MSP: La Belle Vie (whoo hoo!)
I usually go for lower-brow fare...Maverick's for Roast Beast, Univ. Ave. for Pho, etc... But Saturday night we pulled out the stops and splurged.
We started with some oysters at the bar at Oceanaire. Nice, but 1/3rd were gritty and they just didn't taste particularly fresh. They used to do it better. I went to Starfish in Toronto a few weeks ago and they were a lot better than Oceanaire. I'd say Oceanaire may have lost its' edge over McCormick & Schmick's, which is a damn shame. I gotta find another oyster bar in the Twin Cities.
Then we went for a late dinner at La Belle Vie. First time I've been. It's a huge improvement over 510, the restaurant it replaced in that "classic" building. The service was very smart. They were paying attention to us and how we were eating and drinking. The kind of service that appears as if by magic when we needed them and stays out of our way when we're having a conversation with our dinner companions. Knowledgable, engaged, not obsequious, just stellar, grown up, professional waitstaff.
We went for the 5-course tasting menu and the "sommelier" wine flight. The wines were very good. Well paired to the food, nothing stellar in terms of once-in-a-lifetime memorable pairings, but very good. Perhaps too good and too plentiful. We were a bit wiped out the next day. Some bubbly, I never remember them, but it was clean and tasty. A St. Innocent Chard, Freedom Hill Vineyard, I believe. A Grenache from the south of france that did NOT taste at all like a Grenache. More like a Mouvedre or Merlot. But good and worked with the food. An italian cab/merlot blend that worked well and Adelsheim white dessert wine.
The amuse bouche was a fried squash blossom with a fruit and vegetable reduction (reduced till it jellied) that was interesting and tasty.
The first course was a naked pea ravioli (I saw this on a show about El Bulli) with some kind of yellow foam and a piece of king crab. It was good. The pea thing really did taste like a concentrated fresh pea. The crab was decent, but not stellar (we were in Maine last week eating lobster, this crab was a bit stringy by comparison).
The second course was ... dourade seared till the skin was crispy. The fish was slightly overcooked for my taste, but most would consider it done properly. I cannot honestly recall everything it came with, but it was good.
Then some poussin (young chicken?) cooked very nicely followed by a beef course and then dessert.
It was very good. Reasonably priced for the quality of the food. Maybe a bit fancier than is my ususal preference, even for fancy food (I imagine I'll still go to Alma 5-10x as often as La Belle Vie and Vincent probably 2-3x as often as La Belle Vie), but I could see coming here once or twice a year. I recommend it if you're looking for fancy, Charlie Trotter-esque, Molecular Gastronomy influenced food...it's gotta be this or Cosmos.
We were at LBV a few days ago - an awesome meal; although not our favorite in the Twin Cities (that honor goes to Fugaise). Here is our review.
La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Ave
Rating (Scale 1-10, with 10 being the highest):
Recommendation: Excellent. Fresh off a second-straight James Beard nomination for best chef in the Midwest, Tim McKee shines and produces what is widely considered the best food in the Twin Cities.
Having just returned from our first trip to La Belle Vie (LBV) I was anxious to put my thoughts on paper (it is past midnight and the adrenaline is pumping). I’ll be honest; I wasn’t sure what to expect from LBV. I have two friends, both of who I respect because they know their food, and they recounted two diametrically opposite experiences from their last visits; one had a smashingly good time at LBV (read his review here), while the other wanted to smash his head against a wall (figuratively). As we were escorted to our seats, my heart was pumping fast; in anticipation of what was to come and from finally stepping into the hallowed halls of the dining area known as LBV.
You could drive right by LBV and not notice it – the exterior is non-descript (it’s actually part of a residential complex). When you enter the lobby, on the right is the LBV lounge…casual, contemporary and inviting. We were greeted right away and whisked away to the dining area. The space, with its mix of both traditional and contemporary design, evokes class and elegance. The walls are painted beige and there’s heavy use of intricate white trim as accents. But just as you’re soaking in the classic design, you’re hit with the modern – metal sculptures, abstract art, and clean lines of the tables and chairs. The whole room was nicely lit from the sunlight filtering through the sheer covered large windows.
