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Which is better French: La Belle Vie or Vincent's? Please weigh in...

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Hello,

Hubby and I can't afford to go to France for our 30th wedding anniversary, but we're going to pretend for a long weekend: staying at a 4 star French-owned hotel (Sofitel), going out to the theater (Guthrie), and having a romantic dinner, pulling out all the stops, at a French restaurant. This will be a big deal to we Country Mice, and a hit to our modest budget, so we don't want to make a mistake! We want to have a wonderful time and wonderful memories....

So...I can't tell which restaurant to choose. Both seem to be in the Tops in the Twins category, but we're looking for the *best* food first, then atmosphere and charm. We also would appreciate feeling welcome and not snootified because we're aforementioned Country Mice. Your opinions--or suggestions of an alternative--greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

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La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

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  1. I haven't been to either. An alternative would be Meritage in St. Paul. Here is my 2,000+ word review:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7199...

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    Meritage
    410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

    1 Reply
    1. re: semanticantics

      I agree, I'd nominate Meritage.

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      Meritage
      410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

    2. Vincent is a fine bistro quality French Restaurant. La Belle vie is levels above. Both are good in their own right but La Belle Vie is one of the top two or three restaurants in the TC.

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      La Belle Vie
      510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

      1. Both are really great restaurants, but I think if you're looking for something that seems really classically French, Vincent will be a better fit. Not that you wouldn't have a great meal at La Belle Vie, I'd be surprised if you didn't, but I think it might be easier to pretend you're in France at Vincent.

        Meritage is a good suggestion, but if this is on the same night as the Guthrie show, Vincent might be easier logistically.

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        La Belle Vie
        510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

        Meritage
        410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

        1. La Belle Vie, hands down. It's the best restaurant in the city in my opinion. One tip: if you decide to go there, book a table in the bar- in particular, one of the back corner booths. The dining room is very... grand. You can get the full menu in the bar and it's just a more interesting space.
          Plus they make fantastic cocktails.

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          La Belle Vie
          510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

          1 Reply
          1. re: meljohns

            This is what I was going to say about La Belle Vie. Dining room is large space and quite grand- harder to feel like you are having an intimate dinner. We had a wedding anniversary dinner there and felt kind of awed and lost in the room, it's my only quibble with LBV. But I've heard lovely things about the bar. The one time we went the service was impeccable (as it pretty darn well should be). Honestly, with the passing of the years, and all the champagne we drank before dinner...I'm not sure I remember much about the food. It was good, I know that. I just don't remember any specifics.

            I've also celebrated a wedding anniversary at Vincent's ... oddly enough. We had a lovely time and they treated us very well, made us feel special. I feel like the food is not quite as high-falutin' French as LBV, and has some more Italian/Mediterranean influence, which I happen to appreciate.

            Have not been to Meritage for an anniversary, but it is one of our very favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities. More of a French Bistro atmosphere, which is different yet again from LBV and Vincent's. And they feature local meats and produce, which makes us very happy (my husband no longer eats meat that has not been sustainable raised and I try to limit my consumption of factory-farmed meat, which would mean that probably both Vincent's & LBV would be hard for us now). And the amusements that Meritage feature are worth the entire visit!!!

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            La Belle Vie
            510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

            Meritage
            410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

          2. Ha! I had a faux Vegas weekend http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4140... a few years ago, but a France weekend sounds so much more fun.

            I think Vincent is the way to go if you really want the French feel, though, technically, my understanding is that the staff was trained by French Canadians (ie., the folks from Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal) , not Continental French. Still, pretty French.

            However, I do want to mention re: La Belle Vie, which I do believe is really top notch (their chef won the James Beard award this year for Best Chef Midwest)--their hospitality is so gracious, I can't imagine they would ever make you feel like country mice. So, if you just want that super high-end kind of experience, I don't think you'd regret it. A 30th wedding anniversary is awfully special!

            Also, don't forget to tell the Sofitel and the restaurant you're celebrating your 30th anniversary when you make your reservations!

            I love, love, love room service breakfast at the Sofitel because they bring a basket of their glorious croissants with whatever you order. I haven't stayed at the Sofitel in Bloomington, though, but the croissants are one of their worldwide standards, so, you could check to see if they have it if that appeals to you at all. Once time I pre-ordered breakfast at a Sofitel for 7:30am or something like that. At about 7:15 hospitality called and asked if I could wait another 5-10 minutes for breakfast because the chef had a batch of croissants coming out of the oven and wanted to bring me warm ones if I could wait. They aren't the best croissants you'll have in your life, but nothing beats having them brought to your room. Of course, you can have the basket of croissants at breakfast in their dining room, too.

