This is not a review of the galloping parade of compounding awesomeness that is the eight-course Chef’s Tasting Menu ($85, plus $65 for the wine flight) at La Belle Vie. If I wanted to do that, I would have (somehow) scrounged up the funds to indulge in this meal about eight years ago, and only after trading brains with someone who has a better understanding of what’s going on in the kitchen.
Having thoroughly missed that boat on so many timeliness and wisdom levels, I would like to instead focus on the experience itself which happily took me off guard with its casualness mere moments after sitting at the table and only got better as the meal progressed.
My main worry was the atmosphere. I only had 24 hours warning that I was being treated to this singular meal. Dancing giddiness quickly dissolved into dress code panic, what with La Belle Vie’s reputation as “the best restaurant in the history of Minneapolis” and the words “jacket preferred” so frequently attached to descriptions of the restaurant. I’m a simple man with a lifestyle that tends to be pretty high-impact on clothes. As such, my arsenal of nice clothing is rather limited. Comically so on some occasions, like last Friday afternoon as I puzzled over my options.
I do have a suit jacket, though one that is laughably out of style and has become a little too tight around the back and shoulders anyway. The dark pants that go with the jacket still fit, however, and I eventually settled on a green cashmere sweater and black shoes. Even so, I was worried that, upon seeing me, the staff would hurriedly escort me out the nearest emergency exit to a table fashioned out of a sheet of wood laid over an oil drum out by the dumpster.
Instead, my companion and I were given a prime spot in the corner, with an expansive view of the dinning room, where we observed wave after wave of people arriving in the clothes they seemingly wore to class (with a tie thrown on in one case), casual Friday attire and skirts so mini that even my female companion stared openly.
What relaxed me even more were the staff, who were disarmingly informal and fun. Not a condescending tone or withering gaze in the group. The dizzyingly complex dishes were explained without a hint of presumption. The desire was that we thoroughly understand the meal, not to test or exceed our food preparation vocabulary. Our server was personable, and even encouraging when she busted us taking cell phone pictures of the food.
When we left, as we paused to stare longingly at a bottle of Barolo Cavalier Bartolomeo, which was not on the tasting menu, nor the wine list for that matter, which had nevertheless been served with the lamb course, Bill Summerville himself sidled up and, without preamble, casually spoke to us about the wine for several minutes. Only as we parted ways and he proffered a business card did we realize that we were speaking to one of the owners and a local sommelier all-star.
So, there you go. No dress code anxiety necessary, beyond common sense, and the same degree of staff interaction, from the very top on down, as you might encounter at a casual, neighborhood place. I loved it. I just wish I could afford it.
And now, because I am shameless, a quick run down of the meal, including awful cell phone pictures taken in increasingly horrible light as the meal progressed and natural light disappeared:
Yellow tail jack with dried shallot and chorizo bits, spattered with cream and citrus sauces, with various mystery dollops and shavings. (Served with a brut champagne, which went straight to our heads, being we were on empty stomachs.)
Pan roasted poussin (chicken) with cuttlefish, braised pork belly, in a porcini broth. This was served with a sherry (Manzanilla, La Cigarerra, Spain), which is normally not my favorite thing, but paired fantastically well with the broth.
Grilled lamb ribeye (barely, it was pink and amazing), with ratatouille, black olive and crispy squash blossom. (Though the menu said it would be served with a Cotes de Francs from Bordeaux, some generous person subbed in that amazing Barolo.)
Abbaye de belloc (cheese) with apple-apricot compote and preserved lemon honey. (Served with a wonderful French cider with only 5% alcohol volume, which was welcome, because we were starting to become a little shitfaced by this stage.)
La Belle Vie
Open daily, dinner only
The Chef’s Tasting Menu comes in five and eight-course configurations
The bar has a four-course menu
510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis