I was saddened to hear the news of the closing of two of the great local establishments. La Belle Vie and Vincent A will be closing their doors by the end of the winter. There has been much speculation as to why and I don’t have all of the answers but my last experience at La Belle Vie might give you insight as to why fine dining is dead in the Twin Cities.
Recently, I went out to La Belle Vie to get a final meal. To say “Goodbye.” There’s really nothing like sitting down for a menu of food and wine that have been given so much love and attention. What ensued that night was a fine example of why we are the reason that fine dining is dying. Or already dead.
Many people have explained that the prices are unreasonable or that the cost of staffing is driving profits down. While both of these things may be true we are still missing one big part about fine dining that is in my opinion completely dead. Our ability to enjoy the meal for what it is. Time to enjoy the food and company.
That Friday, I sat down to eat the 8 course tasting menu with the wine paring in the exquisite dining room. The perfect lighting, the linen table cloth, and the way we were greeted were exactly what you would expect at a restaurant of this caliber.
At the table next to me sat a father and his adult daughter who had already started the tasting menu that I was going to enjoy that night. I ordered, eagerly awaiting the first course to arrive at the table. As I waited, my companion and I discussed our week and what we were doing this weekend.
I was struck by surprise when I heard a ringtone go off at the table next to us. Again. Again. It was a text message tone. The father then looked down and answered the texts while the course was being served to him. As the explanation of this fourth course he gazed down at his phone. Not even lifting his eyes to meet the person describing how the food was prepared.
I think this would be the only explanation necessary to illustrate how little this meal meant to him. Unfortunately, it got worse. In between the next course he decided to start watching YouTube videos with the sound on. Who needs to watch pan flute videos on YouTube during dinner? or anytime really? At least he somewhat involved his daughter halfway through the second video. His phone was out for the entirety of the dinner and he was on it for most of the time that I would think he would want to pay attention to the food and the drinks that were being served to him and his daughter. They maybe said a total of 15 words to each other the whole time I was there.
Not only did he miss the elegance of this beautifully prepared meal, he also missed a night spent with his daughter. It takes approximately three hours to do the full 8 course tasting with wine pairings and he couldn’t spare that much time away from his text messages and YouTube videos to have a deep conversation with his daughter.
We have literally killed fine dining with our inability to put everything aside and enjoy a meal with the people around us. How hard is it for us to put our phones away for 3 hours and hold a conversation with someone? I ask these questions because it occurred to me that while I was sitting there I had to check my phone. My work rarely allows me free-time away from my phone. How sad is it that I couldn’t part from it for three hours?
I also found myself asking myself realizing that I hadn’t spent 3 hours in conversation with anyone for a long time. Yes, I spend time away from screens but how often had I had a deep conversation in the last couple of months?
I am equally as guilty of not being in the present moment.
Fine dining requires us to leave our shit at the door. Your ability to enjoy the food and the company requires you to shut down the outside world and live in the present moment. For some reason, we have all decided that it’s not worth it anymore and that is sad. While we lose two of the fine dining players in Minneapolis we need to ask ourselves what part did we have to play in this?
We all need to hit the focus button.
My case for fine dining is simple. Having a meal like the one I had on Friday is meditative. It’s restorative. Shutting out the outside world and focusing on a meal with someone can center you again.
There is a place for fine dining here in Minnesota. It’s just that we need to make it a priority again. There has to be a sacred place where you can have a meal with people that matters enough to pay attention to the food and the company. Next time you go out to have a great meal try and leave your phone in the car, see if you can sit there for 3 hours, and genuinely be in the present moment.
I hope that we can have a place where we go to celebrate big life events with food and that we don’t kill them all.
because food is meditative and restorative.