Demi II (Minneapolis)


We first ate at Demi in early 2020, not so-very long after they opened (in 2019, as the sign outside their door proclaims). There were dishes at that dinner that we liked very much indeed. But, on the whole, we thought there were a few too many courses that looked better than they tasted. The highs were very high but the mean was quite a bit lower. Still, we liked the meal enough that I said that we’d probably come back in the summer of 2021 and perhaps make a dinner at Demi an annual indulgence. Well, courtesy the pandemic, it took another year for us to finally make our return. We ate there midweek, last week to celebrate a big number birthday for the missus. I am happy to say that we liked this meal more than the first (which is not to say that, as a renowned miserable bastard, I won’t be noting some reservations about it as well).

I should note first that there have been some major changes to how dinners at Demi now work. Back in 2020 there were two tasting menus: the Barrington and the Whitney. The cost of entry for the Barrington on weeknights (which is what and whenwe ate) was $105/head whereas the Whitney was $135/head (before drinks, service charge, tax etc.). When they first reopened during the pandemic—we were told at this meal—it was easier to just prepare for one meal service and then when they reopened fully they stuck with that model. So now there is only one tasting menu and they do staggered seatings for it all evening.  We were told that they aimed the new menu between the two originals. Well, the current menu costs what the Whitney had in January 2020. Yes, all fine dining restaurants have raised their prices in the same time period, but it does mean that the lowest-priced meal you can eat at Demi now starts at $135 (before drinks, service charge and tax) and you’ll have to eat on a Wednesday or Thursday to get that price. On the weekend, their surge model pricing sees that go up to a starting price of $165. So, it’s a bit of a splurge. By the way, in 2020 we’d succumbed to a black truffle supplement to the pasta course that added $35/head to the cost. On this occasion we were offered a white truffle supplement for the pasta course that would have run $70/head! The truffles looked and smelled very good but we managed to demur.

Okay, you’re saying, no one goes to Demi looking for a steal—what was the food like?

Structurally, the meal had a lot in common with the one we ate in 2020. It began with a bowl of warm broth. This was followed by a trio of small bites, a couple of lighter mid-courses, a fish/seafood course, a pasta course, two meat courses, two desserts, and mignardises to end. If I’m doing my math correctly, that’s one more course than we ate in 2020, which at least suggests you’re getting a bit more for the increased price. You’re served everything on the menu, by the way. The dishes are described as they’re brought out but you don’t see the actual menu descriptions till the end of the meal—which means you really need to pay attention when the person serving the dish tells you about the components.

Before we got to the food we ordered a cocktail each. They don’t have a cocktail menu—you can either ask for a cocktail by name or indicate some preferences for their mixologist to construct something from. I asked for an Old Fashioned and received an excellent example. The missus asked for something involving citrus and vodka and received a vodka Gimlet that she really liked. The cocktails arrived after that first palate-cleansing/setting course of a bowl of warm squash broth. This was poured as ostentatiously as the hen broth had been in 2020 with a few drops of oil (birch leaf in this case) added via a dropper just as it had been in 2020. More to the point, the broth was not under-seasoned this time and we both liked it a lot. We also liked very much all three of the small bites that followed. Our pick of the three was the Ossetra caviar which worked wonderfully with the celery root and crab apple gelee it was sitting on.

The next course was a take on panzanella. It was composed very well and the fromage blanc that accompanied it was excellent. But the tomato was just fine—very far from the best possible at this time in Minnesota: I’m still eating heirlooms from my garden that I picked before they were fully ripe ahead of last week’s killing frost and so far they’ve all been markedly better than the one in this panzanella. The panzanella was followed by a course that featured a slaw of sweet cabbage with crabapple miso and sorrel matched with a tempura oyster, all sitting on oyster cream. Our oysters were somewhat small compared to most of the ones we saw heading to other diners (one of the features of counter seating around the kitchen is you can see the past, present and future of your meal all at once) and disappeared a bit into the batter. But we loved the cabbage and the oyster cream, so not very many complaints from us.

The next four savoury courses were more robust. First up was a plate that featured a pairing of daurade and lobster tail. The interplay of the textures (soft and crisp) and flavours (sweet and oily) of the main characters was very nice; the sauce they were sitting on and the broccolini (with some sort of crumble on it) on the side may have been even better. This was followed by the missus’ favourite course of the night: agnolotti stuffed with polenta and served atop an emulsion of taleggio cheese and brown butter—also present was some roasted caulini (caulini seems to be the new black at American fine dining restaurants). I liked the agnolotti too but I didn’t like the last two pieces of pasta as much as I did the first two (the polenta got a bit cloying for me). The next course was my favourite and it featured very intricately stuffed and roasted pheasant breast. The pheasant was cooked perfectly and the porcini, fig and potato pavé alongside it on the plate were just as good in their own right.

