Wine and Food at Nokomis
Nokomis is nothing if not elegant. An enormous grandfather clock that used to be owned by Sinclair Lewis greets diners at the front of the restaurant, and the wine bar has an attractive granite countertop. In the main dining area, there are white linen tablecloths, candles, and subtle northwoods touches like carefully placed pinecones. So how does chef Sean Lewis want guests to feel when they come in?
“Comfortable…” Lewis says. “…and surprised.”
He says he wants the beautiful setting by the lake to make diners comfortable, along with the polite, friendly service and the elegant food. But one of the most important, and sometimes surprising, elements at Nokomis is the wine. When your restaurant has an attached wine bar, a retail wine shop, and Wine Scholar tasting sessions, you expect the chef to know a thing or two about the subject. And when Lewis is asked for his favorite picks off the current (extensive) wine list, he’s able to toss off names pretty quickly.
“I’m fond of the St. Gregory Pinot Noir, a lighter pinot with soft tannins, medium fruit,” Lewis says. “Very easy to drink.”
He also named Pichot Vouvray, a sweeter white wine with hints of apple and pear and longer finish, and Runquist 1448, a fuller bodied red with ripe fruits and soft tannins. But the thing he’s most proud of on the wine list isn’t a bottle at all, but the sheer variety. Nokomis stocks whites, reds, rosés, and sparkling wines from all over, and that selection is a point of pride.
“Our selection is pretty rounded out from Old World and New World—Old World meaning France, Italy, European; New World meaning United States, Australian, etc,” Lewis says. “I think the ones by the glass speak for themselves.”
Of course, all wine and no food do not a good restaurant make. The menu at Nokomis reflects the same variety as the wine list, with unusual and creative meats and vegetables in constantly changing combinations.
“I changed the menu every two weeks until summer hit,” says Lewis. “I just cut a big 80-pound halibut today.”
That halibut isn’t the only fish on the menu. At the time of this writing, it shared space with Scottish salmon (served with fingerling potatoes), a tempura smelt appetizer, and Lewis’ favorite spring dish, line-caught cod with asparagus and tender morel mushrooms. Later this summer, expect the local produce to increase, as Lewis has already laid the foundation for dishes based on fresh tomatoes and other seasonal treats.
“I have a grower that is growing fresh vegetables for me, so that will be interesting,” Lewis says. “I’m trying to deal with more local producers of various products and using those.”
Local or not, many of the dishes are fascinating. Rich, flavorful wild boar ribs are dolled up with a sweet riff on barbecue sauce, then plated with sticky dried fruit and crunchy banana chips. A daily omelet ranges from simple ham and cheese to creative combinations like blue cheese, salty bison pastrami, and escarole. The field salad comes with almonds, pear, and creamy chevre, and the sashimi tuna pizza boasts a mix of hoisin sauce, wasabi aioli, and olives. But even the desserts veer off the beaten path, with salted caramel crepes and a chocolate tart with amaretto mascarpone giving diners an intriguing way to end their meals.
“It’s not easy to identify some of the ingredients,” Lewis says. “But it’s simple enough in preparation. Diners don’t know what alba mushrooms are or romanesco but when they eat it they enjoy it.”