Requiem for a classic

La Belle Vie closed its doors on Oct. 24, the victim of rising costs, changing tastes and, yes, disruptive road construction. During its fabled 17-year run, chef/owner Tim McKee’s culinary palace was a standard-setting pinnacle of excellence and innovation, an influential training ground and career launchpad for untold numbers of local chefs and hospitality experts, the local birthplace of the modern craft cocktail movement and without question the state’s No. 1 special occasion destination. Trouble is, “People don’t have enough special occasions,” said McKee. The takeaway? For McKee, it’s support your local restaurant. “If there’s a restaurant that means something to you and you really think is important, it’s your responsibility to keep them busy,” he said.

Au revoir, Vincent

The closings are continuing through the end of the year. For a wide swath of the Twin Cities dining scene, New Year’s Eve will end on a bittersweet note, when chef Vincent Francoual rings out 14 delicious years on Nicollet Mall and shutters his beloved Vincent, a longtime favorite with critics and diners alike. “I’ve been rethinking my life and, after a lot of reflection, I’ve basically just decided to move on to something new,” he said. “This is more of a life decision than a business decision.” Francoual is going to take over the culinary direction of a quartet of Irish pubs — the Local, the Liffey, Cooper and Kieran’s Irish Pub — and his namesake restaurant will soon be converted to a Caribou Coffee/Einstein Bros. Bagels mash-up. Also, a pair of long-running favorites are calling it quits on Dec. 23: the original Origami, one of the Twin Cities’ first sushi destinations when it debuted 26 years ago, and Calhoun Square’s 17-year-old Chiang Mai Thai.

Rest in peace

Twin Cities diners with long memories will recall the trailblazing reign of chef Klaus Mitterhauser. The Austrian native cooked in Switzerland, France, Sweden and Brazil — and taught at the Culinary Institute of America — before relocating to the Twin Cities to work as a research chef at General Mills. During the 1970s and 1980s, Mitterhauser was at the helm of several top-rated Twin Cities kitchens — including La Tortue, 510 Groveland and the Anchorage — before branching out on his own with Mitterhauser La Cuisine in downtown Minneapolis in 1982.

A move to St. Peter, Minn., followed, then he returned to the Twin Cities with Mitterhauser’s Restaurant, which ran from 1993 to 1997. “He taught a lot of people, including me, a lot of things about classic European technique,” said Lucia Watson, founder of Lucia’s Restaurant, who worked in the late 1970s as Mitterhauser’s pastry chef at 510 Groveland. Mitterhauser, age 83, died Nov. 4 at his home in North Branch, Minn.

Also departed: restaurateurs Ramon Joseph “Ray” Granda Jr., age 85, and Joe O’Brien, age 83. The couple, together for 55 years — and married on Aug. 1, 2013, the day that same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota — died within two months of one another this past summer. Their memorably eccentric Continental Pantry and House of Fine Cakes graced St. Paul’s West 7th neighborhood for 17 years before closing in 1999.

Going, going, gone

In the midst of a flood of restaurant openings, the year also witnessed a spike in restaurant closings, including some with very long track records: Campus Pizza (56 years), the Four Inns (45 years), Pracna on Main (42 years), Blue Point Restaurant & Oyster Bar (30 years in Wayzata, four in Bloomington), Modern Cafe (20 years), Trattoria da Vinci (16 years), the Glockenspiel (15 years), Rice Paper (15 years), Sapor Cafe and Bar (15 years), Solera (11 years), Masa (10 years) and Tryg’s (10 years).

Other notable closings include Daily Diner Frogtown, the downtown Minneapolis branch of Taste of Thailand, the downtown St. Paul outpost of Fuji-Ya, the Calhoun Square edition of Republic, both Bars Bakery outlets, Mattie’s on Main, Cow Bella, Paleos, Terra Waconia, Loring Kitchen & Bar, the Imperial Room, Kokomo’s Island Cafe, Antiquity Rose, Copper River Fish and Chop House, Blue Nile Restaurant & Lounge, Verdant Tea and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. Rosedale lost both Digby’s and Flame, Franklin Street Bakery shuttered its 11-year-old retail counter (the wholesale bread business remains), and Sonora Grill said goodbye to its original Midtown Global Market location.

