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La Belle Vie

By Lavender September 25, 2008

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Sometimes, things happen for a reason. My dining partner was running late, and I was encouraged to have a drink in La Belle Vie’s lounge until his arrival. As I was sipping my tempranillo, admiring the interplay between masculine chandeliers and intricate crown moldings, and mentally plotting out a paragraph or two, I decided to abandon work for a moment.

Roasted poussin with sweetbread ravioli, baby carrots, and shallots. Grilled lamb loin with chanterelle mushrooms, farro, curry, and roasted garlic. Sautéed langoustine with sweet corn flan and shellfish broth. Sautéed daurade with fresh porcini mushrooms, burgundy truffles, and red wine. Photos by Mike Hnida

Perhaps it was the wine talking, but it was a servant worth listening to, for then, my eye caught her—truly one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Her hair was a brilliant white, and bobbed below a pointed chin. Her neck was long and thin, with a neat strand of pearls resting at her throat. She was seated between two equally elegant gentlemen who were fully engrossed in their lamb burgers. Their conversation was lost to the murmur of the bar crowd and the clinking of glassware. But as she threw her head back to laugh—a rich, melodious laugh without apology or affectation—I found myself transfixed.

This, then, is La Belle Vie.

Having had the pleasure of dining at many of the Twin Cities’s finest establishments, I found a difference in tone at La Belle Vie. Absent are the brash Minneapolitan hipsters, clad in blazers and ragged jeans. Absent, too, is the funky music and frantic service of a restaurant that mistakes distraction for destination. La Belle Vie, which moved to the Cities from its original home in Stillwater some years ago, is a place one comes to focus on spectacular food and the pleasure of good company. In contrast to the building’s 1920s architecture, the dining room is kept somewhat spartan. Though one may have a greater feeling of intimacy at, say, Bellanotte, La Belle Vie is the epicenter of special occasion dining.

Managing Director Bill Summerville says, “We have a lot of people celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and then, we also have our business clientele. They come because they don’t have to worry about the service or the wine when they’re here. They can focus on their clients.”

The service at La Belle Vie is impeccable and very human. If I would fault America’s eateries in general, it is usually that the service can’t measure up to the exacting standards of Europe.

At L’Esperance, the Burgundian hideout of Marc Meneau, I saw one waiter blanch at the sight of a small stain on his bleached apron, and race for the kitchen in abject horror. As I laughingly relayed that anecdote to my traveling companion, he replied, “But you do not understand. They could lose a star for that.”

Under the Michelin rating system, an establishment does not earn one star without being spectacular. Le Jules Verne restaurant at the Eiffel Tower has one. L’Esperance had three. It is rumored that French chefs have committed suicide over losing a star, so under the circumstances, the waiter’s distress was understandable. However, sometimes, one can feel the tension in that kind of service, and only a sadist would take pleasure in watching someone’s hands quake as he struggles to filet tableside.

I’m sure La Belle Vie’s seasoned staff has made their share of dining room gaffes, but it did not read on their faces. Their relaxed precision enabled my dining partner and me to focus entirely on the meal, enjoying course after course of Chef Tim McKee’s tasting menu and accompanying wine flight.

The menu changes frequently, according to McKee, so I would encourage readers to stop in soon to try the sautéed daurade with fresh porcini mushrooms, burgundy truffles, and beurre rouge.

I wouldn’t have expected a red wine sauce to go as swimmingly with fish, but it was exquisite.

McKee explains, “I wanted something with a deeper, richer flavor for that course, and it’s a classic sauce that not a lot of people use.”

The daurade is paired with a dry white wine, which is another unexpected triumph.

Summerville relates, “When we sit down, and go over the dishes and try wines, we’re shocked at how poorly some things go, and how well other things go.”

Not so shocking was how much I adored the lamb loin with chanterelle mushrooms, farro, curry, and roasted garlic; or the roasted poussin with sweetbread ravioli, baby carrots, and shallots.

The five-course tasting menu ($65) is a wonderful way to explore McKee’s cuisine, and the wine flight is a value at $40. The chef is quite willing to adapt any of his selections for a customer’s tastes or allergies.

If there is a caveat, it is this: One should allow plenty of time for an unhurried tasting experience. I passed a lovely three hours by choice, savoring McKee’s dishes and wine pairings at my leisure. But guests on a strict time budget would be advised to order from the main menu. Reservations are
recommended.

LA BELLE VIE
510 Groveland Ave., Mpls.
(612) 874-6440
www.labellevie.us

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