La Belle Vie illustrates beautifully the aesthetic sensibilities of French food practice. The most recent addition to the Springs' gourmet French scene, it serves cuisine du Midi, which aims to capture the essence of the French Mediterranean coastline, boasting simple, light, elegant, centuries-old recipes that hark back to the Roman Empire, with confessed Italian and Spanish influences.
The restaurant creates traditional dishes while refraining from eccentric postmodern fusion that many chefs feel they must flaunt to justify expensive food. At La Belle Vie, the garlic and butter speak for themselves. And, my, how they roar.
Case in point is the escargots Provencal en croute starter ($9), snails drowned in parsley-rich garlic butter under small French dough stars. The chance to mop excess butter with French baguette slivers served prior, with soft butter and a pleasing, garlic-dominated olive tapenade is this dish's extra gift. We also enjoyed the artichaut Adeline ($11), a tasty, light dish of poached artichoke hearts and crabmeat in a lemon-shallot vinaigrette.
For dinner entres, we selected the coquille St. Jacques Biarritz ($25), pan-seared sea scallops in a creamy vermouth sauce alongside greens and diced tomato, and the tournedos rossini ($30), sauted beef tenderloin in a cognac truffle sauce, topped with a sliver of goose-liver pate alongside a garlic-rich (sensing a pattern?) au gratin potato triangle and crumb-dusted tomato half. Both dishes showed perfect temperature and texture: the scallops soft, but not cooked-through, and the medium-rare tenderloin crisp-charred, thick and pink. Glasses of Ctes du Rhne and Chteauneuf du Pape complimented the food excellently.
During our meal, chef de cuisine Olivier Leheux, who supports executive chef Gerard Rouvenach, swept through the dining room to ensure guests' satisfaction. Managing partner Eric Devillaz, who comes from years of serving at Walter's Bistro and brings a polished charm tableside, also checked in throughout the meal. Their attention, combined with the restaurant's simple, clean interior one large, long room split by an open kitchen, half-masked behind smoky glass partitions helped overcome a location and boxy exterior perhaps better suited for an IHOP.
La Belle Vie boasts a dessert menu of patisseries and dressed-up ice creams that nearly equals the length of its main menu. We tried the tarte aux fruits, a fruit tart glazed in citrus gelatin, seated in crme Anglaise, and an off-menu crme brule at dinner, and the gateu au fromage, a fruit-topped goat cheese cake with mango coulis, and a layered pastry dough Napoleon (all $6.50) at a subsequent lunch. All were delicious and none overly sweet, the goat cheese cake emerging as the most unique.
Also at lunch, we ate a top-notch port wine French onion soup ($6) and a salad ($7) of warm Brie on greens, mushrooms and tomatoes, which aside from the Brie, was unremarkable and benefited from a requested side of lavender vinaigrette from the dinner menu.
For mains, the smoked salmon on white bread Sandwich Magalie ($10) and Brochette Victoria ($13), a chicken kebab basted with a demi-glace reduction, both were served with seasoned fries savory enough to be eaten sans dipping sauce.
The most memorable aspect of lunch and my most persuasive reason to go back was the braised spinach. Served next to the kebab, it was prepared to raise eyebrows in any guesses? garlic and butter.
La Belle Vie Restaurant & Patisserie
1606 S. Eighth St., 471-9849
Restaurant open for lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday-Friday; dinner, 5-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.