            If you're looking for casual (since you're doing a long weekend) for a different meal, Barbette might be fun for you, too. http://www.barbette.com/

            Another fun place for super casual lunch is Patrick's Cafe at Bachman's. Nothing on the caliber of La Belle Vie, Vincent or Meritage or even Barbette, but it's you're trying to have a multiple stops on your weekend, it's kind of fun to have lunch in the Bachman's greenhouse/garden. http://www.patricksbakerycafe.com/ I haven't done it this time of year. Hopefully it wouldn't be too hot and steamy.

            There's also newcomer Patisserie 46 French Bakery. I haven't been there yet, personally, but reports have been mixed. http://www.citypages.com/2010-07-28/r...

            Don't forget the cinema. http://www.afmsp.org/Events/Cin%C3%A9...

            Bon anniversaire!

            ~TDQ

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            La Belle Vie
            510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

            Meritage
            410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

            3 Replies
            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              Minor correction: La Belle Vie won best chef in 2009. Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma won the James Beard award for best midwest Chef in 2010.

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              Restaurant Alma
              528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

              La Belle Vie
              510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

              1. re: rp1760

                Oh my, you are so right! Apparently I've lost an entire year somewhere!

                ~TDQ

              2. re: The Dairy Queen

                Oh, thank you so much! All of you, actually!...but having someone help us expand our "fantasy" is especially appreciated. The last really good croissant I had was at the communal breakfast table of a $5 a night (the franc was cheap) Bohemian hotel on the West Bank, in 1976. That was, in fact the first and only time I've been to France, but the memories are still vivid. Glad to have my inclination to be *really* indulgent and do the Room Service Than authorized. ;-)

                I'm about to decide and I'll be sure to let everyone know how it goes.

              3. Although, I have had some good meals at Vincent, I have found my meals at LBV and Meritage to have been more inspired, athough both menus take inspiration from many places, not just France. Their offerings are very creative and delicious. And when I think of both food and ambiance combined, LBV is tops. I have had some memorable meals there for special occassions. Mark is our favorite server there and has made each visit feel very special whether it was a Valentine's dinner or the night we got engaged. He is great with recommendations and little touches that make your night feel special (like a complimentary glass of Cava because you are celebrating or a glass of Calvados because it goes so well with the foie gras you ordered). I have never found LBV to be pretentious. Wherever you go, enjoy and congratulations on 30 years together - that is quite a milestone!

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                Meritage
                410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                3 Replies
                1. re: BigSal

                  Thank you...We've had good years, dull years, bad years, and great years. Somehow, though, we always sign on for another year, no matter what. I can't imagine life with anyone else, any more.

                  1. re: Prairie Gal

                    Just thinking of some more classically French type places and want to throw out the names here- Cave Vin, Pierre's, and even Colette's at the Sofitel...? any opinions here?
                    I used to live near Sofitel and would treat myself to delicious French pastries that they sold, never tried a croissant though.

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                    Cave Vin
                    5555 Xerxes Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55410

                    1. re: faith

                      My vote is for Meritage if you are after a French Bistro type of a meal. I've never been to LBV but I have never read a bad review on them either (which probably means I should get there soon!).

                      As for Colette - avoid! I went there once and they didn't impress me at all. We had moules frites and cassoulet and they were both mediocre/bad.

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                      Meritage
                      410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                2. While I agree with most of the posters that La Belle Vie is top quality it depends what you are looking for. If you want more casual but very french fare I think Vincents can really meet the bill. My wife and I love sitting in the bar and have a croque madame there not to mention other bistro food. Might be a thought to do Vincent for Lunch and Belle Vie for dinner?

                  I personally didn't like Pierre's the one time I ate there - French Bistro with food service grade bread? Yuck !

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                  La Belle Vie
                  510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

                  20 Replies
                  1. re: stpaulbreadman

                    That's a good idea. I think for the Big Night we want to go all out, over the hill "gosh, dang it! Ain't this just grand, Pa!" luxe...but I wanted GOOD FOOD first and foremost. Maybe Vincent's would be good for some soup after the show, which is on a different night.

