Stillwater’s Revé Bistro and Bar Flourishes under Manager and Head Chef Mike Willenbring

Revé Bistro and Bar in Stillwater is advertised as “new American fare,” but its name is French for “dreamt.” It’s fitting, says Carol Stabenow, who owns the restaurant with her two sons, Matt and Nate, because it was a dream of her husband, Mark, to open a restaurant with his boys. “My husband loved to cook. He and our sons dreamed about Revé for a long time,” she says. Unfortunately, Mark died in 2009 before Revé moved from dream to reality.

But move it did. The bistro opened in October 2009 on Stillwater’s Main Street, and like any good dream, keeps growing and changing. Now in its new location (since November 2014) at 200 E. Chestnut St. in Stillwater, it is flanked by Carol Stabenow’s clothing store, Sash, and her sons’ clothing store for men, Matt & Nate: Men’s Life Style. “[Their store] has the same initials as their dad’s name” says Carol (Mark’s middle name was Lee). It works kind of well to have three family businesses functioning nearly side by side, she says.

With all three owners busy with their own ventures, the honor of operating the restaurant most days, therefore, is reserved for Revé manager and head chef Mike Willenbring, who was brought on staff in December 2011. “I instantly felt like I was part of their family and have loved working for them over the past five years,” he says. Willenbring, whose extensive resume includes “staging” (restaurant-speak for a short stint of work) in such places as Minneapolis’s Sea Change and La Belle Vie, appreciates the trust and the creative freedom the Stabenow family offers.

And Willenbring’s got more than a few ideas and recommendations from the Revé winter menu. High on his list is airline duck breast (around $25), a presentation that gets its name from the wing being still attached to the bird when served. Look for squid-ink pasta ($16–$25) and a trendy roasted bone-marrow appetizer (about $9). Certain to remain on the menu through the winter are Revé favorites beef Wellington ($40) and risotto with blue cheese asparagus, grilled sirloin and a red wine reduction (about $24). Always popular is the chef’s tasting menu, a five-course meal that Willenbring describes as a “surprise to the guests.” Each course comes with its own wine pairing. Desserts are made by the culinary team; the quadruple-chocolate mousse cake ($8) is a top-seller.

On bar, Willenbring favors wine varieties like Barbera and Barolo—“Italian wines have been taking off,” he says. “They’re good for the holidays, and for steak dinners.” Revé also features many local beers, like Bent Paddle, Surly and Fulton. Cold-weather varieties might include oatmeal or millet stouts.

Willenbring’s role at Revé is fitting, as he and his wife grew up in Stillwater and now both live and work in town. “I didn’t expect to live in my hometown as an adult,” he muses, but likes Stillwater’s historic downtown. His family—including a new daughter, Madalyn—lives in a house built in the 1880s, and he enjoys the many projects an older home provides. “Everything’s close here,” he says. “It’s a small-town feel in a large city.”