I just have to say we had a really nice meal at the Hodo Restaurant last weekend.

We go to the Hodo Lounge often enough, though I’ve often poo-poo’d it because I find the food inconsistent. I’ve eaten some of the best Fargo meals at the Hodo Lounge, as well some of the worst, which is why I was visibly annoyed that we ended up there for date night. Being 7:30 p.m. and having not eaten dinner also didn’t help my mood.

Even though we’ve eaten in the lounge/bar many times, we’ve only visited the restaurant once for appetizers, desserts, and beverages. The experience was fine enough, though I didn’t find the food particularly memorable. I do remember finding it memorable when someone in our party ordered a shot of absinthe and watching the server keep trying to light the sugar cube on fire. It never ignited (A quick Internet search reveals this is actually a common practice, though frowned upon by the Wormwood Society).

Our original plan that evening was to grab a burger. JL Beers was packed (per usual) and we didn’t feel like waiting for a seat in the also packed Hodo Lounge. Therefore, I followed Jake across the lobby to the Hodo Restaurant where we were seated immediately. I have to confess that I kept wondering that if we were going to spend that much money, maybe we should save it for a different occasion.

We ordered the cheese plate to share, $16, our own bowls of pan roasted mussels with fingerling potatoes, chills, black garlic harissa, and grilled bread, $12, and a side of wild mushrooms to share, $5.

I remained cranky until our server brought us an unexpected amuse bouche and bread basket with flat bread and rye which we covered with a butter that tasted like it contained a higher than average percentage of butter fat, and flavorful cheese spread.

The amuse bouche consisted of some type of pickle and seared piece of fish. It was wonderful. We lazily nibbled on the cheese plate as we waited for our mussels.

The chef included a thoughtful card listing the cheeses included. Our favorite was the Les Freres. The cheese plate came with more flat bread and its garnishes included spicy almonds, grapes, dried apricot, olives and capers, and reduced balsamic.

The wait between the cheese plate and mussels was curiously long. I wonder if the Hodo Restaurant and lounge share the same kitchen, because the restaurant was quiet during our entire dinner, save for a couple other parties who came and went. We weren’t in any hurry, though, and enjoyed taking the time to unwind after work.

I’ve tried mussels cooked in many types of broths and sauces. My favorites have always been cooked with white wine, butter, and garlic (our favorite, offered at Meritage). Often, I find other types of sauces for mussels too busy. It’s like they are distracting or overwhelming and I find myself just wishing I had a simple bowl of mussels.

The Hodo’s chili and black garlic harissa was definitely not simple.

The dark sauce was thick. It’s flavor didn’t strike me as tasting significantly of garlic, but tasted more like how it looked. Sweet and sour like tamarind. The spice level was lovely. At least for chili-heads like us. The spice wasn’t hot enough to knock our socks off but held our interest. I would have been happy mopping up a bowl of the sauce with the charred slices of bread.

All of the mussels in our bowls were opened. They tasted fresh, but were on the small side. For me, this bowl was more about the spicy black broth, anyway.

We also lazily grazed on the side of wild mushrooms. Deep and meaty, and varying in texture. They tasted like they were cooked in a lot of butter and gently perfumed with garlic. Best of all, they were perfectly salty.

Our meal ended with tiny pieces of chocolate.

This leaf tasted a little of mint and also of smoke. It melted in my mouth and disappeared as quickly as I placed it on my tongue.

All in all, a memorable meal at the Hodo Restaurant. Affordable beer, well-seasoned food, and unexpected flourishes like the amouse bouche, bread basket, and chocolate. All of which made this Friday dinner after a long work day feel much more special than what it was.