Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Dining Out in Minnesota: More than Wild Rice, Spam, and Lutefisk

by Kelly on November 29, 2009

Having been in Boston for eight+ years (excluding three summers during college) I am used to people ribbing me when they find out I grew up in Minnesota. First they will generally start speaking to me s-l-o-w-l-y in an exaggerated Minnesota accent á la Fargo, the movie. They will then often inquire whether I ever go to “that big mall” (Mall of America) or if I’ve lived on a farm. Food doesn’t usually factor into the equation and if it does, they assume all I eat is something like this:

spam

Although every once and awhile I enjoy splurging on food of the processed or deep fried varieties (After all, I did make Deep Fried Candy Bars as part of my last Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 Event.), even I have to draw the line at Spam. I’m much more likely to be in search of new flavor combinations and whole food-centric dishes. It was in this vein that my idea for a proposal for Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 came to mind. I wanted to show the naysayers that the Twin Cities are actually a mecca of great restaurants, including fine dining options that, while not as numerous as what one would find in San Francisco, Chicago or New York, still offer delightful tastes to inspire even the most discriminating foodies. In this post I am taking you, my my readers, along as I prepare one of Minnesota chef and James Beard Award Winner Tim McKee’s recipes and dine with my family at La Belle Vie, his Minneapolis mecca.fall

My first task was to prepare one of McKee’s recipes for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Since dinner was to be held by my aunt and uncle I knew I needed something that would travel well and not be a burden on my hosts. After a little Googling I fell in love with a recipe for Cranberry-Pear Tartlets with Cranberry Ice Cream featured on Foodandwine.com. It sounded intricate enough to help me continue to further my baking skills, but familiar enough in flavor to suit a crowd with differing palates.

dessertIn this dish a buttery pastry crust hugs a compote of gently spiced pears and dried fruits. With a scoop of creamy cranberry ice cream on the side it provides an updated take on two fall foods – cranberries and pears.preparation

Check out my video below for a demo of the recipe:

Once my tartlets were out of the oven and filled and the ice cream had set, it was time to bring the dessert along to share with family.

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Clockwise from the top: My grandmother, sister, grandfather and me; the prized bird; My aunt and uncle pose with my uncle's parents; my mother and grandmother.

The tarts were served as part of our typical Thanksgiving dinner which included the traditional turkey as well as personal family favorites like mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with a brown sugar-nut topping, baked goat cheese, creamed vegetables, and mincemeat pie. Overall the tarts were a great success. The freshness and sweetness of the compote complimented the buttery pastry perfectly and the cranberry ice cream was a beautiful accompaniment. It really brought out the flavor of the cranberries and was sweet without being cloyingly so. This dish took a bit of prep work, but could easily be simplified by using pre-made pastry shells in place of making your own.

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Left to right: My sister and aunt; a festive turkey decoration.

Image courtesy of We Got Served.

Image courtesy of We Got Served

The second part of my Foodbuzz adventure was to visit La Belle Vie itself. We found it situated on the ground floor of a beautiful residential building. I would have likely missed it if not for the photo on the website. Once inside we were whisked into the dining room, demure with pale ivory walls and gossamer sheers adoring the windows. There were a few contemporary sculptures throughout the room, but mostly the dining room had a kind of understated elegance to it.

Photo courtesy of http://www.mspfoodies.com/

Image courtesy of mspfoodies.com

Our table was situated, much to my enjoyment, in the thick of it all, across from the sideboard for serving wine. I love people watching so I appreciated that our table provided lots to see, but was still distant enough from the other parties to have a good conversation.

PB243910As we sat down our waiter Reid immediately began joking playfully with us, a good sign. I sometimes find that as much as I feel comfortable around fancy food I often feel slightly tense in the restaurants that serve it. Despite being, what I consider, I pretty knowledgeable foodie, I sometimes feel as though I am under a the disapproving eye of my waiter. I feel judged for choosing tap water over sparkling, for selecting a reasonable wine by the glass rather than a bottle of expensive White Burgundy, or for eating the wrong fork. La Belle Vie couldn’t be more opposite. We never felt anything but at home. In fact, as good as the food was, my parents kept commenting that the part they appreciated most was how relaxed and at ease they felt all night.

