Ten Most Wanted

2006 was a tasty, tasty year. Dara goes through her memory book and anoints the stars.

What kind of year did we have in the Twin Cities, in our restaurants? A very good year, mostly. It was a diverse year, a surprising year, a big money year—big, big, big money year. How much money went into the creation of Cue at the Guthrie? Add up the Jean Nouvel-designed, internationally acclaimed building; the crack team, headed by longtime Prairie cuisine champion Lenny Russo; the splashy dining room; the kirsch-marinated French cherries in the updated Manhattans, and what do you get? I'm guessing it all cost a gazillion dollars, if not a babillion. Which is to say nothing of our brand new Chambers Kitchen: To get that restaurant, they had to gut a dirty bookstore, revivify a 19th-century brick warehouse, shanghai a parking lot and transform it into a sculpture garden filled with priceless art, splash out for the worlds' most famous lighting designer, mix up acres of white terrazzo, fly Jean Georges Vongerichten and his team hither and yon, relocate various coastal chefs to the land of sky-blue waters, and corner the market on bread baskets which can double as cosmetic totes. This was a big money year that made our previous big money year of 2005—with the Wolfgang Puck restaurant in the new Walker, the Beaux Arts city incarnation of La Belle Vie, and the fancy rehab of the old Fifth Precinct police station into Five—look downright cheap.

Buy low! Sell high! You better, because this trend of big money restaurants shows no sign of abating: This new year should see pricy, splashy, well-cushioned restaurants debuting in the new Graves Mozaic hotel in Uptown, the new W Hotel coming to the Foshay Tower, the new Westin Hotel in the old Farmers & Mechanics bank building, and the new Ivy Hotel + Residences, a Starwood property going into that beautiful old ivy-covered pile near the convention center. Phew! Are there enough expense accounts to float all these yachts? We'll see. It was easy as pie to get a reservation in the highest-end restaurants in Minnesota this year (well, except for Levain and La Belle Vie on Fridays and Saturdays). The real difficulty was in getting in to what I'll call our value fine-dining restaurants: 112 Eatery, Town Talk Diner, Café Barbette, Salut Bar Américain, and the Modern Café. The same can kind of be said about jP American Bistro and Auriga: The bar tables at both restaurants are hotly fought over, while you can waltz into the dining rooms just about any time. So why do we see nothing but fine-dining destinations on the horizon? Don't ask me, I just work here.

Happily, so do lots of other people, and the other trends I've seen this year have nothing to do with expense accounts and everything to do with folks who work here: It was a great year for both Mexican food and for local farmers and farm products. I cannot say enough positive things about the twin jewels bestowed on Minneapolis this year: the Mill City Farmers' Market and the Midtown Global Market. Mill City presents the finest local produce all in one convenient, stylish downtown venue: If Tiffany's sold Swiss chard and Enoki mushrooms, it would be Mill City.

Purchasing, preparing, and pondering the year's best, at (clockwise from top left) Farm in the Market, Cue, Willie's Wine Bar, and Town Talk Diner
Clockwise from top left: Sean Smuda, Kris Drake, Jana Freiband, Sean Smuda for City Pages
Purchasing, preparing, and pondering the year's best, at (clockwise from top left) Farm in the Market, Cue, Willie's Wine Bar, and Town Talk Diner

Location Info

Map

Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant

1010 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

The Midtown Global Market, meanwhile, has managed to gather the breadth of what is best about food in Minnesota under one roof. There's Farm in the Market, a farmers' collective where you can buy the freshest possible, locally and sustainably raised chicken, pork, beef, bison, eggs, dairy, and more. The Birchberry booth, by the west entrance, sells wild rice, chokecherry jam, maple syrup, and other traditional hand-harvested Native American foodstuffs. On the weekends, Ames Farm sells their local single-pollen honeys, which I think are one of the truest and best slow foods in the Midwest. To round out your shopping, the Midtown Global Market has practically every specialty ingredient you can think of: Italian meats and cheeses can be had at Jakeeno's Trattoria, many of the world's misos and noodles are found at a small satellite location of United Noodle, the Produce Exchange is a budget shopper's ace-in-the-hole for everything from organic tangelos to Wisconsin organic cheeses to locally grown scallions. Meanwhile, the MGM has also consolidated much of what's best in Mexican food and markets in Minnesota. Everyone should go and pick their own favorites, but please know I spoke with a Los Angeles native this year whose parents demanded she bring tamales home with her from La Loma for Christmas; they're just that much better than any they can find in L.A.

Which is to say: What a great year it's been! When I look over my notes, some published, some not, of the greatest meals of 2006, I see it was a remarkably delicious year—and here's my hit parade.

Tasting Menus at La Belle Vie

The one sadness this year has been the devaluing of dishy insider information: People write to me to ask: "Is La Belle Vie really as good as everyone says?" I tell them yes, and then a few weeks later they write again: "Everyone was right!" So why do I continue to exist, exactly? Still, when they're right, they're right: Chef Tim McKee's multi-course tasting meals set the bar for fine dining hereabouts, and I would happily dwell forever in their embrace. When I sink into my memories, the dishes that race to mind include a slow-poached Shetland salmon with braised fennel that tasted like some kind of candied ocean dew; and a poached egg, black truffle, brioche, and frisée number that was like a fragrant meadow reaching up into your skull and playing a ruby-studded, solid gold harp—yes, it was that good. Any top list of the year would include the work of brilliant pastry chef Adrienne Odom. The one La Belle Vie dessert that I can never recover from was an espresso semi-freddo with a warm, buttery orange cake, pithless Satsuma sections, and cardamom foam. Eating it was like zipping through the clouds of an imaginary vacation in Milan: sensuous, cosmopolitan, and dreamy.
La Belle Vie, 510 Groveland Ave., Minneapolis, 612.874.6440; www.labellevie.us.

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