It’s exciting to see a new wave of restaurants opening up in the Twin Cities – and especially places with a little personality and style. Uptown may be turning into Updale, with the opening of chain restaurants like Primebar and most recently, Bar Louie, but elsewhere, things are looking up – first Maude’s in Loring Park, and now The Kenwood and Gray House.
The Kenwood is the talented Don Saunders’ newest venture. Each of chef Saunders’ previous restaurants has had a theme – Fougaise offered very refined contemporary French (unfortunately in a windowless space), and In Season, at 54th and Penn in the Armatage neighborhood, is upscale with a focus on sophisticated seasonal ingredients.
Refined and French go together very well, and so do sophisticated and seasonal. The challenge that Saunders takes on in creating The Kenwood is to combine refined and sophisticated with neighborhood – and from what I have tasted so far, he succeeds admirably. It’s a place where you can stop by for early morning coffee and pastries, have huevos rancheros or biscuits and gravy for brunch, or dine on cured salmon and Wild Acres duck in the evening. Or have burgers and fries for dinner and hangar steak with couscous for lunch.
The Kenwood’s versatility is impressive – the brunch menu is served daily Tuesday through Sunday, and offers both traditional breakfast and lunch items – poached duck egg on brioche with spinach and roasted tomato ($7) and biscuits and mushroom gravy ($11) side by side with a Limousin beef burger ($10 with fries or microgreens) or a pulled pork sandwich ($9). You can get that pulled pork sandwich for dinner, if you like, and you can order an entrée of sautéed skate with squash, cauliflower, brown butter and capers ($16) for lunch.
The decor performs the same feat, combining old wood and historical photos with clubby furnishing to create an aura of tradition and ease.
I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything that I have tasted so far on a couple of visits, from the crispy duck offal cigars and the wild mushroom tart ($14), to the fried oyster sandwich and the sautéed skate – an under-appreciated fish with a bit more texture and character than the usual restaurant selections. The Swiss chard cake with sweet corn and chanterelles also seemed more imaginative than the usual vegetarian entrees.
I have only dined once at the new Gray House, which opened recently in the former Risotto space at 610 W. Lake, and that was only a few days after they opened. Our experience was a bit uneven, but interesting, and I am intrigued enough that I plan to return. Gray House is a gastro-pub, our server informed us, and it felt like one – noisy, with a lively crowd at the bar, and a good selection of local craft beers.
Given the high decibel level and the casual ambience, it didn’t feel like the kind of place where I would want to spend $22 for roast chicken with seasonal vegetables, or $24 for steak and potatoes, but you can also spend less. The pastas and side dishes are offered in small and large portions, and I found the smaller version of the rigatoni with roasted chicken ($9/$16) quite generous, as was a side of chili braised kale with chanterelles and pecorino Romano. A couple of items might have been a bit over-done – e.g., the nightly special of brussel sprouts, and the crostini that accompanied our delicious tuna tartare.