A twofold occasion found myself and my husband Ed cruising to Bozeman and dining at Feast Raw Bar & Bistro. I had an early morning flight from Belgrade and didn’t want to chance icy winter roads. But more important, it was our anniversary. I knew I’d score a few brownie points with my mate/chauffeur by choosing Feast for dinner, as Ed relishes any food that comes from the ocean. With being able to choose among ceviche, raw oysters, salt-roasted oysters, poached shrimp, cioppino, and honey spiced salmon, he was going to be so happy he married me (at least on this day)!
My tendency towards consuming fish is limited to shrimp, crab, lobster, salmon, and halibut. Eating a raw oyster will never happen in my lifetime. So I rejoiced in the fact that Feast offers a diverse menu with some tantalizing choices that appealed to me, including elk chops with grilled prawns and pheasant breast stuffed with wild mushrooms.
Caroline Doern and Steve Kuntz are co-owners of Feast. “When you walk through the doors of Feast, you’re no longer in Montana,” Doern will say.
I agreed, imagining myself discovering this bistro on a quaint back street of Paris or London. The interior of Feast is a mix of nostalgia, retro and edgy.
My eye was drawn to the back bar, artfully constructed of 300 pieces of molding painted a shamrock green that blends well with the foliage-themed wallpaper adorning some of the walls. The carefully curated interior sets the stage for serving exceptional cuisine, starting with the best of sustainable seafood flown in fresh every day, along with locally sourced meats and produce.
Doern has an unbridled passion for food. She credits her grandmother, who hailed from the Deep South, being the inspiration for her love of being in the kitchen. “While other kids were watching cartoons, I was watching cooking shows. I would experiment in the kitchen when my parents weren’t home.”
Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, Doern followed her brothers out to Montana 23 years ago and worked in Yellowstone Natioanl Park during the summer of 1997. She made a permanent move to Montana in 1999, settling first in Gardiner, then eventually moving in 2002 to Bozeman, where she started a catering business. In March 2018, USA Today released a list of 50 outstanding female chefs in 50 states, and for Montana, the honor went to Caroline.
Kuntz, originally from Great Falls, moved to Bozeman to attend Montana State University. His path in life would lead him to Portland, Oregon, to train at the Western Culinary Institute, then on to San Francisco to study with some topnotch chefs for two years. He returned to Big Sky and opened Montana Epicurean, a catering company, and eventually worked his way back to Bozeman. As their paths crossed in the catering world, the two of them started kicking around the idea of opening a restaurant in Bozeman — something unique where their kitchen creativity could find a home.
They brainstormed ideas about creating a bistro that would give them free rein to create whatever suited their fancy, acknowledging that both had a worldly palate as it relates to food. The idea of a “raw bar,” something not found in Bozeman, was the anchor. Coming up with a name was challenging, but Feast Raw Bar & Bistro was the winner. Kuntz describes it best. “It’s both a noun and a verb. Feasting is what people do – coming together and sharing experiences over exquisitely prepared food.” Feast opened its doors in November 2014.
On our snowy anniversary night, I would have bet money that Ed would order half-dozen oysters and the cioppino, another favorite of his. But the striped sea bass special called his name, along with a half-dozen West Coast oysters.
I opted for the crispy Brussels sprouts, with gochujang honey, toasted peanuts, sliced red chili, lime wedge and sriracha aioli. All I could say was, “I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” This appetizer was beyond scrumptious. I didn’t want to share one bite, so I gave Ed the evil eye when he kept snagging those crispy sprouts with his fork.
For my entrée, I settled on pheasant breast stuffed with wild mushrooms, arugula au gratin, toasted pecans, smoked trout fritters, and chili carrot marmalade. With both Montana craft beers and a selection of wine from around the world available, we pondered what to drink but finally settled on a bottle of Adelsheim Pinot Gris from Oregon.
It was a perfect anniversary celebration — back in Bozeman, where we met as college students. We reminisced about those simpler days when Bozeman hadn’t yet gained the reputation of being one of the top places to live in the United States, and now is growing like gangbusters.
Keeping the selections creative is a trademark of Feast. Valentine’s Day is no exception with their four-course dinner, including scallop crudo, lobster Cobb salad, grilled bison tenderloin with king crab, and bittersweet chocolate tart. The courses will be paired with wines made specifically by female winemakers to accentuate Feast’s roster of female chefs.
Kuntz and Doern’s enthusiasm and passion for all things food have morphed into a marvelous gift for the Bozeman community with their Feast Raw Bar & Bistro, with the added bonus of supporting local producers. The restaurant industry is not an easy one to dive into, but Kuntz and Doern have set the bar high and are succeeding simply because of their love of food.
We’ll be back — those crispy Brussels sprouts are calling to me!
Donnie Sexton, who retired in 2016 after a long career with the Montana Office of Tourism, currently freelances as a travel writer and photographer, covering destinations around the world.
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