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After La Belle Vie: What are The Best Restaurants In Town?

La Belle Vie was the standard-bearer. It was. I had some of the best meals of my life there, and I’ll never forget the anniversary dinner where the power went out and Tim McKee comes rushing in, he and Mike DeCamp still prepared an awesome meal for us without power. I’ll cherish the night we brought our sons to the lounge to eat the tribute menu for Solera. And the many times at the bar where we met new friends. LBV was our go-to: need a late night cocktail? An incredible dessert? A beautiful glass of wine? A snack that would stimulate every taste bud?

No doubt there are dozens of reasons why La Belle Vie is closing – Tim’s comments about the minimum wage hike and the proposed Working Families Agenda got a lot of play from those looking for an ideological angle, but in my view this is what really is going on:

  • We have more high quality restaurant choices than ever before
  • Service at La Belle Vie has slipped over the past few years
  • Losing Bill Summerville at the front of house was a big deal
  • The cost of running La Belle Vie is extremely high (staff, food, and flatware/silverware)
  • Fewer people are looking for a high-end-feeling fine dining experience.

I have no doubt that increased costs from new regulations like a minimum wage hike or the health care bill or the city telling restaurants how they have to do sick time or schedules are all factors, but those costs sink restaurants on the edge, not restaurants that are thriving. (Granted, many restaurants are on the edge, as Stephanie March explains.)

To prove my point about increased competition: look at these fairly new restaurants that have received 4-star reviews from Rick Nelson in the Star Tribune. All of them opened after La Belle Vie arrived in Minneapolis in 2005.

Those are the 4-stars. Now let’s look at the 3 1/2 stars just from 2015:

I’d add my own top tier restaurants to this list:

That’s 18 restaurants that compete with La Belle Vie – all are new within the last ten years, and almost all would be on my radar for a birthday or anniversary or celebration of a promotion. Most of them end up being similar in cost to what I would spend at La Belle Vie, but with a more casual feel. What does this say about La Belle Vie? Share your thoughts below.

My thought is this: Thank you. Thank you to the many great servers I’ve met at La Belle Vie, the great bartenders, the cooks, the chefs, and the friends. Ten years in Minneapolis, nearly 18 years overall is a hell of a run.

My 4-Star Twin Cities Restaurants

A lot of you were interested in my post on Rick Nelson’s 4 star Twin Cities restaurants. The concept of 4 stars is fun to me, and I really liked what Steph March had to say about them. 4 stars is a blessing and a curse: if something goes wrong at a 4-star, people aren’t very forgiving. If something goes wrong at a 3-star, it’s fine! Everyone makes mistakes!

But I like the idea of giving stars. I like having to make a definitive judgment, without all the backstory and the context. 4 stars means THIS RESTAURANT IS OUTSTANDING. It doesn’t mean perfect, but it means outstanding. It comes with requirements beyond great food (in my mind): excellent service, a proper host/hostess stand, more than one bathroom. I used to think that a bar with cocktails is required, but I’ve had 4-star experiences at places without cocktails.

Bear in mind, some of my favorite restaurants in town are in the 3-star range. The Strip Club in St. Paul is my favorite place to eat: I love the food, I love the people. But you walk in that room and you’re in the middle of the dining room. The restaurant is gorgeous with amazing views of St. Paul, but down the block you’ll find a condemned duplex. You can have 4-star experiences in a 3-star place, if that makes sense. Perhaps the Strib doesn’t have an easy place to find all the 4-stars because the reviews are a snapshot in time. They are a judgment of what the restaurant was doing at the time of the review, not a judgment that is conferred forever. That said, if I had to hand out 4 stars to Minneapolis Twin Cities restaurants, I’d go:

If I included Marvel Bar in The Bachelor Farmer complex, I would give that operation 4 stars too. And if I include the genius of the Heartland Market in the Heartland Restaurant, same deal. Plus, I need to have dinner at the new Corner Table location one more time to have a firm opinion on whether that should be 4 stars. So out of 13, I’m going 4 for sure, maybe 7. Pretty close to what Rick said, just tightening up the list a bit.

Not that I’m saying the other restaurarants aren’t awesome: they all are. And I’m not saying the restaurants didn’t deserve 4 stars when they were reviewed: they probably did. I’m saying today, with the standards of 2014 dining, this is where I’m at. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments:

4 Star Minneapolis St. Paul Restaurants

Another worthy 4 star restaurant! Spoon and Stable occupies an interesting place in the Twin Cities – I would argue it may be the most complete restaurant experience in town. The service is perfect, the room is gorgeous, the wine list is exciting and fresh ranging from affordable to luxury, the bar is sexy, the desserts are world class, and the food is absolutely delicious. UPDATED LIST AS OF APRIL 1 2015 As far as I can tell, Rick has given 15 restaurants that are currently open and operating 4 stars.

I think Rick’s in an interesting spot, because he has yet to review Brasserie Zentral, and the new Corner Table. Both are potential 4-star spots. UPDATES to ORIGINAL POST: Spoon and Stable lives up to the hype, in Rick’s 2015 review Rick Nelson has just given Heyday in Minneapolis 4 stars. I totally agree it’s worthy, as I foreshadowed in my write-up here. Boom. the Brazzerie Zentral review is finally out, and it gets 4 stars, 2014 Your thoughts? Are these restaurants worthy? Who else should be on the list?

I’m a James Beard Award Entrant

Another great list of James Beard Award nominees came out yesterday, the Oscars of the food world, as they’re often called. As you may know, I do weekly TV stories about dining in the Twin Cities, and for the past two years I have entered.

There are only a handful of categories for broadcast work, so I enter the “Television Segment” category. It’s tough, generally national competition.  The nominees this year included a segment from CNN’s “American Journey,” a segment from CBS Sunday Morning, and a segment from Philadelphia Public TV’s “Friday Arts” show called Art of Food.

It’s somewhat difficult to compare one segment from a national show, to a weekly segment being done for a local audience (kudos to WHYY for their nomination, Art of Food airs once a month). Here’s a link to my entry. Even thought I didn’t make the cut this year, I’m really proud of being the only local TV guy in the Twin Cities doing real reporting about food. 

Great stories here about Wise Acre Eatery, Butcher & The Boar, and La Belle Vie: