Mara is a study in contrasts—both posh and playful, the space fulfills beverage director Adam Witherspoon’s characterization as “a giant adult playground.” Chef Gavin Kaysen’s culinary focus spans the 22 countries with Mediterranean shorelines, but many of the ingredients are indigenous to Minnesota. Inspired by mentor Daniel Boulud’s New York restaurant Boulud Sud, the two-time James Beard Award-winning chef set out to reflect what he considers the three pillars of the Mediterranean: land, sea and craftsmanship. The results are pan-Mediterranean: Tzatziki and piperade couscous augment the salt-baked branzino and a scoop of labneh sorbet adorns the olive oil cake.
Meanwhile, Witherspoon has introduced the Twin Cities to ratafias, distillates made with Minnesota fruits, grains and herbs at 3Leche, his liquids lab in central Minnesota. “We have really amazing floral and flavor profiles that we are in the infancy of exploring now,” said Witherspoon, who’s especially proud of a cocktail called MadHAUS (elderberry, currant, hyssop, wild bergamot and gin) that “cuts through our lamb shank beautifully.” And of the mocktail Mara (non-alcoholic vermouth, elderberry, aronia berry and Seville orange). The wine-by-the-glass list includes a $125 pour of Dom Perignon but also a $17 Peter Lauer Mosel Riesling that Witherspoon loves with the labneh appetizer. The decor—sun-lit thanks to 14-foot windows, a color palette that reflects land and sea—fairly shouts “special occasion.” Once customers are seated, the experience gets even more special.
Bill Ward is the wine columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and his work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, the Columbia Journalism Review and other print and web publications. He won a James Beard Award in 2004 for a series on Italian regional cuisine.
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