Demi is Chef Gavin Kaysen’s third fine dining restaurant (I think) in the Twin Cities metro. He made waves a few years ago when he returned from a long and successful stint cooking in New York to open Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. That restaurant was an immediate sensation, receiving rave reviews and becoming almost immediately one of the hottest tickets in town. We’ve eaten there twice and enjoyed both meals (here and here). Indeed, we’d say that it is the best more or less traditional fine dining restaurant we’ve eaten at in the Twin Cities (this includes the long-gone La Belle Vie, which we found rather overrated on our one visit there). Kaysen’s second restaurant, Bellecour opened in Wayzata a few years later. It presents a menu in a more straight-ahead French bistro tradition (we have not eaten there yet). Demi, which opened in early 2019, offers a third expression yet of Kaysen’s cuisine.
It is a 20 seater tasting menu-only restaurant—located around the corner from Spoon and Stable. It presents the kind of fussy high chef:diner ratio cooking in what I call the Global Cosmopolitan school that shows up reliably in those silly 50 Best Restaurants lists every year. With only two seatings a night, this is now the hottest ticket in town. Seats become available at noon of the first day of the month for dinners the following month, and if you’re not very lucky it is to the waitlist you must trust. Between the difficulty of getting in and the high price of entry ($105 for the cheaper Barrington menu, served at the first seating; $135 for the Whitney menu, served at the second seating) we didn’t figure we’d go anytime soon. But then we decided to go out, just the two of us, before leaving for Delhi (where I am typing this) and unexpectedly managed to snag two Thursday evening seats in early January.
With perfect timing there was a major snow storm early that week—nerve-wracking for people driving an hour given the fact that you pay the nonrefundable tariff at the time of booking. Thankfully, the highways were cleared before the evening of our reservation arrived and we showed up unscathed and ready to eat a fine meal. Did we? Yes. Would we do it again soon? That’s a more complicated question. Before I answer it let me describe the overall experience of dining at Demi and the particular menu we ate.
Your first task will be to find the restaurant. You may make less of a hash of this than we did. We expected to find it right on the street and floundered around for about five minutes before realizing that it is in fact located at the far end of a parking lot. (Later, while leaving, we realized that the restaurant’s name is plastered in large font on a wall abutting the street…) Having found the restaurant you go in and find yourself in a little vestibule which includes a jewel box of a bar. After the hostess confirms your reservation the bartender asks you for your flavour preferences with which to create a custom cocktail (an Abbot and Costello routine may break out when he introduces himself as “Scuzi”). There’s a lot of conversation around this, none of which involves the price of said cocktails (it turned out to be $13 a pop, paid with other add-ons at the end of the meal). The missus asked for something citrussy and received a concoction of lime, cedar gin, aperol and Cocchi Americano that she quite liked. I bypassed the custom offer and asked for a Paper Plane and received a creditable version. Cocktails in hand we repaired to the little heated patio by the entrance and waited for the dining room to open (we were a bit early).
At 5.30 the first, staggered seating began. We entered the dining room to find 20 seats around a counter that wraps almost all the way around a large oval open kitchen. It’s an attractive room and the chefs’ counter—dominated by a large floral arrangement—in the center of the kitchen is laid out neatly. Over the course of the meal you watch the past, present and future of your meal pass by to other diners and it’s all a very smooth operation. I can’t say that watching the chefs at work did very much for me, but at least it wasn’t as antiseptic an experience as I’d had at Hedone in London in 2016. And it did give us the opportunity to have a few pleasant conversations with Chef Kaysen. But I get ahead of myself.
If you have not purchased a wine pairing (or a non-alcoholic “Temperance” Pairing) at the time of reservation, this is when it will be offered to you. You also have the option of purchasing wine by the bottle or the glass. As the missus doesn’t drink very much we decided to get one wine pairing (the Demi pairing at $55) and have her take a few sips from each selection. There was also a bit of up-selling at this point: we were offered the option of having black truffle shaved over a few courses for $35 each. We declined. Later we heard our immediate neighbours being offered the option of having truffles added to only the pasta course for $15/head and decided impulsively to do that too. Then we sat back and waited for the meal to begin.