                    In any case, you've all made me comfortable that La Belle Vie isn't just frou frou and fancy--I wouldn't want to end up at--in the immortal words of Calvin Trillan--"La Casa de Maison House."
                    :-D

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                    La Belle Vie
                    510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

                    1. re: Prairie Gal

                      LBV is frou frou and fancy, but they are very good at helping their guests feel completely at ease. That's my take, anyway.

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        LBV is not frou frou fancy if your in the bar area, very relaxed. Great food. Always have been treated like regular customers even though we only go there 3-4 times a year.

                        1. re: ibew292

                          It is less frou frou and fancy in the bar. :). But, seriously, this is their 30th anniversary celebration. Don't sit in the bar, sit in the dining room. You don't even have to dress up that much. It might be frou frou and fancy, but it's not stuffy.

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Make sure you read what others have said about the Dining Room. The bar is much more comfortable. The dining room is stuffy. Get in one of the corners in the bar area and have a great time, you will be treated great.

                            1. re: ibew292

                              I don't have to read what others have said about the Dining Room: I'm fully capable of forming my own opinion based on personal experience. I've dined in the dining room and found it not stuffy at all, and I'm a pretty casual person. Of course, that's just personal preference like anything else. I didn't feel lost in the dining room, even though there are large spaces between tables. To me the spacing of the tables helps you feel like your table is an island unto itself, because you really don't have much awareness of the other tables.

                              ~TDQ

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                I am going to agree with TDQ. I have been to both the bar/lounge (quite a few times) and the dining room (once). The lounge is a great space and perfect for enjoying cocktails and snacks, but to me, the dining room had a much more "special occasion" feel. However, to me the biggest difference is that the service I have had in the lounge has ranged from fine to good at the tables, but the service we had in the dining room was fantastic. (Sitting at the actual bar we have also had excellent service, but of a different sort than in the dining room.)

                                1. re: LauraB

                                  'Stuffy' doesn't mean stagnant air flow does it? If so , I would want to avoid it.

                                  1. re: faith

                                    I was using stuffy to refer to the ambiance.

                                    ~TDQ

                                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Sorrrrrry the reply was for Prairie Gal. I know you have opinions and tend to stick to them.

                                  1. re: ibew292

                                    Sneaking back into this thread hoping ibew doesn't notice.

                                    Actual conversation with my husband 5 minutes ago:

                                    Me: Do you think LBV is stuffy?

                                    Him: Yes.

                                    Me: Well, not as stuffy as St. Paul Hotel or Manny's, right?

                                    Him: Right. But, they've got that grand room and the background music and everything...

                                    Me: But did you feel uncomfortable?

                                    Him: No, the staff works hard to make you feel comfortable, but you can look around and see that you're not a regular here.

                                    Me: But, if you were celebrating your 30th wedding anniversary they would treat you well, right?

                                    Him: Yes, they would make sure you never felt like you didn't belong there.

                                    ***

                                    So, there you go. Another voice to the stuffy chorus. As ibew says, I tend to stick to my opinions, so, I'm only going to slightly amend mine.

                                    The dining room at LBV is substantially less stuffy than dining rooms at restaurants of a similar caliber (both in the Twin Cities and elsewhere.)

                                    I personally felt very comfortable there.

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      TDQ... You are right, it is less stuffy than some but it's on equal footing with the Womans Club Dining Room and the Minneapolis Club. Both those places always make one feel welcome and so does LBV Dining Room. I find the Bar far more intimate (which would be good after 30 years) Either would be the great. Viva la differance

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                                      Minneapolis Club
                                      729 2nd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN

                                      1. re: ibew292

                                        Prairie Gal et all,

                                        It has been two years since my anniversary dinner at La Belle Vie. My now fiance and I were straight out of law school, we saved all summer for this dinner and literally had never done a tasting menu in our life. Although we were a bit overwhelmed by the dining room and a few of the parties dressed in their suits and evening dresses - we were put at such ease by our wonderful server who appeared to take great joy in our pleasure of appreciating our time together and the meal we were being served.

                                        When you make the reservation, make sure to tell them it is your anniversary. At least for mine, the chef provided us a few bonus tastings (if you choose the tasting menu).

                                        Congratulations on 30 years!

                                        -----
                                        La Belle Vie
                                        510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

                                        1. re: MNLawGirl

                                          And MNLawGirl, you provide a perfect opportunity to add one other detail.

