 20 devotees salivating to experience 10 tasting-size courses over a span of two hours — a menu revealed in its entirety only upon its completion. The only requirements are a sense of adventure and a chunk of change.
My fellow diners range (I’m guessing) from hipsters in their 20s to a silver-haired set of 70-somethings (plus a visiting chef of Hershey’s outfit in Pennsylvania, who assures me dining is far better here than in the chocolate capital). We’re seated along a U-shaped counter, inside of which six cooks work quietly, intent as surgeons, prepping and cooking and plating these complicated concoctions — every last tendril of which is tweezed into place with utmost precision.
Sound stuffy? Intimidating? It’s not. Your amiable server leans over to explain, as a museum docent might, each ingredient and how it’s aimed to interact with its companions.
After a complimentary coupe of bubbly in the tiny vestibule, a curtain parts and you’re led to the inner sanctum, where you’re welcomed with pea broth, poured from a gleaming teapot, “to start you on your journey.” The translucent jade-green liquor comes enriched with bacon fat. Mint and lemon work to brighten this aromatic taste of spring.
Next, a trio of canapés appears, leading off with a leaflet of romaine and radish snippets in buttermilk dressing. It’s accompanied by a succulent rabbit meatball partnered with burdock, malt vinegar and shiso, easy to love. The third offering is a way-too-fussy presentation of a bitty quail egg a la panna cotta, topped with jewels of Osetra caviar. It’s presented in the tiny bowl of a spoon that sits upon an elaborate bird’s nest — a lot of just-because frou-frou for a quarter-teaspoon of food. (But it tastes divine.)
To transport us from winter into spring, explains the server, course three is composed of pink bits of sweet-smoky trout mingling with crunchy fiddleheads (it’s too soon, alas, for our local ferns, so they were brought in), along with asparagus and peas, lots of aromatic dill and dollops of creme fraiche, which (hail to a Minnesota spring) arrive on a frozen skim. You’re meant to break the ice and stir everything together, as my server directs.
It’s followed by a composition starring creamy burrata cheese adorned with more hints of spring: ramps, broccolini, charred leaves of parsley, parsnips and scallions in pine nut miso, all jump-started with the ultra sweet/tart ping of preserved lemon. Crispy sparks of coppa sausage introduces a textural wake-up call. A cloverleaf brioche roll adds a welcome touch of comfort.
A fish course follows. A flavorful square of tender Spanish turbot comes partnered with a barigoule of artichokes, along with peas and pea-sized carrot cubes, all enhanced with — what? — prickly ash peppercorns, a newbie to me that I’m told grows locally.
It’s hard (and unnecessary) to pick favorites, but if a gun were held to my forehead, I’d vote for the red wine-braised octopus that arrived next. Its curly, gnarly arm rises, as if in salute, from an assembly of meaty bacon lardons and red currants in a sauce thickened, we’re told, with pureed wild rice and pork blood. The dish is served with a steamed bun, Chinese style, born of heritage wheat.
A ruddy hunk of Iowa Wagyu beef is the final protein (for which, in another folly, you’re asked to select your steak knife preference from a boxed quartet). This course, frankly, bored me — the beef saltier than ideal, and sided with “ravioli” of translucent circlets of raw kohlrabi and a deep green pool of nettle mustard.
Next, a “spring walk through the woods” in the form of a warm broth fashioned from plantain, strawberry, dandelion and elderflower — not especially appealing. But the pre-dessert certainly was: a soy milk pudding lush with coconut powder and lively lime zest, mint upon a pool of birch syrup — limpid and lovely.
The “real” dessert starred creamy chocolate in brown-butter custard aside beeswax ice cream (just because? it’s simply a mild, anonymous flavor) and a honey toile, along with vivacious sparkles of sweet-sour orange bits.
But! It’s not over ’til it’s over. Out comes a parade of pastry chef Diane Yang’s little jewels, starting with a savory, airy, chewy sesame roll (a family recipe, we’re told). Then a white chocolate truffle, a curry-scented chocolate truffle,
a macaron (bland), a medallion of dried fruits and nuts under a chocolate topping and probably a few I’ve forgotten. Plus: a bowl of Rice Krispie treats to spoon up till you’re in a coma. And a printed menu as souvenir.
The only downside: music chosen, it seems, by the kitchen staff and unsuited for this MPR-type clientele. It grates. But hey…
212 N. 2nd St.