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Minneapolis

Everyone has something good to say about Minneapolis.*

* In summer.

I arrived on a Sunday and was immediately struck with the diversity of the employees in the airport– reflected in the multi-language signage all around (none of which pointed me toward the rental cars, though).  At the rental car desk, I asked my agent of an unknown origin why she was in Minnesota, and her answer was, more or less, why not? I picked up my rental car and was off.

The highlight of my stay would be my first night at the Graves 601.  Every hotel in the city I’d looked up was “sold out” on Tuesday, and the Graves’ government rate was not available after Sunday, so my plan was to hotel-hop and hope for any availabilities.  (“Sold out” is never sold out. So you know.) The Graves was more than accommodating: they lowered their weekday rate and booked me on Tuesday, thus eliminating the need to move each day.  The hotel space is spectacular.  I’ll let the photographs speak for themselves.

As I pulled in to the city, I noticed a lot of signs for “Game day parking.”  I looked up the Twins’ baseball schedule and saw that they were to play the Brewers in about 45 minutes.  I just started walking toward the dome.  It was a great game with an exciting twist in the ninth inning. I especially enjoyed the fifth inning beer.

After the game, curious about the city and slightly buzzed, I took the city on by foot. I was struck with the architecture and art. Quintessentially American.  I dropped in to Origami, a relatively nondistinct sushi restaurant near the waterfront.  Come to find out (from a wall of autographs), it’s been frequented by a lot of celebrities– myself notwithstanding.  I ate a small octopus salad as a snack at the bar and entertained myself with an anthology of classic issues of The Onion.  Impressive reading material, and it spoke highly of the setting.

I went back to my hotel to freshen up before going out for a real meal.  I was intent on dining at the 112 Eatery.  With stellar reviews from Food & Wine, the New York Times, and Bon Appetit, how could I not?  The restaurant has two stories, and both were packed when I arrived close to 7.  In fact, I waited for a seat at the downstairs bar.  Reservations would be advisable.  The bartender was very helpful in making recommendations, and I had small plates of scallops to start, prepared with truffle oil and oyster mushrooms.  They were so good that anything after would be a letdown, but I think the lamb really was somewhat of a letdown, greasy and tough.  I’m sure it was an isolated case, because it was quite the outlier, given the scallops and even the bread.  A woman sitting next to me at the bar was preparing a menu of her own– she runs Hell’s Kitchen, a local breakfast hotspot (literally?), and “just loves” the 112.  I promised her I’d eat breakfast at her restaurant because I love sausage gravy and biscuits so much.  –They don’t have it.

The following morning, I decided to bring my work to the hotel restaurant, Cosmos, for brunch.  (AAA Four Diamond.)  This was among the best breakfasts of my life: “Brulee Belgian Waffle.”  When my French server arrived, he asked me where in Europe I’m from.  I giggled and told him I was from the east coast but very flattered that he didn’t take me for the stereotype of a loud American.  He said, “No, that’s not it at all!  (Thanks?)  Your accent is so different.”  To him, perhaps, the Minnesota accent is so distinctly different from what we’d consider to be “American” that he would confuse me for a foreigner.  (It is to me, too.)  So, the dish: take two petit Belgian waffles and top them with bananas and blueberries and sour cream and, presumably, sugar.  Torch them.  Top with whipped cream, serve with maple syrup.  Caramelized waffles.  And it was a very inexpensive meal, too: they made me a special half-size order.

After I put in my day’s work, I took off for the Mall of America.  With more than 500 stores on four floors with a .57-mile circumference and more than 12,000 employees, it’s big.  I took advantage of what I can only assume to be perennial sales and rode the biggest rollercoaster in the amusement park that occupies the center of the mall.  (Do not talk to the children in your car; you are a stranger to them.) I was particularly impressed with P.B. loco cafe, which specializes in gourmet mayonnaises.  Just kidding.  It’s creative peanut butter, and it’s surprisingly good.  I tasted “Raspberry Dark Chocolate, “Asian Curry Spice,” and “Sun-dried Tomato” peanut butters.  And then, having just sampled what I came for, I bought a Diet Pepsi.  I would.