                                          This is not the Lower East Side or the whichever Arrondissement.

                                          Do enough math on beverage/meal/extras/tax/tip to guarantee your own budget comfort beforehand, dress for a nice occasion, and treat the staff pleasantly. Know that you will be welcomed. Thereafter, "country mice, gosh dang it, too snootified" is only as real as you make it for yourself.

                                          1. re: MNLawGirl

                                            Wow, we must have been seated with entirely different crowds. I recall a suit or two, but, def, no evening dresses when I was at LBV. But, I've always gone in winter, so, maybe people dress more practically that time of year?

                                            I was going to add the point to the OP that, this being your 30th anniversary, that you might actually feel more comfortable in the dining room as the people in the dining room are more likely to be your contemporaries (although, it's a pretty good mix of ages), compared to the hipsters who tend to hang out in the lounge. Maybe you're comfortable with that, but it's not my crowd at all.

                                            ~TDQ

                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              Oh, no...my daughters are the Hipsters. We're the Hippies.

                                            2. re: MNLawGirl

                                              This all sounds very promising. We wanted elegance with substance, if you catch my drift. No point in fancy decor if the food is mediocre or the staff treats you like dirt.

                                              A few questions: is a tip rate of 20% adequate? How much does one tip a valet when they retrieve your car, if one already pays for the service? We have some decent clothes (my all-purpose party/wedding/funeral black dress) and plan to wash the car to get all the Iowa bugs off, before arriving. :-)

                                              The weekend is shaping up nicely: got 5th row seats to the Scottsboro Boys at the Guthrie, plan to tour the Walker, may go to the Ren Fair...thanks to Chowhound, am finding good suggestions for low-end ethnic restaurants and definitely want to go to the Global Market downtown, as well.

                                              1. re: Prairie Gal

                                                20% is absolutely adequate. Standard tip for valet is $2 per car, upon return of vehicle, in addition to the valet charge (usually $6 or so).

                                                Just an FYI. Midtown Global Market is south of downtown. It's certainly not far, and well worth the trip.

                                                -----
                                                Midtown Global Market
                                                920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                            2. re: Prairie Gal

                              I have to agree with others suggesting that the dining room is the way to go.

                              While the bar is a bit less formal and a terrific place to do snacks and drinks and perhaps the pared-down prix fix...the dining room offers...more. Certainly not stuffy in a "nose in the air" way, I've dined in jeans and a blazer and in a suit and the servers are adept enough to feel out the mood of the table and provide terrific service no matter how formal you'd like them to be. I just like the energy in that room. Something about the service station being a giant table or the buzz of people expecting and getting a great meal makes an evening that much more special.

                              I don't always want that presence, in which case I sit in the lounge. It's just great we have both to choose from!

                              1. re: Foureyes137

                                well put Four eyes!

                          2. I've been to LBV twice and Vincent four or five times. Not because I think Vincent is better than LBV, it's just been around considerably longer.

                            To my way of thinking LBV and Vincent are two of the top three restaurants in this city. [I'd vote Alma in as the third member of that trio.]

                            LBV is more formal. The service was extremely professional. Attentive without being overwhelming. Friendly without being intrusive. They functioned as consultants to help us have a better dining experience. I don't think Vincent staff is as formal.

                            I think the creativity in the kitchens of Vincent and LBV are similar. I think the standards of excellence in procurement and preparation are also similar. I think LBV tends to more formality in food as well as service. I can get carafes and 1/2 carafes of house red with my charcuterie plate at Vincent.

                            In Paris, if money isn't the issue, do you go to the 3-star formal palace or the contemporary bistro? If you favor the former, go with LBV, if you favor the latter go with Vincent.

                            1. Prairie Gal - we were married 20 years ago in what today is La Belle Vie, was then 510 Groveland. So it is and remains a very special place to us. I highly recommend it - over and above all the other suggestions - and we have eaten at all of them most recently Meritage a week ago. While some have suggested eating in the bar, my suggestion is on this very special occasion - go for greatness. Eat in the dining room, have the tasting menu (we have the smaller one) with paired wines and tell your server you are not in a hurry and would like to take it slowly. Relax, enjoy, and savor the experience. A good meal is available elsewhere, this total experience is very special. Enjoy and Happy 30th Anniversary.

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                              La Belle Vie
                              510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

                              Meritage
                              410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102