PB243911We each started off with a glass of wine. The wine list was fantastic overall, but there were two things I found especially intriguing. First, the wine list identified a selection of wines by Minnesotans who had gone on to work in the wine industry. Very cool. Second, among the by-the-glass selections was one simply called “One Blind White.” The premise was that they would not tell you anything about the wine, not the varietal or region until after you’d tried the wine and ventured a guess. Mother chose a glass of 2006 Minervois from the Languedoc region of France while my father had a glass of 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa, CA. For my selection I chose the “One Blind White.” (Later it would be revealed to be one of my favorites – a Reisling – and I would also have a Honey Crisp Appletini.) We traded sips so I can say from experience that all three were fantastic but I was especially pleased with my choice. I deep whiff revealed an inviting citrus scent, but the flavor was all tropical fruit. While sipping our wine we enjoyed some gougeres sent out by the chef as well as an amuse-bouche that included the most supple langoustine I had ever tasted.

For dinner, my mother had the Warm Goat Cheese Tart with Tomato Confit and Tapenade Vinaigrette followed by the Roasted Chicken “Paella” with Steamed Mussels, Chorizo, Shrimp and Saffron. The chorizo in the dish came in the form of both an aioli and a foam. I was pretty smitten with both. I know there are people who think that foams are passe, but I have to admit I quite enjoy them. My father thad the Baby Artichoke and Mâche Salad with Sesame Yogurt and Moroccan Spices followed by the Bouillabaisse.

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Top photo: My mother's "Paella;" Bottom photo: My father's Bouillabaisse

I decided to go whole hog and ordered the eight course tasting menu. It might sound like an overwhelming amount of food, however each portion was tapas-sized so it ended up being just right. My meal was as follows:

Course One

King Crab with Trout Roe, Avocado and Orange

Course Two

Sea Bass with Lentils de Puy, Baby Carrots and Beech Mushrooms

Course Three

Pan Roasted Poussin with Cauliflower Fondant, Golden Raisins and Melon

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Course Four

Sauteed Sweetbreads with Fennel, Gnocchi and Chives

Course Five

Grilled Rib Eye with Potato Confit, Brussels Sprouts and Smoked Bacon

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Course Six

Gorgonzola Dolce with Pancetta, Candied Walnuts and Beets

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Course Seven

Honey Crisp Apple with Apple Gelee and Orange Granita

Course Eight

Vanilla Poached Persimmons with Pistachio Cream and Lemon

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Among the eight courses there was not one disappointment. Each plate was composed beautifully. The components worked well together for a complex final mouthful that was multifaceted without being overworked. Among all the dishes the sweetbreads were an easy favorite since they are such a special treat that I do not make at home. However, I also found myself taken with the sea bass. The skin was delightfully crispy and a perfect contrast against the flakey, silky fish. The persimmons were also gorgeous. They were very thinly sliced, almost carpaccio style, and perfect against the light lemon cake and pistachio ice cream.

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My parents ended the meal with a delightful Gianduia cake with an orange caramel ice cream and we all shared a delicious plate of petit fours. My favorite being what I believe was a shortbread with an apple filling (bottom left) that tasted like a gussied up churro.

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Overall I couldn’t have come away more charmed. Between making one of Chef Tim McKee’s recipes and dining at La Belle Vie I was convinced that Minnesota could create as masterful a meal as anywhere in the world with a dash of genuine hospitality that is truly Midwestern. Thanks to Foodbuzz for the opportunity to take on this amazing experience and to my parents for being such great dining companions.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Alesso November 29, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Let me be the first to comment on what a memorable evening it was. The combination of sharing a unique dining experience with people you are close makes one reflect on, and give thanks for the many blessings that I have had the good fortune to receive.

