La Belle Vie

La Belle Vie is consistently rated as one of the nicest, if not the nicest restaurant in Minneapolis.  I’ve long fantasized about dining there, but it’s never been in the budget.  This week, however, is a little something called Restaurant Week.  It’s when some of the nicest restaurants in town offer tasting menus for lunch and dinner at a fixed cost of $15 or $30 per person (depending on the restaurant and the time of day).  La Belle Vie is participating, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to sample their wares.

We made a reservation for Monday night and got all gussied up.  The Restaurant Week menu was being served only in the Lounge, which was pleasantly populated without being crowded.  We got a comfy table for two near a window, where we could watch the blustery evening agitate the trees.  We took a look at both the Restaurant Week fixed menu, and the A-la-carte options on the regular Lounge menu.  We wanted to get one of the tasting menu series (a tomato compote, black olive tortellini, and braised rib eye) and supplement it with some things from the a-la-carte menu, but our server informed us that wasn’t an option; in order to do one of the tasting menus (there are 3), everyone at the table must choose the same one.  Bummer.

So we decided to go the a-la-carte route.  First, though, we had to choose from among their impressive cocktail list.  I went with the White Lotus, a concoction of gin, cava, a raspberry, and other surprising ingredients I can’t remember (their online cocktail menu doesn’t seem to be up to date).

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Mike got a glorified margarita, with unusual flavors and lots of kick:

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The cocktails were inventive and splashy, but weren’t priced far beyond your standard martini or mojito at any decent TC restaurant, which was nice.  They were fun and creative, but probably not something you’d want to have more than one of (both because of their strength and the quirkiness of the flavor combinations).

For our three a-la-carte choices, we went with the flatbread with porcini mushrooms and carmelized onions, the king crab and artichoke fazzoletti with saffron and dried tomato, and the sautéed sea scallops with carmelized eggplant, asparagus, and prosciutto.  The flatbread came out first:

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Something about this dish didn’t work for me.  The flavors of the mushrooms, onions, and cheese all melded nicely, but the texture of the flatbread itself was rubbery and tough.  We managed to eat the whole thing, but only because we were famished.  This is not something I’d order again.

Next up was the fazzoletti.  Fazzoletti is a thin, flat, paper-like pasta.  This dish was better, but I still felt somewhat disappointed.  It was nice–but I kept hoping for a bite that would make me close my eyes and savor each passing sensation of flavor and texture on my tongue, and that bite never came.

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When you get sampling-sized portions at entree dish prices, you really want each bite to blow you away.  You’re paying for the quality, not the quantity.  There was nothing wrong with this dish–it just left me a little cold.

So we were naturally doubling down on the scallops–this was going to make it or break it.  They came darn close to saving the day.  To be fair, I’ve never met a sea scallop I didn’t like.  And in true sea scallop fashion, this dish was delicious:

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I even forgot my rule about not eating pig and savored the crispy morsels of prosciutto atop the scallops.

As good as the entree was, though, I have to give the overall experience a B-.  Maybe it was all the hype I carried into the meal with me–all the things I’d heard and read about how exquisite this restaurant is.  Maybe it was the fact that we chose a-la-carte dishes instead of the restaurant week tasting menu.  Or maybe it’s just not as amazing as everyone says it is.  When I last ate at a restaurant of similar quality and prestige (D’Amico Cucina, before it closed, RIP), the food literally made me moan.  I was hoping for a similar experience at La Belle Vie and didn’t find it.  But now I know!  I got my fix, fulfilled my fantasy of eating there, and now I can stop gazing at it longingly every time I drive by Hennepin/Lyndale.  And I call that a success.

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