BEST RESTAURANT— MINNEAPOLIS - 2006
La Belle Vie
Like it or not, the status of a city's cuisine is judged by the restaurants at the top—never mind that native Minnesotans might get a meal from such a place once a year on their anniversary, the top white tablecloth restaurants are where business types flying through town dine, and when they fly out again, it's that one-restaurant snapshot they take to broadcast word of the city's restaurant status with them when they go. Minneapolis, please note your national stature has just inched up significantly: La Belle Vie isn't just the best restaurant in Minneapolis right now, it's a homegrown triumph that shows what's good, and different, about Minneapolis. For one thing, we march to a different drummer: While other chefs in other cities do backflips trying to differentiate themselves with gimmicks within a crowded field, chef Tim McKee has the space and confidence to cook to any particular cooking trend or style: His food is bred of confidence, and he cooks whatever (pumpkin tagliatelle, lobster seaweed salad, bouillabaisse, rare seared elk, French fries) and however (no particular reliance on grilling, sous vide, or raw) he likes. In addition to marching to a different drummer, Minnesotans stick around: The team of co-owners and long ago co-chefs Josh Thoma and Tim McKee; partner, manager, and sommelier Bill Summerville; and pastry chef Adrienne Odom has been working together for so many, many years that the various parts of the restaurant work in glorious harmony, each principal knowing the strengths and habits of the other team members. Another few ways we're different, and how La Belle Vie expresses those? We've got Midwestern amounts of land, we don't mind spending money (if it's on high-end stuff at rock bottom prices—check out our downtown full of bargain Saks and Nieman's floor for further confirmation), we know wine, and we like desserts, and plenty of them. Consider that the next time you're contemplating La Belle Vie's vast, but very well selected and generally underpriced wine list, or as you note the luxurious acreage between tables, or the desserts, which combine fine technique (espresso semi-freddo with cardamom foam) and no-kidding portion sizes (big as a can of pop.) It's said that if you want to flatter someone effectively, you should choose something about that person you genuinely admire, and build from there. That high-level flattery is exactly what La Belle is right now providing the city of Minneapolis, and we're blushing and protesting, but delighted none the less.