DeRushaEats: Does Fine Dining Matter? La Belle Vie Turns 15

It is unusual for any restaurant to last 15 years, especially a restaurant like La Belle Vie. And you could make an argument that LBV is the only true fine-dining restaurant in the Twin Cities.

“That’s fair,” Tim McKee answered, the chef and partner whose work at LBV led to his James Beard Award, the first for a Twin Cities chef.

Chef Stewart Woodman’s Heidi’s is in the fine-dining conversation and so is Russell Klein’s Meritage, but to me, La Belle Vie is the standard-setter. If one thing is slightly off, it’s a surprise. Expectations are high.

When I sat down with McKee and his business partner Bill Sommerville in the lounge of La Belle Vie, they both discussed the importance of fine dining. White tablecloths, a complete wine program, great service, elegant ambiance. “It’s really crucial to have a fine dining place like this, just like it’s crucial to have a place like the Walker or MIA. It’s important for culture to have fine dining,” said McKee.

“Formal is the F-word to us,” said Sommerville, which made me laugh. “Come on,” I chided. He responded, “The lounge is like a party on Friday and Saturday night.” Fair point.

But the trend is certainly away from fine dining, not just in the Twin Cities, but across the country. Look at what the alums from La Belle Vie are all doing: Jack Riebel has a James Beard nomination for Best Chef-Midwest for his work at Butcher & The Boar, Michelle Gayer also is Beard-nominated for her Midtown Global Market bakery The Salty Tart.

Both places are awesome, but neither are fine dining.

Matt Bickford opened Be’Wiched deli and Ice House, Shawn Smalley opened Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque in Stillwater! Adrianna Odom is the Parasole pastry chef, Tyge Nelson at Chino Latino, Jim Christiansen is at Union and Jamie Malone is at Sea Change.

All worked with McKee in the La Belle Vie kitchen. None of them opened a fine dining restaurant.

La Belle Vie wine program
Bill Summerville far left

“I’m really proud of the people who’ve come through here. I’m really proud to have had an effect on the dining scene in the Twin Cities,” said McKee.

In fact, you need at least one fine dining place, if for nothing else, to serve as a culinary training ground. We as diners win, because these casual restaurants have incredible technique from the kitchen.

Will La Belle Vie be around in 15 years? I sure hope so. I love fine dining. I love great wine. I love being taken care of by excellent front-of-house staff. I love the special touches and little amuse-bouches.

Do most diners care? Do you care? Do we need a top-notch fine-dining restaurant in the Twin Cities?

If you’re a fan, tickets are still available for Sunday’s La Belle Vie birthday party for $150 each. Call 612-874-6440.

La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Ave, Mpls.