Chef Tim McKee, the James Beard Award-winning chef behind landmark local eateries like La Belle Vie, Sea Change and Solera, has announced his newest venture — a North Loop restaurant inspired by Spain's Basque region.
The menu will be influenced by the foods of San Sebastián, Bilbao and Pamplona and primarily be prepared over charcoal. But beyond those details, McKee is remaining tight-lipped about a specific location — it's somewhere on 1st Street — menu items and even who co-owns the restaurant.
"We're trying to play it close to the vest, but we wanted to get the idea of what we're doing out there, because it's so hard to keep secrets," McKee told the Star Tribune. "I've been wandering around the North Loop lately and running into a lot of people, 'What are you doing here?' Now they know."
The news comes just as McKee is wrapping up a successful pop-up at Travail. The experience was a parade of tapas and pintxos — snacky bites that bars traditionally serve with drinks.
The new restaurant's format and even some ingredients may be familiar to attendees of the Travail pop-up and fans of McKee's groundbreaking Minneapolis Spanish restaurant Solera. The geographic focus, however, will be on the Basque region of Spain, as opposed to Barcelona and the Catalan region showcased at Solera.
"It's in some ways a related cuisine, but in a lot of ways, there are a lot of differences in approach, so I'm really excited about that," McKee said. "I'm not that interested in revisiting what I've done. I'm more interested in starting culinary conversations that we aren't currently having in the market here."
This is the first restaurant from McKee since his sustainable seafood restaurant Octo Fishbar and Market House Collaborative closed in St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood early in the pandemic. McKee has kept a low profile since then, but his foray back into restaurants now comes with a dose of optimism for the industry.
"Part of the reason I've been hesitant to get back in is there's a lot of pressure," he said. "The restaurant business has always been pretty risky, and there's been a lot of economic pressure that makes it even more risky. But I do see that starting to improve a bit, and I think it's starting to stabilize."
McKee has built a stellar reputation as one of Minneapolis' most beloved chefs and mentors. La Belle Vie, McKee's first restaurant would garner him the James Beard Award, Minneapolis' first chef to bring home the honor.
In 2003, he opened Solera in downtown Minneapolis. The restaurant was the first in what would become a wave of Spanish influence in the Twin Cities in the early 2000s. McKee would depart that business years before its eventual closure in 2015.
That was also the year La Belle Vie, by then regarded as the pinnacle of fine dining in Minnesota, shuttered. Other restaurants that have benefited from McKee's expertise and knowledge of world cuisine include Sea Change, the Parasole restaurant group and Masu Sushi & Robata.
While he's mum on the location, this part of North Loop is already a restaurant-dense district, with Gavin Kaysen's Spoon & Stable, the forthcoming Daniel Del Prado restaurant in the former Bachelor Farmer address and the under-construction Fhima project inside the old Ribnick Furs building.