The meal began and continued in a mode that successfully walked a fine line between theatrical and precious. Almost every course seemingly involved some degree of construction during service and components and implements—along with custom cutlery—were often laid out well before they were used. The menu, by the way, is not furnished at the start but the end of the meal. This, our server said, is to preserve the element of surprise. Personally, at a meal like this I like to have a menu on hand for reference—it’s not really feasible to flag someone down to confirm if a dish has every single element in it that you think you detect a note fo. Most people, not being asshole bloggers, probably don’t care about this.
The progression of courses was very well designed. The meal began with a young hen broth (with various things added) and then moved through a first selection of exquisitely constructed small bites to progressively larger and heartier courses, which ended with beef cheek. Then a tea concoction aimed as palate cleanser, two dessert courses and finally a selection of mignardises. I am not going to go into detail into every single thing we ate. You can see what they were in the truly excessive slideshow that follows. Instead, I will give you some general impressions and a few specific raves and critiques.
On the whole, I would say that the meal was more beautiful to look at than it was truly satisfying to eat. Everything was put together very well but not all of it packed the sensual punch that the looks advertised. The hen broth, for example, we thought was under-salted (do you ask for salt at a restaurant like Demi after the ostentatious presentation of a dish?). Of the three exquisite (and exquisitely presented) bites that followed only the delicate squash was one we wished we could have more of. Both our scallops were a touch over and the beef cheek—done sous vide—had a pastrami-like texture that may have been intended but which made me wish for a simply grilled piece of meat. Other dishes were excellent. We both loved the spot prawn with carrot kombucha etc.—I’ll be very happy if I eat another dish as good all year; we also liked our pastas (with generously shaved truffle) and thought the two dessert courses were divine. The pastry chef here too is Diane Moua. In the past we haven’t always been transported by her more cerebral creations (at Heyday and Spoon and Stable) but here we loved them. (I should add, by the way, that with Chef Moua not in the kitchen it’s not hard to notice in this kind of a setup that the chefs are all male.)
The wine pairings were, on the whole, very successful as well. We received 7 non-stingy pours and there was only one I was not convinced by: a Barbera served with tagliatelle in a delicate chicken broth with abalone and fennel.
To look at far too many pictures of the restaurant and food, please launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for total cost, thoughts on service, and for the answer to the question of whether we would want to do this again anytime soon.
Service was very friendly, very personable without ever becoming over-familiar. A year in, this is clearly a very well-oiled machine and the team as a whole clearly gets the ethos of the place and gets it across. And I should add that the kitchen adroitly and seamlessly handled a medication-related food restriction one of us had, in some cases presenting two different versions of the same course. This was much appreciated.
Cost? With the drink and truffle add-ons and tax and service this came to $215/head. Knock off the truffles and you’d be at $200/head. However, do the full truffle experience and two wine pairings and you’d be at $265/head without even going near the more expensive pairing. And, of course, the Whitney menu would add another $35 in baseline charges. At any price, this is one of the most expensive propositions in town (you could, of course, spend a lot more anywhere with more expensive wine, or at a steak house). As much as we liked the food, at that tariff we would have liked to have been more transported by flavours than impressed by the construction of the dishes than we—on the whole—were. And given that the menu doesn’t seem to change very often (ours was titled “winter two thousand twenty”) we’d have to have liked everything a lot more and/or have a lot of disposable income to be coming back very soon. We don’t fall into either camp.
On the whole, we didn’t think the meal quite beat out the best of the meals we had at Piccolo before they closed. And while they are going for and delivering on a far greater level of ambition than Tenant (and, of course, charging for a lot more luxe ingredients) I’m not sure I’d take one meal at Demi over two meals at Tenant either (which is the exchange rate). I also thought that in a similar genre my meal at Canis in Toronto in June was far superior at a much lower price (though that’s before airfare). That is not to say that we won’t come back to Demi. I think this will be an annual indulgence for us. We’ll probably go back to Spoon and Stable this year and try Demi again in the spring or summer of 2021—maybe on that occasion the ratio of exquisite and delicious will be a bit more to our liking. Your mileage, as always, will likely vary.
Coming up next from the Twin Cities: a meal from the Twin Cities’ true Eat Street that falls on a very different part of the price and cuisine spectrums. Before that maybe another couple of Delhi reports.