Blog Archives

Falling for Date Nights

Like everyone else, we’ve been pivoting on the date night thing. Changes in weather, and rising COVID rates, meant options were becoming harder to find. So, rather than a monthly recap, I’m moving to bi-monthly, because, well, there just isn’t as much story to tell.

Our first October date night was his choice. We headed over to the movely Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to wander and enjoy the scenery.

If you’re a Minnesotan, and have never been, go. If you are like us and go maybe once a year, change that and go seasonally (that’s on my to do list next year). If you live in another area, find one near you. Ours is run by the University of Minnesota, and, as they say on the website,

“Founded in 1958, we are a member-driven non-profit with more than 1,200 acres of professionally-maintained gardens, rare plant collections and accessible trails…the Arboretum is engaged in cold-hardy plant research and has developed 27 commercial apples, including Honeycrisp, Haralson and First Kiss®. In 2019, USA Today readers named the Arboretum the best botanical garden in North America.”

Learn more about it here.

Every time we go we are inspired on ways to further enhance our yard (and usually HWSNBN comes home with pocket fulls of seeds. Sometimes he even writes down what they are for.

The Arb often has seasonal displays and exhibits. You may remember our date night there last winter to see the lights. This time the featured exhibit was a scarecrow competition.

After dinner, we headed to dinner in a new-for-us location 30 Bales in Hopkins. Would totally go again. It looks like a typical diner (a little fancified), but the food is anything but ordinary.

Next it was a nightcap, aka a nice glass of wine, at the Vine Room, also in Hopkins.

The next week we got busy –socially speaking. We double dated on Friday evening with friends Christi and Jim (the Sun 50 folks) at a new Excelsior Restaurant, the Bull and Finch.

Saturday it was my turn to plan. It was a gorgeous sunny fall day, so we headed east to St Paul. We pretty much only go to St Paul when I plan dates, because HWSNBN is sure we will fall off the edge of the earth of we drive that far (it’s like a 30 minute drive, max). First up was a late lunch/early dinner at the The Gnome Craft Pub. Formerly the Happy Gnome, this place was revamped by celebrity chef Justin Sutherland and partners, complete with a to die for patio (swinging chairs under the trees and fairy lights? yes, please!).

Food is drippy and delicious, and this will be my go to for pre-gaming for Xcel Energy Center events post-COVID. We started with Shaved Raclette (molten hot cheese, potatoes and shaved ham — was there any question I would be into this?). He had the Carved Barbacoa sandwich, and I had the Carved Wet Pork (great band name, BTW). Defintely a three napkin sandwich.

Traditionally we only see the changing leaves on Cathedral Hill during the last miles of the Twin Cities Marathon, and neither of us looks up — he’s eyeing the finish line and I’m searching for him.

The mansions are gorgeous, however, and I’ve always wanted to explore them. All the hosted tours were closed, but I found a cool self-guided one online, courtesy of Big Boy Travel. For a few hours we wandered, learning all about the neighborhoods and who had built and lived in the various homes.

(the tour starts at the St Paul cathedral and finished at the James J Hill House. Both were closed to the public (thanks, COVID) so we will have to go back. We had a ball. At one point, a woman who lived in the area watched us as we read off the info about some homes on her block. She interrupted ato ask what we were doing, and was fascinated by the website. She learned something new, and was excited to try the tour for herself, even though she’d lived amidst all that gorgeous history for years!

The next weekend was his turn. With dog Stevie Nicks in tow, HWSBN took us to a very cool pumpkin patch in Watertown called the LuceLine Orchard. It was funny watching Stevie’s reactions to all the people, dogs and other animals. At one point she was just following her nose, then lifted her head and was within bleating distance of a goat and a chicken. Girlfriend jumped and did a double take. A little later she met a very large, very furry, cow.

Stevie wanted nothing to do with her, and backed away quickly. She is such a suburban dog. She looked at us like, “Is this what you guys do when you leave me???”

