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:
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As 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.
We 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.
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:
King Crab with Trout Roe, Avocado and Orange
Sea Bass with Lentils de Puy, Baby Carrots and Beech Mushrooms
Pan Roasted Poussin with Cauliflower Fondant, Golden Raisins and Melon
Sauteed Sweetbreads with Fennel, Gnocchi and Chives
Grilled Rib Eye with Potato Confit, Brussels Sprouts and Smoked Bacon
Gorgonzola Dolce with Pancetta, Candied Walnuts and Beets
Honey Crisp Apple with Apple Gelee and Orange Granita
Vanilla Poached Persimmons with Pistachio Cream and Lemon
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.
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.
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.