QUEEN OF CUISINE: Clubhouse deluxe

BY CARLA WALDEMAR

The Kenwood
2115 W. 21st St.
at W. Lake of the Isles Pkwy
612-377-3695
www.thekenwoodrestaurant.com

Call it the Kenwood Arts District: On a single block on 21st Street at Kenwood Avenue reside an art gallery, indie bookstore and cult restaurant, the Kenwood. And from the looks of its dining room, no one in the neighborhood owns a stove. Instead, they gather nightly (brunch/lunch too) at the café across the street from the so-named grade school where they’ve just picked up their kids, or attended in their childhood. It’s a clubhouse, all right, but membership is open, and eagerly welcomed here.
In other words, Chef/patron Doug Saunders has created his own retirement fund. He is not only 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). Game meat for the adventurous, pot roast for the rest of us.
And a welcoming clubhouse it is. Designer Jim Smart has called on his Scottish ancestry to re-imagine a Highlands lodge, clad in plaid of taupe and charcoal hues stretching to the high ceiling, which shields an open kitchen facing butcher block tables warmed by multitudes of inviting, small-paned windows.
The scene is 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 ($17-40), children (and plenty of their parents) chomped the deservedly-famous burger (pork belly, gruyere, fried egg, $16), while others satisfied their hunger with the pulled pork or smoked turkey sandwiches or  commanded a series of small plates ($12-15 range).
We started with a  longtime signature—duck 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, providing a pungent liver-y taste (I love liver, but even I judge this rendition as robust). We paired it with an order of fried oysters ($13)—addictively sweet, almost-liquid globes caged in light batter, deep-fried, then accented with a suave, curry-mined aioli.
Or start with grilled sardines plated with couscous, orange, fennel and saffron; a creamy soup of pureed celery root infused with sweet apples and sweet-savory hazelnuts and deepened with brown butter. Find your way among several inventive salads, too.
The half-dozen entrees seem well-chosen both to suit Chef Doug’s skills and give everyone at the table something to rave about, whether it’s the wild boar favoring the pappardelle’s ragu or venison loin paired with Brussels sprouts and savory pancetta balanced by sweet chestnuts—worth ordering to see what that red-wine/chocolate jus is all about (sounds like genius to me).
Instead, we summoned the shrimp, lightly poached in butter (!), then paired with broccolini, grapefruit and endive, a trio poised to balance the dish’s voluptuous richness. Then, a shared feast of short ribs partnering parsnips and sweet cipollini onions, elevated from grandma’s by another inspired Saunders touch: huckleberry sauce. (Add foie gras for $12, but who needs it here?)
To finish, choose from a quartet of house-made sweets ($10): frozen blood-orange parfait with Meyer lemon sherbet; chestnut crème brulee with prunes in cognac (swell marriage, but the main attraction on the pudding-y side); brioche bread pudding served with a stout/caramel sauce (bring a straw, it’s that good) plus coffee ice cream, a winner; and chocolate cake with bananas, pistachios and Bourbon ice cream.
For those dissatisfied with Don’s choices, the menu used to offer an option: “Bring our own fox and we’ll grill it.” No troublemaker I, I never tried it. But these days the menu states, “After the 4,683rd request, we finally caved.”
P. S.: Saunders is the sweetheart chosen to launch the new dining options in the greatly-missed and soon-to-be resurrected 510 Groveland location.

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