Have It All, Eat It Too

La Belle Vie is back: Momentous, stately, and the best restaurant in the history of Minneapolis

La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Ave., Minneapolis

On my last dinner at La Belle Vie I was, on my arrival, trapped at the front door behind a party that included a particularly elegant pair of grandparents. She was bent forward with the weight of osteoporosis, and also with the burden of the thickest, most luxurious auburn mink coat I've ever seen, one that had oceanic waves and gravity to it, as well as luster matched only by her significant pearls and her regally colored, set, and styled hair. Her husband was fragile and neat, and wore a coat of such thick wool and such fine single-needle hand stitching that it was all I could do not to stick a thumb and finger out and flip the collar up to see whether it was lined with wool, silk, or documents smuggled by request of the last czar.

As the couple were gingerly, carefully shepherded up the steps by their attending children and adult grandchildren, my date and I were given opportunity to admire the lavish plaster moldings that decorate the fine Edwardian lobby of the 510 Groveland space. Once again we had the chance to enjoy what I can only think of now as not merely a chandelier, but a heraldic chandelier--a chandelier that trumpets grandly as you enter, alerting the universe of the wonderful meal you are about to have, and trumpets majestically again upon your exit, publicizing your triumphant return to common life.

A field of gilded lilies: La Belle Vie's sauteéd skate with warm lobster on a potato salad
Bill Kelley
A field of gilded lilies: La Belle Vie's sauteéd skate with warm lobster on a potato salad

Location Info


La Belle Vie

510 Groveland Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

As I watched the family with the elegant elderly couple entrust the lady's furs and the grandchildren's velvet-collared wools to the wasp-waisted blonde at the entrance to the restaurant, I was overcome with a feeling of rightness in the world. Surely this was exactly what you would want to be doing with your last years, your last significant meals: having them in an environment as regal as a bone-handled cane, and as contemporary as the morning's sunshine. You should be enjoying food cooked as well as food can be cooked, but close to home, with the people you love.

I kept an eye on that family's table throughout my own dinner, my own truly fantastic dinner, and they looked to be having as good a time as I was at the most significant restaurant of the year, the new Minneapolis location of La Belle Vie. If you don't know, La Belle Vie has been one of Minnesota's best restaurants for the better part of a decade, ever since chef Tim McKee left his post at D'Amico Cucina to open his own place in Stillwater with business partner Josh Thoma. The restaurant was known for McKee's bold, Mediterranean-touched (mostly French and French-Moroccan) cooking, for the strong wine list, for the fine service, and for the frustrating distance between Stillwater and most people's homes. Last fall the restaurant relocated to the grand old complex of restaurant and lounge spaces at 510 Groveland, in the very heart of Minneapolis, filling the regal plasterwork-bedecked spaces with understated postmodernist lamps and such, and in so doing created what this critic truly believes to be the best restaurant ever experienced in Minnesota.

The proof is in the fine dining. The physical space is everything you'd hope for on the fanciest nights of your life: All of the tables in the two connected dining rooms are set luxuriously distant from one another and are covered with white linen and a small modern lamp that glows like an amber moon. As the evening progresses you are treated to a parade of the finest tabletop items, Rosenthal and Limoges Bernadaud china, all sorts of Riedel stemware, and heavy tableware that is replaced with every course by saffron-vested servers carrying silvery trays. Everything seems momentous and chic.

Dinner, and the restaurant serves only dinner, opens with a tiny amuse bouche. One night I tried a crimini mushroom soup served in a footed glass. The creamy soup was topped with sweet and delicious fried bay shrimp resting amid a forest-green splash of parsley oil; it tasted of the gentlest facets of earth and herb, like a smile from a deep forest. Gougeres follow, and the hot, cheesy pastries are served with good butter. Then the real work of the evening begins.

At La Belle Vie you have several options for your meal: You may order the five- or eight-course tasting menu, with dessert, for, respectively, $65 or $80, with an option to add paired wines costing $45 or $55. Otherwise you can order traditionally, a la carte. The tasting menu is opulent and certainly the way to go, the only disadvantage being that you miss the chance to try an array of desserts. The restaurant even offers vegetarian or all-seafood versions of their tasting menus--and the vegetarian meal is certainly one of the best vegetarian feasts in the country, at that. But I get ahead of myself.

A typical five-course meal might start off with something inventive served in a showpiece bowl with a sort of TV-screen-shaped depression at the bottom of it. One time I encountered this bowl filled with tiny, sugar-sweet Nantucket bay scallops and curls of braised frogs' legs. The two sorts of circles were lined up like checkers in the cutout bottom of the dish, and lay in a shallow bath of citrus vinaigrette made with fennel fronds and tiny squares and leaves of micro herbs, and garnished with small hills of caviar. It was fresh, various, harmonious, and nearly lilting. Another time the dish was filled with coins cut from golden beets resting in a sort of Gruyère sabayon made with black truffles--earthy, sweet, and clear.

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