The replacements

Some addresses can’t give up the restaurant bug. There’s ambitious Parella, which revived the Calhoun Square space long associated with the original Figlio. Or look at the work of the busy father-and-son team of Jon and Jarrett Oulman (331 Club, Amsterdam Bar & Hall), which converted Black Bear Crossings on the Lake into the divine Como Dockside, and then transformed the former Modern Cafe into the Sheridan Room. Other notable replacements include:

Then and now

Joe’s Garage > 4Bells

Colette Bar & Bistro  > Lela

Spill the Wine > Tinto Cocina + Cantina

Pairings Food & Wine Market > Yum! Kitchen and Bakery

Figlio (Shops at West End) > Loop West End

Lynden’s Soda Fountain > Cold Front

Shag Rojo > Mexican Grill

Zen Box > Orient Express

Digby’s (Plymouth) > Rock Elm Tavern

Cafe Zentral > World Cafe

Gray House > Prairie Dogs

Rice Paper > Coconut Thai

Campus Pizza > Bar Luchador

Little Szechuan (Shops at West End) > BlueFox Indian Bar & Grill

Bradstreet Craftshouse > Apothecary Bar & Lounge

Rye Deli > Bradstreet Neighborhood Craftshouse

Porter & Frye > Monello

Twisted Fork Grille > Colossal Cafe

Bone Yard Kitchen and Bar > Salsa a la Salsa

Himalayan Cafe > Mon Petit Chéri Bakery & Kitchen

Billy’s Lighthouse > Birch’s on the Lake

Expansion mode

Plenty of operators added new locations, including Black Sheep Pizza, Salsa a la Salsa, Colossal Cafe, Red Cow, JL Beers, Afro Deli, Masu Sushi and Robata and Bogart’s Doughnuts. Spyhouse Coffee landed its fourth outpost in the hot-hot-hot North Loop (and made the wise choice to stock its counters with Black Walnut Bakery goodies), and Peace Coffee launched not one but two counters in downtown Minneapolis.

And even more openings

The downpour continues. In just the past four weeks, nearly 20 restaurants have debuted — a staggering number — including Saint Genevieve, the Sheridan Room, Ramen Kazama, Scena Tavern, Italian Eatery, Avenida Cocina & Bar, the Draft Horse, Dark Horse Bar & Eatery, the Unofficial, Domo Gastro, Cedar + Stone, Urban Table, Cantina Laredo, Zio Cucina & Bar, Burger Burger, BlueFox Indian Bar & Grill, Volstead’s Emporium and two Rojo Mexican Grill outlets. And there’s more to come: Look for Savory Bake House, Upton 43 and Heirloom, soon.

At the mall, times two

The Mall of America’s dreary dining offerings got a much-needed jolt. Famous Dave’s and Kokomo’s Island Cafe departed, replaced by Zio Cucina & Bar, Burger Burger and Fry Fry, all from Crave mastermind Kaskaid Hospitality. Rainforest Cafe disappeared in January, and is reopening early next year in a new third-floor location. A new upscale J.W. Marriott hotel delivered a new upscale restaurant: Cedar + Stone, Urban Table. Dallas-based Cantina Laredo started serving its tacos-enchiladas-tequila menu in November.

Culinary on North, a great-looking new food court, made its debut, disappointingly populated by the usual suspects (Qdoba, Great Steak, Panda Express, Burger King), although several promising fast-casual concepts are on their way.

Ridgedale is also full of news. With a new Nordstrom came the appealing new Ruscello, and the mall gained a Tiger Sushi as well as Oliver’s, a soup-and-sandwiches spot from Tiger Sushi’s owners Scott Mann and Lisa Edevold. Coming soon: Kona Grill, and a nearby Redstone American Grill is relocating to a new site within the mall.

A very good year

Quality and quantity were neck-and-neck in 2015. The year’s most highly regarded reviews include:

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Spoon and Stable

⋆⋆⋆½

Monello, Revival, Saint Dinette, Surly Brewing Co.

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Eastside, Il Foro, Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar, Nighthawks, the Third Bird, Tongue in Cheek

Thanks

The Strib covers all of my work-related dining-out expenses. That doesn’t prevent me from devoting a fiscally irresponsible chunk of my take-home salary to restaurants, and I’m thankful for all the meals I enjoyed on my own dime this past year at Al’s Breakfast, Bep Eatery, Fika, Foxy Falafel, the Kenwood, Meritage, Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, Oak Grill, Punch Neapolitan Pizza, Restaurant Alma, Sandcastle, Spoonriver and Wise Acre Eatery.

Restaurant of the Year

Spoon and Stable has joined an exclusive club of previous Star Tribune Restaurant(s) of the Year, including:

2014: Brasserie Zentral

2013: Burch Steak and Pizza Bar

2012: Butcher & the Boar

2011: The Bachelor Farmer

2010: Piccolo

2009: Bar La Grassa

2008: Manny’s Steakhouse

2007: Brasa and Saffron Restaurant & Lounge

2006: Midtown Global Market and Mill City Farmers Market

2005: 112 Eatery

2004: Corner Table (different ownership) and Al Vento