Much like every other celebrated holiday, Valentine’s Day may just be another excuse for you and a sweet thing or two to dress up, hit the town and eat a little too much.
Since the procrastinating college student stereotype had to originate somewhere, we’re assuming that you haven’t made the reservations for tonight. Well, you’re in luck, because we’ve lined up two smart restaurants that are sure to please your starving taste buds. Just make sure to call ahead like the responsible student you so often pretend to be!
food Eclectic Cuisine
where 2516 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
The Duplex was voted “Best Restaurant for a First Date” by the readers of City Pages. Naturally, I thought I’d pilot my way to the quaint Uptown restaurant for a date of my own. After borrowing a friend’s Volkswagen and getting lost twice, we finally showed up twenty minutes late for our reservation.
The Duplex, living up to its name, is an old house that was converted into an eclectic bistro on Hennepin Avenue. Upon entering, we were greeted with the strong scent of delicious roasting peppers and seafood. Defining the atmosphere of the quaint eatery proves to be a difficult task. In an attempt to break from the standard date-spot, The Duplex fumbles from time to time. The tea-candle and Christmas bulb ambiance, deep red and orange walls and angular, metallic furniture tiptoe on the line between charming and tacky.
The eatery recovers flawlessly in every other aspect of the dining experience. The server was witty and helpful, returning often to refill what my date called “thimble-sized water glasses.” The menu was relatively inexpensive and diverse (including steak, ravioli and assorted seafood delights), but not excessive. I didn’t find myself flipping through endless notes to find something to pique my interest.
After our delicious (and colorful) tomato basil soup and crab cake appetizers, I ordered the night’s special, a garden fettuccini with a light sauce, chorizo and shrimp, peppers, bright sun-dried tomatoes and onions. The pleasant meal rested well with me, leaving me satisfied and well-prepared for the Chai I caught later in the evening.
Paired with its smart Uptown location, The Duplex gives new meaning to the phrase “home-cooking.”
food Authentic Vietnamese
where 394 W. University Ave., St Paul
Mai Village, an authentic Vietnamese restaurant in St. Paul, is located just a few miles down that University Avenue we all have grown to know and love. Armed with nothing but our intuition and an address, we stumbled upon the restaurant on Friday evening.
From the exotic entrance, boasting a bridge over a pond of live lilies and Koi fish, to the traditional serving attire, Mai Village is extremely committed to the overall environment and atmosphere of the restaurant. The varying platform elevations divide the large dining hall into a group of charming rooms, while the carefully-placed vegetation serves to enhance the perceived, exotic feeling.
As the evening progresses and the lights dim, the murmur of conversation elevates to a pleasant roar. The restaurant’s ambiance is perfect for some flirty conversation on a first date. Be aware, though, that the spicy, pepper-filled food may leave you with less than desirable first-kiss breath.
The eatery’s major strength is the freshness of their vegetables. In the lo mien, the broccoli and carrots still crunched delightfully, while my noodle salad’s bean sprouts and egg roll was fresh to the bite. Rest assured that there are no heat lamps to be found in this kitchen! Not only was the food delicious, it was pleasing to the eye. The bright colors in each dish were key sidekicks to the bold tastes.
The restaurant’s service was slightly negligent; I often found myself with an empty water glass, but I was far less than disappointed with the speed of my order’s preparation.
Mai Village delivers more than delicious food. With the restaurant’s exotic character and quick turnaround, it’s the perfect beginning to a hopefully longer evening.