Two area chefs are creating a downtown Rochester restaurant to offer "an eclectic mix of adventurous and innovative comfort food" in a historic building.
Chefs Erik Kleven and Erik Paulsen are fulfilling their dreams of opening their own place, the Bleu Duck Kitchen, by taking over the entire first floor of the 115-year-old Conley-Maass building at 14 Fourth St. SW. That's the brick building being renovated by owners Traci and Hunter Downs
"This is a great chance to break out on our own," said Kleven, currently the executive chef at Four Daughters Vineyard in Spring Valley.
Creating a 60-seat "New American Bistro"-style restaurant with a separate special events space in the Conley-Maas building is a particularly good fit, said Paulsen. who also worked at Four Daughters as Riverside on the Root and Vintage in Lanesboro.
"The building is in tune with we're doing," he said. "We're going to serve classic dishes with new novel twists. We want to make interesting, but approachable food."
That translates into possible menu items, like chicken roulade with waffle bread pudding stuffing, maple syrup and collard greens or ratatouille with parmesan funnel cake and hollandaise whipped potatoes. They plan to use fresh, locally grown ingredients.
If everything goes according to plan, the duo hopes to have the Bleu Duck cooking by mid- to late August. Kleven plans to wrap up his transition from Four Daughters. They expect to have a staff of 25 to 30 working at the Bleu Duck.
Rochester architect Adam Ferrari of 9 Square is designing the restaurant with an emphasis on "letting the historic building talk." The plan is for exposed brick, mute tones with an emphasis on the kitchen.
"We'll have the focus on a bright, clean, white kitchen at the center," said Paulsen.
A small "Chef's Counter" will located by kitchen. Customers sitting there will be served special, chef-chosen dishes.
The front portion of the main floor of the building will house the dining room, bar and kitchen. The back area will be used for special private events with room to seat up to 100 people.
The pair chose the name to represent an adventurous approach to cuisine. While they were both at Four Daughters, they would have "Blue Duck" days for the staff to experiment and try out new dishes and techniques. The name cames from the Adam Sandler move, "Billy Madison." As an adult in a first grade classroom, Sandler's character drew a blue duck, "because I've never seen a blue duck."
"We try to not take ourselves too seriously," said Paulsen.
The Conley-Maass renovation project has been lauded as an example of the kind of development that many hope Rochester's Destination Medical Center initiative attracts. The Downs see this new restaurant as being of the same spirit as their transformation of the older building into an innovative technology office center.
"We've been in discussions and talks with several interested parties about the space and it wasn't until we met the duo that we knew had the right match for the building," said Traci Downs.