The new entrance to the twinned spaces of L'Etoile and its sister restaurant, Graze, gives you a hint of what each restaurant is like. The L'Etoile nameplate is a copper sheet with the name and a starburst etched on it, while Graze is announced via bold capitals routed into restored barnboard. Both restaurants pick up on local, rural decorative touches, and while L'Etoile goes the elegant white tablecloth route, Graze takes the farm to a modern, industrial-style table.
"It's come so far in a week," says L'Etoile maitre'd Nic Waerzeggers. "It really speaks to how a space can be transformed." Two days earlier,walls were still being painted. But at 2 p.m. on the day the new L'Etoile is to open, the tables are all beautifully set, and the voices of the chefs waft out from the kitchen.
One thing that's not all set is the menu, which is still undergoing some changes, but a prototype featured first courses of sweet corn chowder, bison carpaccio, and a duck confit; the mid courses a foie gras torchon, grilled octopus, veggie risotto, and organic heirloom tomatoes; and third courses Sylvan Meadows lamb, Fountain Prairie dry-aged rib-eye and a something noted only as "vegetarian entree." Chef Tory Miller says he's trying to center the menu on an amuse bouche, three courses and dessert and yet keep the evening's cost affordable, around $65.
The room seats only 8 more people than the former L'Etoile dining room, but "it's roomier," says Waerzeggers.
Miller concurs, noting that the large floor to ceiling glass windows -- walls, really -- in the front of the room make the biggest difference, since now all the tables have virtually the same view of the Capitol, whereas in the old dining room only four tables had the view, and those were the ones everyone clamored for.
The room's center is occupied with a spacious horseshoe-shaped bar, where people can also eat dinner but also reserve blocks of four seats for a dinner. The base of the bar is formed from the material of an old barn silo, yet it fits in with the overall elegance of the space. Most of the tables can be configured for two, four, or larger parties, but there are two larger, round booths that flank the stairs.
These stairs lead to the most dramatic space in the room. Behind what looks like the traditional arch of a theater, sequestered off behind a lush curtain, is a space that will be used for private dining and events like wedding receptions, or even overflow dining on busy nights. Waerzeggers doesn't rule out any use of the space, even music, or theater, at this point.
Chef Miller reports that L'Etoile's Tuesday night suppers will be returning, but on Sunday nights and over in the Graze space, with all of the L'Etoile and Graze chefs taking responsibility for one Sunday a month.
Across the hall at Graze, they're not ruling anything out at this point either, even DJs -- someday -- but for now, one thing at a time.
Starting next Wednesday, the gastropub will be open starting at 7 a.m., but for the time being the staff is starting with dinners only. However, they will also be serving baked goods at the outside patio space during the farmers' market on Saturday. Eventually, Miller would like Graze to stay open until bartime and serve food until 1 a.m.
Graze will also soon serve a wine from San Francisco on tap, which will offer a good price point and avoid a lot of waste and the excessive use of bottles, says manager Talish Barrow.
At Graze, the aesthetic is truly barn-meets-industrial, with farm-accessory fixtures -- dairy barn-vent ceiling lights, cast-guard sconces, a polished concrete bar -- one of the three kitchens on site is even visible through a window.
The menu is focused on comfort food, whether that's American or Asian or from someplace else, says Miller. Starters will include a gussied-up popcorn, deviled eggs, pork buns and housemade pickles; diners can move on to fried chicken and waffles, burgers, chopped liver toasts, house charcuterie, mac 'n' cheese, steak, wedge salads and beet salads.
"I want to get people considering the word 'graze' with their options," says Miller.
Desserts follow the comfort theme -- hot fudge sundae, pie a la mode, cookies and milk, and snow cones with homemade syrups.
One of the things Miller is most excited about is that he doesn't have to be limited in scope by a fine-dining aura. "I'm both of these places," he says, beaming.