Decided to drop her back at home to recover (what must those doggie dreams have been like, I wonder?), and went to dinner to one of our faves, Coalition in Excelsior.

We kicked off November with a double date with friends Matt and Patti. Just a nice, easy night at a delicious place I’ve mentioned before: P.S.Steak. My only complaint is that they didn’t have their French Onion soup on the menu. They need to bring that back! But let’s face it — the steaks are to die for, and ya gotta love a Baked Alaska! So retro, so delish!

We took kind of a break from date nights after that, and instead took a trip which I will talk about in another blog. Then Singer Girl came home, and Thanksgiving happened, so we have been focused in those directions. We did manage a nice date night in, with takeout from the aforementioned Bull and Finch, and me beating the pants off him playing Racko.

The date nights have definitely mellowed, but they are just as necessary. Man, are we gonna date night HARD when this pandemic is over! We are so lucky to live here, and I intend to take full advantage of everything we can!

Argentina by way of Italy is a Delicious Trek

We visit a lot of new restaurants, so I thought I’d throw in a review here and there for ones we love. We visited Martina in December as part of a double date with folks I’d never met. HWSNBN works with him, and he thought we’d have fun together. So forts we trekked over to the Minnesota Landscape arboretum to ooh and ahh at the holiday light show. This was on my date night list already, so I was happy they chose that as a fun thing to do. Afterward, we went to dinner. It was awesome!

I expected a tiny, overcrowded restaurant and was pleasantly surprised! While the bar was jam-packed, the restaurant itself was open and light.  I also appreciate the combination of trendy and classic decor. Martina is like the love child a California fern bar and a millennial industrial hot spot. Green plants soften stark white walls, and weathered wood tempers exposed metal (I am obsessed with the copper water pitchers and want one NOW). Service was relaxed and friendly, starting with the lovely hostess (n a red blazer I also coveted). Bartenders weren’t as chatty, but let’s face it it was three people deep and no one could hear anyway. But their smiles were loud enough! Our server was great and didn’t look down his nose at his 50-plus customers, even if none of us have tattoos and the men were clean-shaven. That is not always the case in “hip” restaurants, lemme tell ya.

Martina is known for its cocktails, so we ventured in that direction first. I was worried that mine (can’t remember the name) was gonna be nasty (my husband picked it for me) as the only liquor listed was vermouth, which I hate. But it was herbaceous and light and refreshing. He had the Mare, which actually was good for a giggle. He didn’t read what the asterisk signified on the menu (denotes a warning for those with shellfish warnings), so he was worried about what would be in it. We still don’t know what maritime essence is (don’t ask don’t tell), but he liked the drink a lot and the floating mini lilypads were frickin’ darling.

Dinner! First, we had an amazing wine from Cicada that went down super fast and easy and we would’ve ordered another bottle but two of the 3 drinkers were driving and the 3rd felt a solo bottle would be overkill. Settled for a delicious wine by the glass. Our server was able to steer us right which is always appreciated.

Apps: our table had the leek and gorgonzola empanadas (I could’ve made a meal on those) and grilled beef tongue bruschetta. I didn’t get to try that, mainly because it was gone before I could even say “may I try…”

Entrees were plate cleaners as well. Martina’s culinary focus is Italian influenced Argentinian, which is fascinating and oddly a lovely marriage. I had the chef’s take on cacio e pepe, created ravioli style versus with the traditional spaghetti. Each bite was a burst of silky cheesy peppery happiness. My husband had the prosciutto-wrapped cod, because he was fascinated to see how that flavor combo worked (he loved it). The others at the table had the special which was Argentinian-style beef tenderloin, and the grilled octopus which was a visual stunner, and, it’s consumer said, the best he’d ever had.

I left that night excited to come back and took the hostess’s card. I was hoping to arrange a night there for our dinner club but they don’t like to do large parties unless we reserve a whole room. Instead, this will be on our date night list for the future!

Martina: https://www.martinarestaurant.com/

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