Have you gone to Skogen Kitchen yet?”
“You’ve got to get to Skogen Kitchen. I’ll take you there myself.”
“Get there. You must. You have to.”
And we did. Yes, we did.
On a Thursday night, my coworker and I took the short drive from Rapid City to Custer to see what all of the intense recommendations were about. We pulled up to the charming sign and saw through the window how intimate the eatery was with under a dozen tables.
We entered and were greeted by general manager Eliza Belland at the front. The atmosphere vibes were felt instantly when we were seated next to a party of five cozied up in the corner. They were all splitting a bottle of wine with smiles stretched across their faces and laughter escaping their lips. An adorable couple also had glasses of wine on our other side and were trying dish after dish on what appeared to be date night.
After looking it up after hearing so much about Skogen Kitchen, I read it was a chef-driven concept by couple and work duo Belland and Chef Joseph Raney. The couple met in Southern California and have an extensive history in the restaurant industry. They named it Skogen as an homage to their heritage and surroundings, as it means “the forest” in Norwegian.
As we looked around, we loved that all servers wore denim aprons. We then noticed the bar stools facing the kitchen were draped with lamb skin. And just then our menus were brought to us on an assortment of clipboards. The attention to detail was already noticed before the meal began.
Our charming server read off the specials for the evening. The first special soon hit our table: Wellfleet Oysters. Now, I’m not sure if you recall from the October review of Jambonz Deux, but my tablemate and I are leery of oysters. They are very hit and miss, and we are “texture people” (trust me, I rolled my eyes at myself when I wrote that). These beauties were from Provincetown, Mass.
We counted to three like children and shot the first oyster. It slipped smoothly into our mouths, and we tasted the green apple mignonette. The flavors literally rolled off of our tongues. Our server informed us the other flavor was fermented balsamic. Fennel topped off the kickoff to a foodie journey.
First plate cleared (in both ways from the oysters being devoured to the actual plate), and the second plate hit the table. It was also a special: Hamachi (yellowtail from Japan). This was served with grapefruit, yuzu kosho buttermilk sauce, black garlic puree, and dill. My tablemate’s eyes showed terror, but she never actually said anything, and took her first bite. We both kept getting food goosebumps. The garlic is from another world, and I want to live there. All of the different flavors had the perfect balance. Her eyes soon changed to devotion.
The third meal was another exhibit of how, though it’s an homage to their Norwegian heritage, they offer dishes from other cultures as well. Piquillo Peppers were served with pine nuts, goat cheese, golden raisins, balsamic pearls, and local honey. Again, they were a lot of ingredients I would never normally eat together.
Balsamic pearls. Those two words have changed my life. The chef makes them in-house, and not only do they taste good, but the presentation is a feast for the eyes. Per usual, goat cheese and pine nuts were heaven as a combo, and the honey added sweetness. I liked that the raisins added a soft crunch.
Moving on to the last meal, I actually feel genuine sadness as I write about it. Our fourth, and final dinner plate, was the Suckling Pig. This was served with torched balsamic, butternut squash, and shaved green apple.
“I’m welting up. I think I’m going to cry,” my tablemate said, her eyes watering.
The server tried to comfort our food feelings and told us the chef puts the skin on top of the dish and bakes it on top, giving it a crispy perfection. He also creates his own torched balsamic meringue. Warning: Do not get greedy like I did and dip into the meringue too fast. I was so sad when it was gone, as it completed the symphony of flavors.
As I explained to the server (who didn’t ask), that I will dream of this dish, it was time for dessert. Dessert one: Double Chocolate Tart. This was paired with lingonberries and whipped cream. It was a fun surprise to find the whipped cream had a hint of lemon in it, which switched up bites in a fun way. Second was the Salted Caramel Pudding with whipped cream and toffee crumble. It was a salty delight and would have vanished if we hadn’t feasted like it was our last meal.
The quaint eatery offers fresh, local, and innovative options for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. This meal will go down in one of the top 10 restaurant experiences in my life. Whether it’s a date, an evening or brunch with friends, or to indulge by yourself, you will regret it if you don’t go. See. Now I’m that person telling anyone I can find to go. And now I see why.
General manager and front of house Eliza Belland treats you as if you’re in her home and kitchen. Belland will stop by each table to get to know guests and to help answer any questions or details on the drinks and cuisine. She described it best when she stopped by our table: “We just want to take people on an adventure, and everyone wants to have fun with food.”
Everything was so well thought out. The denim aprons, the cow stools, the lambskin draped over the kitchen bar, the clipboard menus, and the artwork were intentional. The best part? Belland and Raney’s personal touch by visiting with guests and making them part of the family. This is another prime example of keeping the venue small and hitting it out of the park with what you do best with every seat taken. I would recommend calling for a reservation to ensure you have a spot.
It blew my mind that everything was so amazing and so affordable. Breakfast items range from $7-$15 (and these are not your ordinary pancakes or french toast). Ready for this? The priciest item on the menu is the 14 oz. Ribeye for $35. The Suckling Pig was $25, the Hamachi was $17, the Piquillo Peppers were $12, and our desserts were $6.
This was truly an experience. To make the most out of it, definitely plan to stay for a few hours, drink some great wine, and try as much as your stomach will allow. The flavors are so different than any South Dakota restaurant I’ve been to, and each dish is unforgettable. The Suckling Pig will forever stay in my memory, and if my schedule allows, I will drive there. I can’t wait to try their breakfast.
Rating Scale: Ambiance ++++ | Average Price Per Meal: $—$10 & under; $$—$20 & under; $$$—$30 & under; $$$$—over $30 | Taste ++++
It’s the Facts
Belland and Raney have worked and learned from some of the best companies in the industry, such as Disney and Patina Restaurant group.
Breakfast hours are Friday-Saturday 7-11 a.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. – noon. Dinner hours are Wednesday-Saturday 5-8 p.m.
Their sweet and savory pancakes are named after people the couple love. For example, Cami includes strawberries, Nutella, peanuts, lemon cream, and maple.