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BEST LOCAL CHEF Minneapolis 1998 -

Heaven is in the details: the tender crawfish decorating the oven-steamed salmon; the threads of preserved lemon beside the rib-eye; the toasty-hot hazelnuts that elevate the green salad, the wings of chocolate lace that separate the layers of bitter-chocolate espresso custard in the napoleon. Now that this former D'Amico Cucina chef and his sous chef and partner Josh Thoma have opened their own place in Stillwater, every plate is getting the rigorous attention of an accomplished chef--albeit a still-nervous one who's trying to make his name in the world. If you miss this chance to eat at La Belle Vie before McKee and Thoma get confident and start taking nights off, you'll be kicking yourself for years to come: Think of it as the equivalent of that Nirvana concert at First Avenue a few years back.

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