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DeRusha Eats: Victor's On Water

EXCELSIOR, Minn. (WCCO) -- West suburban Excelsior almost had it all: quaint downtown, Lake Minnetonka views, but not a lot of great restaurants.

"In the days of the moccasin shops, the choices were limited," Eric Paulson said.

But in part thanks to Paulson and his daughter, diners in Excelsior have many more voices, including their spot, Victor's on Water.

"The people in Excelsior have been great to us," said chef Phillip Becht, who used to run the Modern Cafe in Northeast Minneapolis.

He's not the only one coming from the city to this western suburb. Customers are coming out to eat, too.

In its first year, Victor's Italian-inspired menu that focuses on home-made pastas is packing them in.

A terrific Bolognese uses braised whole cuts of pork, chuck and veal. The pizzas have a very tasty crust, and clever names like the Jaques Cousteau and Keith Richards.

"I was retired, living in Costa Rica, and found myself bored," said Paulson, the founder and former CEO of Navarre Corporation. "Next thing I know my daughter is talking about opening a restaurant in downtown Excelsior."

Now he's working every day on the front edge of the suburban restaurant renaissance.

"Sitting in this window in the winter time with the snow falling in downtown Excelsior, and the street lights on and the city all decorated, it is one of the most romantic dinners you can have," Paulson said. "It's like sitting in a Norman Rockwell painting."

Good looks are only part of it. Chef Becht's food is legit.

"This is a new environment, new demographic," he said. "I feel really fortunate and really supported."

The pizzas were developed with the help of Doug Anderson, a longtime Minneapolis restaurateur with a knack for dough. The Jaques Cousteau has clams, king crab, and a chowder sauce under a pile of arugula.

The pastas are delicious, and deceptively simple, like a ravioli served as one large piece of pasta - instead of cut up.

The commitment to local, fresh ingredients extends to the bar, where they're making traditional cocktails using Minnesota spirits.

"We have people coming from downtown almost every night here," Paulson said. "We'll see if it holds up on the winter."

"This is a business for younger people, let me tell you," he added, laughing.

Victor's is in the process of building an event space in the basement level. There'll be a private wine cellar and a large room for live music.

Victor's is open for dinner every day and brunch on Sunday.

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