I was impressed with the attention to detail with each and every aspect of our dinner – not just the spectacular flavor of the food. The commitment of the staff was evident when they explained the composition of the unique creations we were being served. The flavors popped making me think the chef was part artist, part engineer. It was clear that they were proud of their menu and took delight in serving it. The food we were served covered a wide spectrum, yet the quality and taste was amazing.

Our waiter was quite personable and put us at ease in the formal, yet very comfortable main dining room. The tables were well spaced so felt as if we were been invited to old mansion for a small dinner party. The service was exceptional
making our 3 hour dinner one we will remember.

I’ve had the good fortune to do a significant amount of travel for business and this dining experience rates as one of the best. I look forward to returning soon.

Mary Lou and I are extremely proud of Kelly and cherish the opportunity to participate in her adventures.

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Natasha - 5 Star Foodie November 29, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Looks like you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and an amazing meal at La Belle Vie! Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

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CaSaundra November 30, 2009 at 8:52 am

So glad good ol’ MN treated you well! :-) I love the video btw, that looks amazing! I always like making things ahead of time too JUST in case something goes wrong!

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Caitlin November 30, 2009 at 9:10 am

Great event…and pictures! I too hosted a 24-24-24 event this month…and am 26…from Minnesota and have been in Boston for 8 years… : )

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Alta November 30, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Wow, looks absolutely gorgeous! That food is all so delicious-looking! Great 24,24,24 event!

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Elina December 1, 2009 at 11:16 am

Gorgeous dinner! I need to stop procrastinating and write a proposal to foodbuzz!!

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Hannah December 1, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I too have been meaning to write a 24-24-24 proposal… These events always look like the most fun! What a truly incredible meal, every course looks beautiful, and the whole day sounds like so much fun. :)

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Shannon December 2, 2009 at 8:45 am

wow, what an amazing experience!!! i really should get on this proposal thing :) maybe after the holidays… love the video, too :)

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Teresa December 2, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Kelly, you have a loving and lovely family. I can see where you got your caring nature. The tartlets and the cranberry ice cream sound absolutely delicious. Gotta try that. YUM.

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brandi December 2, 2009 at 3:46 pm

What an awesome meal and evening :)

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Kerstin December 2, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Love those little tarts! I really enjoyed the description of your meal at La Belle Vie and would have definitely also gotten the tasting menu too!

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Carolyn Jung December 3, 2009 at 12:43 am

How fun to have such special dining experiences with your parents. Believe me, you will treasure those times for years to come. Happy holidays!

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sophia December 3, 2009 at 3:01 am

I loved this post…this in-depth foodie view of Minnesota. I’ve never even really considered that place…You’ve changed my perspective!

Loved the pictures….such lovely people! And great food, of course.

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Mo December 3, 2009 at 10:17 am

Love this post and being from MN can relate on so many levels! Happy Holidays to you and your lovely family!

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The Duo Dishes December 4, 2009 at 2:54 am

Great way to shed light on Minnesota! Who woulda thunk? :)

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Chou December 6, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Kelly, I love love love that you got to do this, and that we all get to benefit because of it! Hooray! What a wonderful opportunity. Go Midwesterners!

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Sophie December 7, 2009 at 3:19 am

It looks that you had a fabulous time with youyr family at Thanks Giving & that’s what it all is about!! The food looks very impressive & ooh soo good,…

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Sophie December 7, 2009 at 3:19 am

It looks that you had a fabulous time with your family at Thanks Giving & that’s what it all is about!! The food looks very impressive & ooh soo good,…

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Sues December 7, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Wow, this looks like a blast!!! And mmmmm to that tasting menu!! Chels and I have been meaning to do 24, 24, 24 for forever now and I think we need to take the plunge. Your idea was awesome!

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Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food. December 8, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Oh, what a meal.
Was nice to watch you in the video (although I watched it in jumps. It’s very long). Was funny how you stood with hands behind your back at the beginning :) and then see your change of clothes throught the video, h ihi hi… Great post!

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Dennis November 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm

gotta love deep fired spam, you’re a health nut if you do. Try Spam Pizza

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