Chef Adam Hegsted is a busy man these days. His Kendall Yard restaurant, Wandering Table, opened to rave reviews, but instead of resting on his laurels, Hegsted began growing a company that now employs 70 people and operates five establishments. Wandering Table, Yards Bruncheon, Gilded Unicorn, Eat Good Cafe, Le Catering and The Cellar are all his (and his investors). Hegsted took over The Cellar in May of 2015 and hit the ground running with almost an entirely new kitchen staff and a revamped, more affordable menu. With these changes, The Cellar has become one of the most popular eateries along Coeur d’Alene’s historical Sherman Street. >>
“We came in and made changes for the future of the business,” says Hegsted. “Lower prices made the menu more approachable and we brought in some new, very talented people who could keep quality high using only seasonal, natural, farm-fresh foods like fresh Steel Head from the Columbia River and cheese from Idaho-based Ballard Cheese Company.”
One of Hegsted’s smart hires was Chris Detar, a recent graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York. Chef Detar handles the day to day operations which frees up Hegsted to do what he does best: create unique menus, design pleasant places to dine and produce investment-viable restaurants. Long and short of it: he produces winners.
In regard to The Cellar’s retooled kitchen professionals, they’ve been together less than a year and are still working out a few kinks in the line. Think of a kitchen staff as a football squad. It takes time to build team unity around a common goal. In the case of a pro football team, its goal is going all the way. For a kitchen, its goal is consistently excellent food. Hegsted is well on his way to building a Super Bowl contender, but reviews on the web talk about just that, a lack of consistently excellent food. My feeling is: it’s on its way!
The food will also need to grow to meet the lofty expectations when you first walk through the glass doors. The restaurant is housed in a spectacular space. With its sleek, modern design, high ceilings, open kitchen and brick oven as well as three separate floors, The Cellar is a comfortable, roomy place to dine (and to party). Music is often jazz or blues played live and to a packed house. The night I was there, the Deuces Wild Blues Band performed.
The Cellar’s wine selection is magnificent as well. True to the establishment’s name, they really do have a subterranean, climate-controlled security glass and access-code enclosed room for their vast collection (estimates fluctuate from two to over three thousand bottles at any one time). The Cellar’s wine program is the cornerstone of the restaurant (Wine Spectator has honored them three years in a row). Adding to the restaurant’s cool factor, The Cellar has custom made, Italian, self-serve wine machines that allow you to purchase wine by the ounce instead of having to pay for an entire bottle. This is a great option for those who want to get adventurous and sample more expensive wines.
My evening at The Cellar began modestly with a glass of their house Cab ($5) and Chef Detar’s not so modest maple roasted, bacon wrapped dates and whipped goat cheese ($2). He, ladies and gentlemen, knocked the ball out of the park with this dish. The Medjool dates were delicately crisp, meaty and lightly sweet along with the rich, creamy flavor profile of the goat’s milk sent my taste buds over the top and through the roof.
Next up, I ordered two of the kitchen’s specialties: Miso Roasted Steelhead ($17) and Paella ($24). The salmon came over a bed of flavorfully spiced, charred cabbage and was topped with an ultra-thin pastry commonly used in Greek cuisine called phyllo; it resembles strudel for those of you not familiar with this particular pastry. The salmon itself, was prepared medium rare and came out of the kitchen hot. The sweet smell of the miso sauce rising from the orangey omega fatty acid-rich meat complimented nicely the spices Detar uses when roasting.
Paella was next. It’s listed on the menu as Northwest Paella which more than any other dish, may embody The Cellar’s esprit as a house that prides itself on making a style of food, they call “Modern Northwest Cuisine.” The paella has all Northwest-sourced seafood, a locally-sourced chicken leg confit and a house made chorizo over the traditionally made saffron rice and seasonal vegetables. With the most expensive plate on the menu under $25 and the least expensive a $13 pizza, dinner entrees are “approachable.”
Hegsted has also brought over to The Cellar from Wandering Table his chef’s tasting menu. Tell the chef how much you wish to spend per person and he will guide your meal to the best, seasonally farm fresh ingredients and take you on a tasting tour of all that The Cellar offers. The meal is served family style and ranges from $30 to $50 per person.
The Cellar is located at 317 E. Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’ Alene, ID, and is open daily 4 p.m. to close, (208) 664-9463, www.thecellarcda.com