First, what is a tasting menu? Depends. Some restaurants make small dishes that sample a good deal of their menu. Other restaurants use them to showcase new items or experiments. And there are others that allow chefs to take special ingredients, things they’ve been able to get fresh, and make something special.
I’ve become a big believer in tasting menus. First, nobody knows better than a chef what is the best thing leaving their kitchen. They know what is fresh and what should be featured. At very good restaurants, the servers know this and can help steer you in the right direction. Tasting menus take the guess work out of it though.
Here are a few of my favorites!
La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Avenue
Minneapolis, Minn. 55403
La Belle Vie’s Website
There’s almost no doubt that La Belle Vie is the best fine dining experience in the Twin Cities. The service, the atmosphere and certainly the menu are all of the highest quality. And their tasting menus are out of the world. There’s an eight course, a five course and even a four course in the lounge. I had a dessert course there one time (Pumpkin Creme Brulee with Cider Sorbet) that is maybe the best dessert I’ve ever eaten.
4154 West Broadway
Robbinsdale, Minn. 55422
This is my favorite new restaurant. And a superb dining destination not located in either downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul. Started by a couple of young chefs who have made the rounds in Minneapolis restaurants and they’ve made Travail a must. It’s a high-energy place with a small, ever changing menu written on a chalkboard. The prices are more than reasonable (I’d almost call it cheap), the wine list is small but good and the tasting menu is a bargain. Ten courses, $60 for two people. That’s $3 a course for some of the most creative food in the Twin Cities! Another unique aspect is the service. There are no servers. Instead, the team of chefs and cooks rotate out of the kitchen to serve customers. And nobody knows the food like the people cooking it. Travail is blast. (NOTE: Travail is closed for the holidays and will reopen on Jan. 7, 2011.)
Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market
289 East 5th Street
St. Paul, Minn. 55101
The master of uber-local food, Lenny Russo, also offers one of the best tasting menus in the Twin Cities. And his new space in Lowertown St. Paul is a great place to enjoy an amazing meal. There are two choices at Heartland. Flora which is all vegetarian and Fauna which has meat. I’ve read a lot of reviews about Heartland raving about it but also mentioning that some courses are a miss. But one thing that is universal with Heartland is the uniqueness of the menu. If you really are looking for a dining experience you can’t get at home, this is it!
410 St. Peter Street
St. Paul, Minn. 55102
Options abound at Meritage in St. Paul. Five, seven or nine courses are available plus they’ll even customize it for you. The menus are seasonal, fresh and perfectly prepared. They claim to bring a feel of a French Brasserie to St. Paul and even though I’ve never been to France, they seem to be on the mark with this. Meritage is another terrific choice.
528 University Avenue Southeast
Minneapolis, Minn. 55414
Restaurant Alma’s Website
I’ve always liked Alma because of its coziness. Maybe it’s the open kitchen that makes you feel like you are sitting at a friend’s kitchen counter or something. But of course the food is way better than your friend’s! Restaurant Alma has a few tasting options and they change up the menu every couple months. They do a great job of keeping their food fresh and interesting.
Vincent A Restaurant
1100 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, Minn. 55403
Yes, they’re more than just the “Vincent Burger” which made an appearance on Target Field’s concession stand menus this past year. Some of the finest french cuisine in the Twin Cities is found at Vincent and the best way to sample that is the tasting menu. This is one place you should definitely add the wine pairing to each course. Nobody does it better.
Lindsey Peterson is Assistant Program Director at Newsradio 830 WCCO.