I fear I was less enthused by the final savoury course, which was clearly the designated showstopper. As you will get a sense of from the slideshow below, this meal included as many flourishes of presentation as our 2020 meal had: it’s not just the food you’re paying for at Demi, it’s also the theater. In the case of this last course, first a plate containing unspecified veg and a wooden platter with just a sharp knife is set down at the other end of the counter. The chef then brings over an attractive round of roast pork coppa and a small copper pot that contains sauce, The coppa is then cut in two, salted, placed on the plate next to the veg—which you are now told is eggplant, two ways with roasted shishito peppers—sauced and served. All very dramatic but, alas, the texture of the pork disappointed. It had been cooked sous vide and then seared. It looked very good but the texture was spongy. I note here that we had the same issue with the beef cheek at the 2020 dinner that was prepared along similar lines. The veg on the plate were once again excellent.

And so, on to dessert. Before it showed up we were asked if we’d like any coffee or tea. The missus passed on coffee; I was interested in tea but none of the options bar the Earl Grey (aka demon juice) seemed to actually have tea in them. (Why is it that restaurants like Demi offer very specific coffee but can’t give you a decent Darjeeling tea?) Also prior to the arrival of desserts proper we were given cups of very ncie warm mulled cider as a palate cleanser. The desserts themselves were excellent. I don’t think Diane Moua is still the pastry chef but whoever conceived of both the caramel apple with peanut brittle and the financier (with apricot at its core), served with tonka bean ice cream, raspeberries and poached nectarines, knows what they’re doing.

To close, some of their signature rice krispie treat and a selection of mignardises. They also kindly brought over a little poppy seed torte (at least I think that’s what it was described as) with a candle in it for the missus. I hate to be churlish but while we appreciated the gesture this didn’t really do it for us and also felt a bit stodgy/heavy at the end.

Oh yes, I also resisted the temptation of a wine pairing this time. Instead I got a glass of white wine after I got done with my cocktail. They don’t have a menu of wines by the glass but are happy to pour from what’s open. I asked if they had any off-dry Rieslings and was given tastes of two. I chose the Thornicher Ritsch Kabinett 2020 and it worked well with most of the dishes I drank it with.

For a look at the restaurant and the food, please launch the truly excessive slideshow that follows. Scroll down for thoughts on service and to see how much the meal cost.

Service was again very good—present without being overfamiliar. I will note, however, one instance of one of my pet peeves at fine dining restaurants: a server telling me how great I’m going to think something they’re setting down is (a. how about you let me decide if I like it?; b. you mean the other stuff isn’t as good?). Chef Kaysen showed up for a few minutes, by the way. He touched a few things in process, delivered a few plates to diners, smiled at everyone and he was gone. He does have the kitchen running very smoothly with this light supervision. Speaking of the kitchen, one of the other effects of a counter around an open kitchen is that it’s very apparent that the kitchen at Demi is all-male (and on the night we were there, also all-white, I think), with women seemingly represented only in the front of the house.

Price? The meal itself had been paid for at the time of booking, along with tax and a 21% hospitality. The drinks were $15 apiece for the cocktails and $20 for the glass of wine (a markup of 300%, I think, which is pretty good for wine at a restaurant like Demi). That plus tax and additional hospitality charge and the grand total came to about $435 or just about $217/head. Which means we paid about the same at this meal as we had in 2020 despite not drinking as much and not succumbing to the lure of truffles.

Was it worth it? Well, again, everything was exquisitely put together and many of the dishes were very good indeed. But very few transported us—nothing hit the heights of the chilled corn soup at Alma last month. It’s also the case that the large number of courses created a bit of palate fatigue. And I’m not sure that much of a compositional through-line in terms of flavours and sequencing came through for me. Indeed, quite apart from the spongy texture of the pork, I found that course not as distinct from the pheasant before it as I would have liked. And while you certainly don’t want to leave a $217/head meal feeling hungry, this also felt like it was a bit too much food. Knock a course or two off and drop the price a bit and I’d be happier. Still, I suppose that for all but the very wealthy a meal at Demi is a special occasion splurge and a bit of excess may be appreciated in that context.

Would we go back again? Probably not next year but maybe in the height of summer in 2024. We’ll certainly go back to their sibling restaurant Spoon & Stable before then.

Okay, what’s next from the Twin Cities? Probably an account of far more affordable food eaten on Lake St. in Minneapolis. And maybe this coming weekend I will actually round out my Kauai reports and get started on my Ireland reports, as I’ve been threatening to do for a while.


 

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