Monday, October 12, 2015

Farewell to Fine Dining at La Belle Vie

By Phyllis Louise Harris
October 2015

Last week I celebrated my birthday by having dinner at one of the few fine dining restaurants in Minnesota. The next day I learned it was closing after more than 17 years in business.

La Belle Vie is the showcase of the culinary talents of Tim McKee who is one of a few Midwest chefs honored with a James Beard award. He started the business in Stillwater then moved it to 510 Groveland near Loring Park in Minneapolis. On October 24 it will close.

There are approximately 10,000 licensed eating and drinking establishments in Minnesota and now there will be one less. It is really a sad commentary on Midwestern tastes (or in the restaurant business known as “bland and boring”) when a restaurant of this caliber cannot draw enough clientele to survive.

I once asked Leeann Chin why she had adjusted her exceptional Chinese cooking skills to something more “Midwestern.” “I cook what the customer wants,” she replied, and built a chain of more than 60 restaurants in several states that still survives after 35 years. The food in her restaurants and the food she cooked for her family and students differed considerably. To me her private cooking was a good example of exceptional dining but she knew it would not sell in the volume she envisioned for long-term success. It was a lesson she learned in her first restaurant at Ridgedale when she ran out of food after the first hour the restaurant was open. The next day she set up a buffet to supplement the fancy menu with hand-calligraphy offering culinary gems. Again she sold out in an hour…from the buffet, not from the menu. She learned very fast what the customer wanted and went on to turn it into a successful business. But only a few of us knew what culinary gems she could create.

There is often a large gap between a chef’s vision and financial success and unless there is an audience who appreciates exceptional food in an upscale ambience the restaurant cannot survive. Such is the case with La Belle Vie. It was on a scale with the Ritz or Claridges in London, the Plaza or Carlyle in New York City, and the original Pump Room or Shanghai Terrace in Chicago. A quiet, refined atmosphere where diners dressed for dinner in something more attractive than cargo pants and tee shirts (men and women), and where the service is pleasant, efficient and knowledgeable. Where the menu offers a wide variety of choices prepared in sometimes surprising ways, but, always delicious.

Local food writers keep saying the Twin Cities has become a culinary haven with ever growing numbers of outstanding restaurants. I wish it were so. What we have is an ever growing array of sameness in different packages. And, with the demise of La Belle Vie we lost an oasis of culinary delights.


Read more about Asian food in Minnesota and try more than 160 recipes in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, now in bookstores and on 

Buy online:  Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875 

Watch the EMMY® award winning “Asian Flavors” television show based on the book on tpt MN. Check local TV listings for broadcast times or view the show streaming online at:

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