La Belle Vie, Minneapolis, 07/29/06

Even before having kids, we found that combining dinner and a movie was difficult, logistically. Either we rushed to an early movie and ate late, or rushed through dinner to a movie. My husband and I had been on two dates since baby Guppy was born in February, and both were movie dates. (#1, and #2). After traveling and a few tough weeks at home, I decided it was time for a dinner date. And if we were going to go to dinner, I figured we might as well go for broke (perhaps literally) to what our favorite food critic has called “the best restaurant in the history of Minneapolis.”

The superlative is well deserved. A few times during dinner I asked my husband if something was wrong, since he looked rather pissed off. “They’re ruining me,” he complained. “This is too good. Nothing will ever be this good again.” It may well have been the best dinner we’ve ever had. We chose the five course tasting menu, supplemented at our server’s suggestion with the foie gras appetizer (because since when is foie gras NOT a good idea?) and with an extra dessert at the food critic’s suggestion. Even if I’d kept a menu, I couldn’t list all the elements of each dish, because there were so many–I’d hazard to guess about ten elements per dish. Yet they didn’t come off as fussy, disjointed or complicated. Each course was a miracle of fusion and balance.

We began with not one but two amuses bouches, a sauteed squash flower stuffed with cheese and a gruyere puff. The courses were soft shell crab in a bright fresh tomato sauce, followed by trout wrapped in serrano ham, then the foie gras, which was garnished with an apricot sauce that demanded for extra bread to wipe the plate clean. The meat courses were a lamb ribeye and a veal tenderloin. The dessert was a peach and plum tart with peach ginger sorbet, which we complemented with a deep chocolate dessert accompanied by a strawberry and mint confection. With our check were four exquisite, delicious petit-fours.

I was reminded that the best meals we’ve eaten have been tasting menus. A la carte menus make sense for average restaurants, or for meals when time is an issue. But when the meal is the focus (and cost is wilfully ignored), a tasting menu showcases the talents of a chef across a variety of ingredients. The effects, as we experienced, can be dazzling both to the eye and to the palate.

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