Facing off across a loopy, not-yet-mighty northern stretch of the Mississippi River, Minneapolis and St. Paul still carry on like rivals. St. Paulites are proud of their adherence to traditions, while Minneapolitans take pride in edginess and verve. But this cosmopolitan oasis at the intersection of the Great Plains and the North Country is united on one score: the white-hot synergy of its culinary scene, with several buzz-worthy chefs drawing inspiration from a bounty of Midwestern ingredients. The dishes they're concocting stray far beyond the prime steaks, Scandinavian home cooking, and German comfort foods that used to signify dining out around here.

The first place most serious food folk mention is La Belle Vie (510 Groveland Ave., Minneapolis; tel. 612/874-6440;, out near Loring Park. The muted elegance of the dining room -- with its pale wainscoted walls, dark woods and leathers, and white-linen table settings -- gives center stage to Tim McKee's French Mediterranean-inspired cooking. The five- or eight-course tasting menus are the best way to sample the full range of what he can do with dishes such as roasted poussin with caramelized pork belly, broccoli rabe, and eggplant, or grilled beef tenderloin with chanterelle mushrooms and artichokes. (McKee's other restaurant, Solera, is another Minneapolis favorite.) La Belle Vie first opened in 1998; the next year, Alex Roberts opened Restaurant Alma (528 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis; tel. 612/379-4909;, with an equally refined New American menu. The blond woods and simple lines of this restaurant make it look more casual, but there's nothing offhanded about Roberts' fixed-price menu, which focuses on organic, sustainably farmed seasonal ingredients. For each of three courses, you choose among four or five options such as grilled swordfish with glazed fennel, or a pan-roasted duck breast with sautéed swiss chard, lentils, and glazed figs.

As the dining scene in the Twin Cities has ripened, second-generation stars have risen such as 112 Eatery (112 N. 3rd St., Minneapolis; tel. 612/343-7696;, the brick-walled downtown bistro opened in 2005 in the night-clubbing warehouse district. After polishing his reputation at two other esteemed kitchens in town (D'Amico Cucina and Café Lurcat), chef/owner Isaac Becker brings flair to every cafe item, like his sirloin steak crusted with nori, tagliatelle with foie gras meatballs, and even a bacon-and-egg sandwich spiked with hot harissa sauce. Then there's long, sleek Spoonriver (750 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis; tel. 612/436-2236;, opened in a riverfront plaza across from the Guthrie Theater in 2006. Chef Brenda Langton reprises the fresh and healthy locavore fare of her acclaimed former cafe, Brenda. Her menu is somehow upscale and homey at the same time, with lots of artful salads, charcuterie, pates and terrines, and vegetarian specials. Over in St. Paul, Lenny Russo -- who earned his stars at longtime St. Paul favorite W. A. Frost & Co. -- opened Heartland (1806 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul; tel. 651/699-3536; in 2002. The Prairie-Style decor of Heartland suits its Midwestern farmers' market-inspired menu. The daily-changing roster of entrees includes roasted rabbit, braised elk chops, pan-fried trout, salt-cured Lake Superior smelt, bison bratwurst, or duck prosciutto.

The scene is so hot even nationally celebrated chefs are trying to muscle their way in. Wolfgang Puck recently opened 20.21 as the house cafe of the superb Walker Art Center (1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; tel. 612/253-3410; Several menu items, including some fancifully sculptural desserts, are designed specifically to complement the Walker's 20th- and 21st-century art. Modern artworks also line the walls at Chambers Kitchen, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's hip hotel restaurant in the Chambers Hotel (901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; tel. 612/767-6979;, which features Vongerichten's trademark Asian-accented rustic French cooking in a sleekly minimalist informal space with an open kitchen.

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