Another hotel I looked at but was too expensive was the Chambers, an art hotel that I thought might be like Louisville’s 21C Museum Hotel.  It is– without the presence.  My sister told me what Vanity Fair said about it, so I might have missed the point.  (The same article talks about the 21C; and the Chambers concierge should have at least heard of it!)  Regardless, I had a pleasant dinner of a sashimi appetizer and ginger marg on a leather couch in the hotel bar.  I noticed, though, that a gentleman sitting at the bar was looking at me a bit too much.

I crossed the street to go to Solera, a tapas restaurant with a rooftop bar.  According to my bellhop, “It’s not as cool as it used to be.”  Based on what I saw, and based on the authoritative opinions I’d experienced until then, I decided to go regardless.  On some nights, they project movies on the back of a billboard on the roof and offer a drink special to go with it.  On Monday night, the movie was Little Miss Sunshine, and the special was “Lucy in the Sky,” a martini glass filled with Everclear Jello shots and topped with champagne and juice.  Inevitably, when I arrived, it was packed.  When I turned around, the man who was staring at me at the bar was there, almost alarmed that I noticed him.

I immediately scowled and said loudly, “You followed me!”  Friends I’ve told the story to can’t believe that I would draw attention to the situation, but this is, after all, me.  He acknowledged that he had, in fact, followed me across the street, and I proceeded to tell him that he “can’t” do that, and “while I’m flattered, I think it’s really annoying.”  I also informed that he was ruining it for “all men,” and not to do that. Ever. I finally said I would give him a five-minute head start to leave the restaurant, and I would be “really pissed” if I spotted him again that night.  The situation was laughable.  And that was the last of him.

Because there were no seats at the movie and it was cold, I thought I’d go back to my hotel for a sweater, come back a half hour later, and see if anyone would have left by then.  When I got to the hotel lobby, the elevator door was about to close so I threw my hand in to catch it.  The doors opened and it was clearly a professional basketball player and four or five “suits.”  I said, “Y’all got room for a little lady?”  Admittedly, it was cute!  I was at the front of the elevator, and the doors were mirrored so I could see everyone, and everyone could see me.  A handsome suit behind me asked where I’m from, and I said, “Charlottesville, Virginia.”  He just said, “U-V-A…” to which I said, “Yeah, I work for UVA in alumni relations!”  Pause. “How come?  Do you have a story?” to which he replied, “Oh, there’s a story.”  I know, hold on to your seats– the tension was killing me, too!  He said, “You sound proud.”  I said, “I am just very lucky to be here.”  Mind you, the entire time, I am grinning like it’s my fourth birthday and I just received a Barbie convertible, and I have about the same knowledge of basketball and sports in general as most 4 year-olds, so I have no idea who I’m grinning next to.  Anyway, the elevator door opened, and I wanted to ask about that “story,” but instead I went upstairs to my room and ran Google searches on basketball players, gave up, made sure I didn’t have lipstick on my teeth, then descended to the bar for wasabi-encrusted peas, a lychee martini, and a little stalking of my own.  It was Scottie Pippen, according to the bartender.  By the time I got up (I managed to get through two servings of wasabi-encrusted peas in that time), Mr. Pippen had not one but three girls on his lap.  Given his stature, they could all fit.

I went to Hell’s Kitchen on Tuesday morning.  It’s located just off the Nicollet Mall, with a surprisingly nondescript exterior, given its name.  The interior is pretty subdued, too– red walls and some predictably crafty art.  But the food is so good it had to be evil, or something.  I had a half order of homemade maple glazed bison sausage and a cup of Mahnomin porridge.  It actually rivaled Cosmos.  That was by far the best sausage of my life.  My server offered, “It’s healthy, too!”  No chance in hell, lady.  The owner was there and was really surprised I’d come.  I don’t make empty promises!  And I really like breakfast!

