My partner and I had our first date a few days before Feb. 14.
We met at Wussow’s Concert Cafe. I was late; he didn’t seem to mind.
I ordered turmeric mango tea; he had chai.
We sat near the stage; our table hugged close against the wall.
We talked about many things, one of which was a News Tribune story I was writing on the science behind romantic love.
“So, you’re doing some field research?” he asked, with a slight smile.
That was two years ago.
For our Year One anniversary, we did … a bunch of things we can’t remember — (I don’t know; this was pre-pandemic). This year, we landed on a mini food vacay in the Cities.
In the planning stages, we aimed for new-to-us fare: Ethiopian, Hmong, Vietnamese.
When the time came, we fed the cats, packed the car with bags and a dog and headed out.
Here’s a log of our food travels.
MORE ABOUT FOOD TO LOVE:
4:45 p.m. // Hai Hai
2121 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis
We hadn’t eaten in a restaurant in close to a year, but decided to go for it here.
To keep numbers down, Hai Hai required reservations and a 90-minute seating limit.
We reserved a table for two through Resy for 4:45 p.m., the perfect time for two lunch-skippers to beat the dinner rush.
Walking in, Hai Hai felt like a tropical respite — lush green walls, floods of natural light, happy palm and monstera plants, some as tall as me.
Visitors were seated at every other dining space, with lovely, full ferns acting as eye-level barriers on each table.
We got the attention of our waiter using a flip chart. One card communicates you’d like help, another says you’re good — a smart way for minimal contact.
He ordered the Crispy Viet Crepes for $15.50, and I had the Hanoi Sticky Rice (Xoi Man Thap Cam) for $13 (substituting mock duck for the ground pork, pork floss and Chinese sausage).
Our waiter was knowledgeable and kind, and when the food came, he made “how to eat this” suggestions, a welcome offer for the crepes and my side of mystery sauce.
For mine, I mixed everything together and took my first bit from the bowl of wonder.
Succulent mock dunk, mung bean, fried shallot, poppy pickled veggies, cucumber in nuoc cham (a Vietnamese savory sauce). It was colorful, fresh-tasting and packed with punch.
Hai Hai has an assortment of spirit-free sodas in guava-grapefruit, Viet cinnamon grenadine and more. I went with passionfruit, perfectly bubbly, crispy and fancy-feeling.
8 p.m. // Milkjam Creamery
2743 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Hours after dinner, I was finally ready for dessert.
A quick Google search for “vegan ice cream” led us to Milkjam Creamery.
In the mood for something decadent, I scrolled past the V and GF lychee pineapple sorbet, the toasted coconut and more and honed in on Black, “their darkest cocoa.”
Asked if it was bitter, the behind-the-counter Milkjammer likened it to the sandwich part of an Oreo cookie.
I ordered a scoop and an ice cream treat for the dog.
Mine was rich, creamy and jam-packed with cookie-like consistency and sweetness. A delectable end after a day of driving.
And, our pup devoured her treat, too.
10 a.m. // Barbette
1600 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Ready for brunch, we trotted the few blocks from our hotel, the Moxy Uptown, to Barbette, a woman-owned, French restaurant.
Colorful stained glass light fixtures hung from an exposed ceiling. Columns stood covered in bright and reflective tile. There were dark leather booths with bistro chairs and an influx of hanging art from a dreamlike elephant painting to a massive, modern cat collage.
He told our waitress why we were in town. She offered celebratory bubbly — a kind gesture.
He got a glass, and I went with tea.
He ordered the classic baguette French toast with fruit compote and maple syrup ($12); I had the Miso Butternut Squash Wild Rice Bowl ($14) with smoked salmon (an additional $7).
Both were almost too pretty to eat, but we found a way.
The salmon, pink and perfect, was delectably smoked and squishy. The wild rice was perfectly cooked and flavorful, mixed with black lentils, frisee (curly endive) and broccolini.
The dried apricot and golden raisins added a delightful sweetness, and the walnut dukkah (an Egyptian spice blend) was warming.
5 p.m. // Trio Plant-based
610 W Lake St., Minneapolis
After a trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Midtown Global Food Market, we ordered from Trio Plant-based, a highly rated vegan soul food restaurant.
I was sold on the concept of anything “soul food,” and to top it off, my partner read me Trio’s fascinating origin story of owner Louis Hunter’s move from facing felony charges to sold-out pop-ups and a community-backed restaurant opening.
Trio’s menu is plumb full of macs in chili and buffalo cauliflower; burgers in classic, fiesta and falafel; jackfruit or walnut “meat” tacos; sweet potato pie and vanilla cake with strawberry sauce.
For me, it was hands-down the For Your Soul Bowl.
Packed in one container were layers of mac and cheeze, collard greens, a splash of buffalo sauce, crumbled cornbread with a to-die-for dab of maple butter and topped off with barbecue jackfruit riblets.
I luxuriated in the comforting warmth of food I have known all my life, and the values with which it was made.
The jackfruit riblets were surprisingly spot-on in texture and consistency, and the barbecue sauce was sweet and booming.
It was a hearty helping of vegan fare for $16.
This may have been my favorite of them all.
10 p.m. // Darbar India Grill
1221 W. Lake St., Suite 106, Minneapolis
He ordered curry, I had room for a single lamb samosa.
The crispy exterior was flakey and solid in all the right places, and the insides burst with ground lamb, peas, spices and mad flavor.
* * *
We didn’t make it to one more restaurant like we planned before heading north the next morning, but oh, we’ll be back.
Melinda Lavine is a feature reporter for the News Tribune. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-723-5346.