The menu, at the hands of two-time James Beard nominee Tim McKee, has influences from France and the Mediterranean. He offers both a 5-course and an 8-course tasting menu, complete with wine flights (note that the tasting menu is served to the whole table). We went the 5-course route with a twist – we would add a Bouillabaisse as a 6th course. The wine list at LBV is spectacular, however it’s the non-alcoholic beverage list that really caught our eye…it’s a non-drinker’s dream. The Amethyst (blackberry syrup, sweet and sour, and sparkling water) was a sweet and bubbly concoction. The Petit Parlez-Vous (a pineapple raspberry martini topped with orange/passion fruit foam) belonged in a museum. If you’d prefer an (alcoholic) cocktail, we’d recommend the Tom Girl, a grapefruit vodka with pomegranate juice, pink grapefruit juice, cayenne and sea salt. The fruity overtones, from the fragrant grapefruit are followed by the delicate undertones of the spices. Oh, and in case you want wine, the Allegrini - Palazzo Della Torre ($49/bottle) is a nice inexpensive option.
As we were ready to start our gastronomic adventure, we were teased with an amuse of Fried Squash Flower with Ratatouille. The onions and tomatoes in the ratatouille had influences of Indian spices and were very familiar. Our first course was the Sweet Pea Panna Cotta with King Crab and Brown Butter Vinaigrette. A nice lump of sweet crab meat was the perfect way to start the meal – the cold panna cotta added a nice textural balance to the dish. The second course was a Sauteed Daurade with Ramps, Tomato and Rock Shrimp. It has been seared perfectly on one side and was served on homemade ravioli. We loved the texture of the crispy skin but the fish was a little too strong for us. Our next course was the Roasted Poussin with Caramelized Pork Belly, Broccoli Raab and Eggplant. As I put the first morsel of food into my mouth, I hear one of our fellow diners exclaim “how come my chicken never tastes this good!” The poussin had a crispy exterior, but was still moist and juicy and was sitting on a Japanese eggplant puree. Off to the side was a nice hunk of pork belly. Everything about this preparation was memorable…the texture and flavor combinations had our taste buds electrified.
We’re half way through our meal and then we made the decision to add the Bouillabaisse course. This fish stew was served with one piece each of mussel, clam, daurade, and sea scallop with a garlic-saffron aioli. We’re hit with a sharp bitter flavor with the first bite (I had a piece of the clam); others on our table got the same odd flavor. Once past the clam, the stew got better, although some of us had to contend with a dry daurade. We stirred in the aioli, and this took the soup to the next level…it took away the strong fishy smell and added creaminess to the base. Some people on our table liked the dish, but I don’t think we’d order it again. Our fifth course was the Beef Tenderloin with Morel Mushrooms, Jerusalem Artichokes and Forme D’Ambert. One bite, and you’re on the verge of a food orgasm. Served with both a white and a red wine reduction, and a mild blue cheese sauce, this tenderloin is the new standard for beef preparation. Just a few bites, and it’s done…we want more. But alas, precious things come in small quantities. As we recover from the food coma, we’re on to our final course, the Peach Brown Butter Cake with Grilled Peach Salad and Hibiscus Yogurt Sherbet. The second I read the description, I knew one of us (Natasha) wouldn’t be satisfied with the dessert (at the end of a meal like this, she needs chocolate). The cake had mild flavors and the sweet peaches gave off a sweet smell. It’s the pairing of the sour sherbet that takes this dessert to the next level, though. Although we’re done with our dessert course, I peruse the menu to see if I can find something decadent that will Natasha would fancy, but most of the desserts were fruit-based.
The food and ambience are just two of the three components that it takes to make a meal memorable. The service at LBV was impeccable. There’s a team of servers that float around the dining room effortlessly, taking meticulous care of each of the customers. This team works in unison – our bread and water is replenished quickly, they all smile and greet you genuinely, and it’s especially amazing how they precisely coordinate serving each course to the 5 diners. Our meal lasted the better part of three hours, but there weren’t awkward (or long) pauses. Bravo to the front of the house at La Belle Vie.
$$$$. A 6-course meal for two, with drinks, tax, and tip was $235.
I ate there last night and had a fantastic meal. I ate out in the lounge and had the tagliatelle with king crab. The pasta was cooked perfectly, was well seasoned and there was a decent amount in the bowl. I agree, the crab was a little stringy, but still good. I also ordered the scallops off the larger menu. They were seared perfectly (and I'm REALLY picky about how my scallops are prepared) and served atop cod cakes. I thought the cod overpowered the taste of the scallops a bit, but if you ate them separately, they were fantastic. Overall, very happy. The service was great, the atmosphere is wonderful. I will definitely be returning.