In the evening before my big meeting, I visited the Walker Art Center to see its sculpture gardens.  (See pictures.)  I wanted to see the De Kooning and Picasso exhibits, to further experience De Kooning’s inability to paint hands, but I really just didn’t have time. And by time I mean money.  I then went to Lake Calhoun to see the Uptown area and, obviously, the lake, and it looked like a fun place for a yuppie/hipster to live.  The city was very lively.  Its fifth consecutive year, Minneapolis put on “MOSAIC,” an arts festival featuring three months of exhibits, speakers, dance performances, and parties to celebrate the city’s diversity and culture.  Any city that devotes itself to such an admirable cause through the arts has my respect.

Our business meeting was at Zelo on the Nicollet Mall, and I thought it was good but not spectacular.  As a table, we shared scallops, fried calamari, and mussels, and I ordered salmon over risotto for my entree.  I always order salmon medium/medium rare, and this was actually overcooked.  The risotto was good, but (I can’t believe I’m saying this!) the truffle oil was too strong.  It needed to be balanced.  I was glad to see that everyone else enjoyed their meals– and the meeting was a big success.

I suppose I should finally say what the rooms were like in the Graves 601.  They’re on par with ZaZa and 21C from my Dallas and Louisville posts, respectively.  I was relaxed there.  It felt modern and clean without going in the directions of pretension or sterility.  Unlike when I walk into a cheap hotel, I didn’t feel like anyone had inhabited it before me.  My reading material included the mag Paper and I had the option of getting the NY Times instead of the local daily.  The bed was made like how Hyatt’s are now done as a standard– sheets over duvets, the triple-sheet.  The bathroom sink was a glass bowl, and there was a TV opposite the toilet.  (I’ve never used a TV in the bathroom, but it’s nice to know that should I be in the mood, it’s there.)  The shower was a “telephone style” head with surprisingly good water pressure.  Hermes toiletries iced the cake.  If you can go, go.

Detroit

Six years ago, I visited my sister in Ann Arbor. Because she is without question the best sister ever, (ever!), she had “lost” her most recent Michigan ID. So there we were: two young women of the exact same name, and two of her friends.  The first club we went to was, I believe, called “Dream”—something stereotypical for a city club. Once inside, I noticed that all the wrong people were checking me out—and they were checking me out from beds.  Yeah, there were beds. Glowsticks. It was the kind of place that I would think was awesome in about five years, but I needed those five years to warm up first. That night ended up being historic in the life and times of me, but I digress.  I went on to visit her two more times in Ann Arbor.

If my flight to Detroit was any indication of what was to come, I was to get violently ill very soon. The gentleman in the seat next to me managed to sniff (use your imagine) for the duration, even when he was sleeping. That takes skill! And a lot of germs! (I’m a germophobe!) I began to expect the worst. Here was Detroit, the city of Henry Ford, Eminem, and my great friend Carolyn.

I ate dinner with my business colleague at Vinotecca in Royal Oak, and theirs is the first filet of salmon I’ve ordered since Houston that was actually cooked to order, medium. I was genuinely impressed also with their wine. They serve an authentic ice wine by the glass, and their Starry Night red zin was like drinking expensive jam. I loved it. The calamari was lackluster, but isn’t everbody’s (except for Vic and Anthony’s in Houston and Bizou in Charlottesville)?

After, he and I walked through Rocks on 5th (?) and Sangria, a Spanish-theme restaurant and bar in downtown Royal Oak. It was no later than ten, and the restaurants and bars were all packed! And the best surprise of all: Sangria’s weekly salsa night upstairs in its Sky Club was packed, and the dance floor was full of couples who knew the mamba from the meringue. It was fantastic.

My night ended quite well. I got lost (not lost so much as insecure in my hand-written reverse directions) somewhere in Dearborn and decided to pull over to ask for directions at a business I felt really comfortable with: a liquor store. Nevermind the questionable characters loitering in the parking lot! Once inside, it was almost instinctive—I didn’t even think to ask for directions, I just grabbed a bag of Doritos, then a diet ginger ale, and finally I saw a sign for sale cheap champagne. I got my directions and my champagne that tasted like white grape juice mixed with hydrogen peroxide and club soda, and the clerk said, “You are so pretty! It is so nice to see a woman in a dress! All I ever see are jeans. You are just so nice looking!”

