When I moved to Minneapolis from New York two years ago, I had a panic attack on my first night in town. I glanced up from a plate of tasteless enchiladas at an overrated Southwestern place and saw that I was surrounded by frighteningly cheerful fair-haired giants. In that anguished moment, not only did I realize how much I would miss my short, despairing, dark-haired friends, I was terrified that I might never eat a decent meal again either. But I'm happy to report that my food fears turned out to be unfounded.
My very favorite dinner here was at the appealingly intimate La Belle Vie (312 S. Main St., Stillwater; 651-430-3545), about 30 minutes away in the town of Stillwater, an Edward Hopper painting come to life. Opened last spring by Tim McKee (a 1997 F&W Best New Chef) and Josh Thoma, both veterans of Minneapolis's world-class D'Amico Cucina (100 N. Sixth St.; 612-338-2401), La Belle Vie turns out marvels of Mediterranean cuisine. The delicate pillows of ravioli stuffed with roasted yellow turnips were sublime, and so was a grilled chicken marinated in honey and cumin.
At Lucia's Restaurant and Wine Bar (1432 W. 31st St.; 612-825-1572), my home away from home, Lucia Watson keeps the rotating menu small and uses only fresh, mainly local ingredients. She even has a way with walleye, the usually bland state fish--not surprising, considering that she trained at the aprons of her Minnesota grandmothers and co-authored Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland (Knopf).