See more of the story

The Guthrie Theater's next dining act has made its debut.

The fifth-floor cafe space has become Ovation, a new French-leaning full-service restaurant that opened with "A Christmas Carol" in mid-November. It replaces buffet service.

The restaurant is open to the public, but hours are dependent on the Guthrie's schedule. On theater nights, dinner reservations run from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.

Ovation is just Act One for the Guthrie's dining options. The ground-level restaurant, formerly Sea Change, is expected to reopen with a different concept next year.

To oversee the building's new restaurant plans, the Guthrie brought in Northlands Consulting, which is made up of Bachelor Farmer alumni Jonathan Gans and Josh Hoyt. Their hospitality consulting group was involved last year with the development of the acclaimed Churchill Street in Shoreview.

Gans said he and Hoyt had about five weeks to pull off the Ovation opening. Gans, who was the Bachelor Farmer's executive chef when it closed, designed the menu; Hoyt, who was Bachelor Farmer's director of operations, handled the cocktail program.

"We had to finalize the menu and get graphic design done and get the room figured out and hire people and linens and training and all the stuff," Gans said. "So it was a good old restaurant opening push."

While anyone can dine at Ovation, the primary purpose of the restaurant is to provide a preshow dining option for theatergoers.

"It kind of always has been that, so we wanted to make it feel like a nice dinner, but still have it be comfortable and approachable — just simple food executed well," Gans said.

The menu is French comfort food, plus a wide selection of snacks such as a cheese plate and olives. There are salads and other vegetable dishes, sandwiches, and entrees including chickpea fritters and French-style gnocchi, chicken confit and steak frites.

As for the former Sea Change, Gans says the process of developing the new concept is still in its beginning stages. "But it won't be Sea Change," he said.

The Guthrie's downtown dining history began when its complex overlooking the Mississippi River opened in 2006, with Heartland chef Lenny Russo leading the farm-to-table restaurant Cue. La Belle Vie's Tim McKee took over when it became Sea Change three years later and remained involved. Over time, the restaurant became a workshop for top Twin Cities culinary talent, including chefs Jamie Malone (later of Grand Cafe), Erik Anderson (now a Michelin-starred San Francisco chef), Ryan Cook and Donald Gonzalez.

Gans previously told the Star Tribune that Sea Change's replacement will be a "neighborhood-centric place" that's "more approachable, more community-driven, more accessible."