Kenwood has found itself a clubhouse. From the looks of it, no one in the neighborhood owns a stove, so they gather nightly (daytimes, too) at the new Kenwood café across the street from the school where they’ve just picked up their kids, or attended in their childhood, as testified by class photos on the walls.
In other words, Doug Saunders has created his own retirement fund. He’s the talented chef/owner behind In Season in South Minneapolis and before that, the now-shuttered Fugaise. He not only is schooled in how to cook — we knew that! — but how to shop, and that means mostly seasonally and locally (minus the shrimp and oysters we inhaled).
And a welcoming clubhouse it is. Designer Jim Smart has called on his Scottish ancestry to re-imagine a Highlands lodge, clad in taupe and charcoal plaid stretching to the high ceiling, which shields an open kitchen facing butcherblock tables warmed by multitudes of small-paned windows.
The scene is the highlight of the experience, backed by outgoing, informed servers and, of course, the food. Which is good indeed, if not clear-my-calendar-I’m-never-leaving great. Boomers enjoyed their entrees ($17–22), children (and plenty of their parents) chomped the destined-to-be-famous burger (pork belly, gruyere, fried egg), while the rest of us commanded a series of small plates ($12 range).
We started with another signature — duck offal cigars, fashioned from the parts remaining on the cutting board after the Wild Acres entrées were sliced — thus, bits of leg confit melded with organ meats, emitting a powerful liver-y taste (I love liver, but this rendition is not for the faint of palate).
Next, we hit upon the gnocchi — petite potato-dough marbles given a crispy contrast with a dusting of semolina, then tossed with a gloss of pesto along with bits of pickled tomato and soft, smooth dollops of chevre. Swell.
The spiced blue prawns, however, proved bland and — worse — mushy, resting on tufts of frizzled kale, beet chunks and a painting of curry vinaigrette, which failed to come together. Next up, a wild mushroom tart, the hit of the evening with its siren song of earth duetting with unctuous pork belly, sweetened by an onion soubise, and topped with a gently-poached egg.
We segued to the sandwich list ($9–14) for a go at the fried oyster number — a trio of robustly sweet and almost-liquid globes caged in deepfrying batter, then paired with more of that beyond-wicked pork belly and some sweet-and-sour cabbage on a bun licked with a mustard aioli. Alas, it reads better than it delivers; it’s heavy-handed and merely okay.
To finish, choose from housemade sweets ($6–8), Izzy’s ice cream or a cheese plate. We opted for the sweet corn crème brulee — but you’re wise not to. Out came a puddingy and unremarkable rendition imprisoned in thick burnt-sugar armor. Next time, the chocolate-ginger pot de creme over which the folks at the next table were swooning. Oh, and if you’re dissatisfied with Don’s choices, the menu offers an option: “Bring your own fox and we’ll grill it.”