All Minnesota knows La Belle Vie as the premiere fine dining restaurant in the state—but did you know that America’s first James Beard Award winning restaurant is about to undergo some big changes? Of course you didn’t, only they did.
But you know, speaking of James Beard Awards, guess who’s returning to Minneapolis? Chefs Erik Anderson and Josh Habiger, of America’s it-restaurant of 2012, Nashville’s Catbird Seat. Anderson and Habiger are well known to local foodies, the two young chefs met on the line at dear, departed Auriga under chef Doug Flicker; Anderson went on to work for La Belle Vie’s Tim McKee at Sea Change before teaming up with Habiger for the Nashville restaurant, which went on to national fame—number 5 on Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant list, darling of the New York Times, top table for Radiohead and the Black Keys, and so on. But now they’re coming home! For a James Beard Award fundraiser, November 5, at Sea Change. A little bird tells me tickets will cost $125, and will feature courses by Tim McKee, Jamie Malone (now in charge of Sea Change, once Erik Anderson’s right hand), the Catbird duo, and Denver’s Frank Bonanno. They’re not available for purchase until October 10, but watch the website feverishly for what’s sure to be an historic meal.
Speaking of historic: You know Taste! is this weekend, right? That’s when the Mpls.St.Paul Magazine food crew, that is, me, Steph March, Bill Coy, Beth Dooley, Andrew Zimmern, take over TCF Stadium so that we may sample 400 tasty drinks (300 wines, 100 craft beers), sup on the snacks provided by dozens of restaurants, and raise money for two good causes, namely University of Minnesota Athletics and On the Green Line, which helps the businesses affected by light-rail construction. (And some are being affected right out of existence. On Saturday I’ll be conducting a seminar on sparkling wines, a “Deep Dive Into Bubbly,” in which we’ll sample 10 bubblies from all over the world. Come? It will be fun. To kick off the merriment, we’ll give away a pair of tickets, at random, if you answer this question before noon Thursday, in the comment section below: Favorite food-wine pairing? (Must be 21 or over to win, of course. Check at noon Thursday for an announcement of the winner in the comments.)
Speaking of winning—why on earth would La Belle Vie change anything when they’re the local fine dining champ? So they don’t stop winning, evidently. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” executive chef Mike DeCamp told me. “A long, long time.” Drum roll . . . They’re rolling out 13-course tasting menus! And doing away with much of the a la carte menu. Don’t panic, the bouillabaisse is staying, and there will always be a steak or similar beef option for the fancy food averse, and you can get anything on the smaller 8-course as a full entrée if you want it—but other than that, the a la carte menu will be 86’d. What will the chefs do with their newfound time? They’ll be tableside, doing stuff!
Can we expect a guacamole cart, I asked DeCamp. “No no no. No no,” he said, throwing in a few more no’s for good measure. “No. It will still be La Belle Vie. And it won’t be a big gimmicky thing, we’re not trying to be Travail, just a little more interactive. For the rouget [fish], we might set up a glass vacuum pot, have ingredients for broth in it, shellfish, vegetables, tomato, and set it on the table so that the broth cooks in front of you, and is added to the fish, which has been cooked in the kitchen. A little more interactive, but we’re not going to turn into one of those restaurants where they’re talking and explaining the whole time you’re sitting there.” Okay, sounds fun.
With the extended menu will come more vegetable courses, more playful plating (DeCamp is working on building shadow-boxes with glass tops so that food can be plated over, say, fresh autumn leaves, without actually getting any fresh autumn leaves on the food. There will also be additional amuses bouches (those first, free, whimsical courses) and additional mignardises (those last, candy and cookie whimsical courses.) And some of those first courses may be very whimsical indeed: Mojito infused into sugarcane, foie gras macaron, and chips and dip served family style, but the chips are made of puffed mushrooms and the dip is truffled fondue. Okay, does the world really need a La Belle Vie with more whimsy? “I find that if you’re not advancing yourself, you get stagnant in what you’re doing. You have to evolve,” DeCamp said. Evolution is scheduled for late October.
Ooh, late October. When the mittens come out. Enjoy your weekends beforehand—maybe at Taste!?