Excellence and the pursuit of excellence are what move a society forward. The dreamers, the inventors, and the creators push us beyond the walls of possibility. We experience this in many parts of life: an unforgettable Bruce Springsteen or Beyoncé concert; the Viking’s “Minneapolis Miracle;” or getting to eat at Gavin Kaysen’s new tasting-menu restaurant, Demi.
Demi bucks all the food trends: casual, lower-cost, food trucks, grab-and-go. This is sit down, eat what the chef has selected, drink the wines they pair with each course, buy a ticket in advance, and spend between $95 and $125 for the food alone. After tax and service charges, standard or reserve level wine pairings can send your total bill close to $300.
It’s worth every penny.
Creative, beautiful platings. Dishes with heart and soul and story. Ingredients grown on the farms of the chefs’ friends or relatives. Kaysen has gathered the talent from his other restaurants and invited them to take their creativity to the next level.
From your first step into Demi, you know you’re about to experience something unlike anywhere else in town. You enter a tiny bar area, and draw from a custom deck of cards to create your cocktail flavor profile. Behind a velvet curtain, there’s a gleaming chef’s counter: just 20 seats, arranged in a squared-off U shape.
Every meal starts with a bowl of broth—made with peas and mint in early spring—to cleanse the palate and prepare for what’s next. Except how do you prepare for what appears to be a quail egg sitting atop a bird’s nest? The egg is actually a custard made from hay milk; it’s topped with Russian sturgeon caviar, and it’s an incredible bite.
The chefs engage all of your senses. One unforgettable course was a representation of the transition from winter to spring. First, a bowl filled with ferns and flowers and wood is doused with dry ice—activating an intense aroma of the forest. Then, chef Kaysen (who is often there working) brings out another bowl with smoked trout stuck beneath a thin layer of ice. He gets out a kitchen torch and melts the ice, releasing a lovely lemon verbena dressing. Such drama! What could have been totally pretentious and ridiculous came across as charming, largely because the team at Demi is so incredibly friendly.
This is casual, laid-back, high-end fine dining. Demi is made up of an all-star team of about a dozen people from Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable and Bellecour, including chefs Adam Ritter and Thony Yang. Sometimes a chef brings you the next course, sometimes it’s a server. Ask them questions! You don’t get the menu until you’re done, so you can give yourself totally to the experience. But that means you might not know what turbot is, or coppa, or nettle mustard. The chefs explained without derision or mockery, but with joy. That friendly vibe makes this unlike any other tasting-menu restaurant I’ve visited.
The wine pairings are Tristen Pitre’s doing, and the former somm from Spoon and Stable does a fantastic job with both the $75 Demi pairing and the $105 reserve. We had nine glasses, which probably added up to a little less than a full bottle of wine. Is the reserve worth the extra $30? You get Cru Champagne instead of a French sparkling; a 10-year Madeira instead of a five-year; and some cult wines that geeks will adore. But the regular pairings were delightful, taking us on a trip through Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy.
It feels strange saying that the sauces are what really stand out—who goes to a restaurant because the sauces are amazing?—but the sauces are amazing. Spanish turbot, a halibut-like flatfish, was served in an artichoke-and-pea ragu. Chicken got a black-truffle mayo. Octopus was served with civet, a gamey sauce thickened with blood, where red currants punched up the acid, resulting in an earthy, rich, citric delight. And you get the perfect sponge in a dumpling-like wheat bun. (It’s a nod to a dish Kaysen used when he competed on Iron Chef America).
Desserts are pastry chef Diane Moua at her absolute best. Her chocolate crémeux was our 15th appropriately sized course. (We did not feel overstuffed.) It looked like modern art: the cookie cigar, filled with chocolate, topped with a delicate crunchy orange candy, garnished with a dollop of beeswax ice cream. Then came the mignardises: small, one-bite desserts, like a mini-macaron, a chocolate, or a caramel.
Demi is an exceptional restaurant, accomplishing something new and worthy. It celebrates the food of our home, and elevates it. It makes you feel comfortable turning over total control to a team of artists. And it makes fine dining and incredible technique, fun.
212 N. Second St., Minneapolis
Required; each month’s seats open on the first of the month at noon
Wednesday-Sunday, 5-10 p.m.
Pretty much everything, from dishes to décor to staff