“That is exactly what I needed to hear right now!” I gushed.

On the second day in Michigan, I decided to change hotels and move into the city.  It’s not that the Hyatt Dearborn is a bad hotel, it’s just that it’s a conference hotel, a fifteen minute drive from Detroit and half hour drive from Royal Oak.  For the solo business travel, a conference center for math teachers and the Veterans of Foreign Wars is not the ideal setting.  I booked myself at the Marriott at the Renaissance Center.  The “Ren Cen” is both a hotel and the headquarters of General Motors.  Located on the waterfront, the hotel has over 1,200 rooms on 72 floors.

Striking though the space is, the experience does not convey the “renaissance” of the city at all.  The staff was not particularly helpful.  For example, after my work event, I decided to have a cocktail at the RiverBar, and it took (I checked) 10 minutes at a bar where no one else was ordering at the time.  It was made wrong, too.  I wanted to dine at a popular hotspot called Agave, a recommendation from my sister.  Several Google searches convinced me the restaurant had closed recently, but the staff insisted it was still open.  I spent more than $20 on cabs going to and from.  Luckily, I had a Plan B.  When I was researching restaurants where an alumni event could be held on the Metro Times website and came across a “best of Detroit” Metro Times piece about the perfect meal, I’d e-mailed food writer Jane Slaughter for a recommendation.  I couldn’t believe I actually got a reply, to be honest, forgetting that journalists appreciate any and all e-mails not complaining about their most recent article.  We obviously opted to do the event in Royal Oak, a much better location.  But, starving as I was, I was not about to give up on downtown Detroit.  I took her advice and cabbed to the Centaur Bar.  I loved it!  The two bartenders were talkative and witty, and they did not hesitate to make me their Wasabi cocktail, prepared with actual wasabi.  The contrast of sweet and spicy was really very good.  I was equally amused with the food.  They were out of what I ordered first, so I had a wild mushroom hors d’oeuvre.  The red wine and cream sauce made for a purple meal!  Good, though.  The space is just beautiful.  I would hold an event there, absolutely.

Ann Arbor was a drastic change of scenery.  I met a college friend for lunch at Zingerman’s Delicatessen, which was exactly the same as I’d remembered it from my last visit to Ann Arbor about three years ago.  The oversized sandwiches and salads are packed into a 12-page menu (at least), with endless combinations of ingredients.  The weather was perfect for eating at picnic tables.

Though I generally will avoid writing about work in this blog, I will say that Eve was the perfect host for our event.  In a word, elegant.  My friend and I went on to the Prickly Pear for dinner, where I had a very good scallop and chicken combination meal.  Cathy at the First Street Garden Inn was a delight, and her pancakes hit the spot after a night of dancing and champagne on Main Street.

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Minneapolis skyline.

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The Metrodome, for the Cardinals game.

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Impressive library, no?

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Waterfront view.

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Skyways connect almost every building. Locals joke about the hamster cage.

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I honestly can not remember which picture I took first, but I did not realize the similarity until after I uploaded pictures to the computer. It was the most amazing feeling to realize what I’d captured.

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Octopus salad at Origami.

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The many celebs who’ve been there.

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The exterior of the Graves 601 Hotel.

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An interior shot.

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Guest room.

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Cosmos, the lounge and restaurant.

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Mall of America!

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Chambers Hotel art.

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Chambers Hotel “art.”

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I did enjoy this painting of a birthday party.

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The “cocktail” special, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

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Rooftop movie.

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The same library, by night.

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Hell’s Kitchen.

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Walker Art Center garden– HUGE fish!

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Conservatory at the Walker Art Center.

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Flowers.

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The signature sculpture.

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Church in Minneapolis.

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Clouds…

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The Detroit airport is quite high-tech!

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Dearborn, Michigan.

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Tigers Stadium, Detroit.

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Centaur Bar.

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Renaissance Center.

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University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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Inside the university library.

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