-written and photographed by Susan Powers
Unassuming elegance and outstanding food. That is La Belle Vie at 510 Groveland, Minneapolis. If you have been, you can’t stay away. If you haven’t been, you need to treat yourself to one of the finest dining experiences in the Midwest.
When Chef Tim McKee first came up with the idea for La Belle Vie, his vision was to have a Paris-type Bistro that people would visit a couple of times a week. It’s beginning in Stillwater, MN, reflected that. He imagined a Toulouse Lautrec painting coming to life, good times and great food. La Belle Vie’s diners were demanding and having an influence on the direction of the restaurant and food. La Belle Vie was growing up and moving to Minneapolis facilitated that growth.
Housed in the historical 510 Groveland building, polished elegance surrounds you from the minute you arrive. The beautiful carved stone exterior opens to a lobby graced by decadent architectural moldings and stunning chandeliers. The grace of the original design has been meticulously maintained. The feeling is one of the elegance of yesteryear combined with the modern notes of today.
Chef McKee, an art lover, has procured stunning bronze statues, beautiful paintings and in the bar, an amazing piece that reflects his anthropological background.
Like the homes of days past, the restaurant is divided into three main spaces. The formal dining room, which includes two rooms, and the lounge (pictured above). With its velvet pillows and chairs, sheer silk window treatments and deep rich colors, it wraps you in a cozy ambience.
The main dining room, actually divided into two rooms, is elegant, sophisticated and cleanly designed. It’s a beautiful background for the stunning food coming out of the kitchen.
As expected, every chef I have photographed is passionate about food. Their passions are born from a million different mothers. Some come to it early, in their grandmothers’ or mothers’ kitchens. Others find themselves on the road, without even knowing they had taken that turn. Chef Tim McKee was studying anthropology, and started cooking at Filios as a way to pay for college. He ended up at Azure, under Jay Sparks who noticed a talent budding in the young chef. His encouragement along with McKee’s intense interest in studying cookbooks (he has hundreds) and reading menus (he reads them daily) guided him along the way.
McKee ended up in the kitchen of D’Amico where he was promoted to Executive Chef, still not thinking that food was his path in life. It wasn’t until in 1997 when he was nominated as one of Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs, he decided that food would be his career. He has gone on to win the James Beard Award for Best Midwest Chef, and Gourmet Magazine has named La Belle Vie as one of the top 50 restaurants in the United States.
Chef McKee also knows how to spot talent and you don’t run a restaurant like La Belle Vie on your own. He is rocking the kitchen with some amazing talent. Chef de Cuisine Mike DeCamp, who McKee states is responsible for fifty to seventy percent of the menu creation, is a powerhouse in his own right. Nicknamed YC for “young chef” his talent is well beyond his years.
The ingredients are the stars of the food at La Belle Vie and they are what inspire Chef McKee. Whether it be a soft-shell crab (pictured above) or a beautifully seared piece of Foie Gras, McKee’s French Mediterranean inspired menu is always perfectly composed.
Balancing flavors, building textures, the dishes delight the palate. McKee asks, what is the main component, where is it going to be used and then builds from there. His deeply infused flavors compliment each other so completely that the final dish achieves a finesse that makes you want to return every night of the week.
McKee carries around an encyclopedia of food knowledge in his head. When someone has that kind of a resource to pull from, mastery of flavor is a given and a gift. One that Twin Cities diners have been exalting for years.
Whether enjoying the Chef’s Tasting Menu, or ordering a la cart, your meal will be perfection. The lounge, with its separate menu is a favorite for a more casual feel.
For Your Kitchen
Stephanie is in the kitchen again re-creating Chef Tim McKee’s delicious recipe for English Pea Tortelli with Blue Crab, Truffle & Mint
The recipe has four parts, but Stephanie suggests work-ahead tips. For the recipe and photos of preparation click here: English Pea Tortelli with Blue Crab, Truffle & Mint
La Belle Vie 510 Groveland Avenue Minneapolis, MN 612.874.6440
All images and text ©Susan Powers Photography 2011