MSP Prix Fixe Menus?
In a quest for outstanding food, I am looking for exceptional fixed price menus offered by local chefs. When we lived in the Bay Area, there were many options, and my personal favorite was Chez TJ in Mountain View.
In the Twin Cities, I have had a mind-blowing menu at La Belle Vie, and was somewhat underwhelmed by that at Alma.
Price is not an object, and well-selected wine pairings are a plus.
I think the prix fixe has been supplanted by the multi-course 'tasting menu' in the 21st century. La Belle Vie is an incredible value considering the quality of the cooking. Fugaise also has a great tasting menu (pretty much a tour of the regular menu). Vincent is right up there. Solera has a tasting menu that gives you a broad selection of tapas at a value price.
Vincent A Restaurant
1100 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55403
Fugaise [CLOSED 2009]
304 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414
La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405
900 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403
Saffron's got a tasting menu, too.
Saffron Restaurant & Lounge
123 North 3rd Street, Minneapolis, MN 55401
Having experienced the tasting menu at all the above mentioned spots, I have to say that the one I most enjoyed was at the new kid on the block...Porter & Frye. Here's what was cool: The online menu indicates that a tasting menus is available on request. When I called, I was put through to the kitchen. The phone was answered by none other than the executive chef, Steven Brown!
Steven then spent 5-10 minutes talking to me about the menu he would put together for us. He asked about our likes and dislikes. He actually was creating it as we spoke. For example, I mentioned foie gras, and among the dishes he presented us was a beautiful piece of foie served on top of, get this, a Belgian waffle! I know it sounds weird, but it absolutely worked! The 7 course experience he gave us was tremendous.
I think Steven is doing the most creative cooking in the Cities right now. I find La Belle Vie very good, but my meal at Porter & Frye took things to another level. I'm from Chicago, and Alinea is my gold standard (if that gives you context). Porter & Frye gave me the best meal I've had since moving here. That was a few weeks ago. I'm going again later this week, so we'll see if it was an anomaly (reviews have been mixed so far). Service can be laughingly uneven...but I'm willing to work through it to get to the food. I encourage you to give it a try...call and ask for the tasting menu.
BTW, during our phone conversation, Steven asked me about my wine preferences. He was eager to do a pairing, and actually sounded disappointed to hear that my wife and I don't drink! Nevertheless, they put together a non-alcoholic pairing that was a lot of fun.
Porter and Frye
1115 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55403
I don't know what side of town you live on, but if you are east and are looking for that kind of food and service, the Bayport Cookery is my vote. 3, 5 or 9 courses with wine. Fabulous food, service, ambiance and the wine pairings you are looking for! They also recently opened a wine/appetizer like bar, but I have not yet experienced that portion of their serviece. if you do not live on the east side of town it can be a drive, but worth the effort. They also have seasonal speciality menus like morel mushrooms and if you are not from here and a foodie you must experiece, garlic, chocolate, etc...
So you're okay with tasting menus (e.g., La Belle Vie) as well as prix fixe menus (e.g., Alma)? Technically, there is a difference. But being open to more options makes it easier.
One not mentioned yet is Heartland. There are two prix fixe options - Fauna (has meat and seafood) and Flora (veggie-based, but maybe some non-veggie broths are used, I'm not certain). Dessert is selected for each one. Heartland also has a la carte ordering.
I second soupkitten's recommendation for Heartland and bobs' thumbs down on Luci (although, I've only been to Ristorante Luci for the prix fixe). It's fine, but I wouldn't call it either outstanding or exceptional.
I also recommend W.A. Frost in St. Paul, especially this time of year when you can dine on their lovely patio (or, on the other hand, in winter in the cozy rooms with the fireplace), and, for a very casual, homey, personal experience, the Monday night tasting menu (they call it a tasting menu--I think of it more as a prix fixe) at Signature Cafe http://www.signaturecafe.net/ which, again, has a lovely patio this time of year.
I don't know if I'd say any of the above three would blow you away though, but, rather, that they are an excellent value for restaurants that are trying to focus carefully on sourcing locally and sustainably. I've frequently been blown away at Heartland, but not every single time. Sometimes Lenny Russo tries something very ambitious that I don't love, but I still respect him for trying and am willing to take the risk with him for those times when I am blown away.
Also there have been a number of very favorable recent reports on Cafe Levain Sunday night prix fixe, which is going to be much more casual than some of the others listed, but that still sounds very intriguing to me (unfortunately, Sundays tend to be my night to nest rather than go out, so, I haven't made it over there yet in spite of repeated vows to do so) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/50907...
Here's a nice piece on getting the most out of a fixed price menu that the defines the difference thusly: "Prix-fixe meals usually offer an appetizer, second course, main course and dessert. Comparably priced tasting menus offer more courses -- often as few as six and as many as 14 -- in smaller, three-bite portions." http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06282/...
Note to the OP (and others):
I've eaten at all of the restaurants suggested above other than Porter and Frye and would argue that Luci Ancora is not in the same league as any of the other recommended restaurants. It's a perfectly fine Italian restaurant that I would go to if I was in that part of St. Paul. But (unlike the other recommendations) I would not suggest that someone make Luci or Luci Ancora a destination.
Just one guy's $0.02.
I agree that the Bayport Cookery is great. La Belle Vie and Cosmos are good, but I think the Bayport Cookery is something special.
I was just perusing the online menu at Chambers and saw that they are offering a great $30 prix fixe ($45 with wine pairing).
Appetizer is a choice or Chicken samosas (delicious) or an arugula, cherry tomato and radish salad.
Entree is a choice of tempura walleye or red duck curry.
Dessert is a passion fruit pavlova or homemade ice cream.
Three of those elements (samosas, duck curry and pavlova) were from the Restaurant week tasting menu. The red duck curry is one of the best dishes I've ever had. The samosas and the pavlova are also quite good, and I really enjoyed the tempura walleye when I had it last year. Think of it as an upscale fish fry.
If you've never been to Chambers, I would highly recommend trying it out while this menu is around. This is right up there with the best dining deals in town at the moment.
901 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403
Jfood would add Alma to this discussion. This is not only jfood's favorite place so far in your city but it is on jfood's top 10 nationwide.
Here is the link to his current offerings.
EDIT!!!!! - re-read the OP. If OP was underwhelmed at Alma, jfood putting his tail between his legs.