Inside: Haiku Poetic Food & Art
Food and art intertwine at Asian bistro
Special to Metromix
Food becomes true art at Haiku Poetic Food & Art, a Short North restaurant that brings the Asian fusion trend to life with a combination of simplicity and poetry. Just like the traditional 5-7-5 haiku pattern, this bistro takes large nature concepts and translates them into individually powerful pieces, pairing simple sushi ideas with the freshest and boldest ingredients. With all of the plants and massive front patio, there is a hint at a Zen-minded ambition at Haiku, but really the restaurant is one of the most stimulating experiences in the Short North. Just in case you get bored, write a haiku and add it to the restaurant's collection.
Food: Haiku's Asian fusion menu specializes in sushi, with more than 30 different specialty rolls prepared fresh to order. For beginners, check out the shrimp tempura roll, made with shrimp tempura (lightly battered jumbo shrimp), cream cheese, spicy mayo, masago and avocado ($11.50). This roll is mild as far as seafood goes, and is held together by a soy wrap rather than a seaweed wrap. For seasoned sushi lovers, and Buckeye fans, we highly recommend the crunching buckeye roll, prepared with crabstick, eel, and masago and topped off with pecans that add a nice texture to the roll ($6.50).
Haiku really dips into the "fusion" part of their moniker with the rest of the menu, featuring starters like perfectly salted and seasoned edamame (steamed Japanese soy beans, $4), wok tossed shiitake mushrooms ($7.50) and dim sum buns (steamed pork, shrimp and seafood bun, $8.95).
Under the "Broth Noodles" portion of the menu, expect mammoth sized soup bowls of delicious concoctions like the Siamese coconut curry noodle, made with somen noodles, lemon grass, basil and scallions in a spicy coconut curry broth that is a mix of cool and hot, leaning more towards hot once you're halfway into the meal. Also, expect to take most of this home as leftovers- the bowl is seriously huge, enough for three people at least, but served for one.
We recommend going for the sushi or one of the noodle or large plate items, like pad thai (rice noodles with bean sprouts, egg, cilantro, mint and peanuts, $10.50), lo mein (Shanghai noodle stir fry with shredded vegetables, $10.25) and Haiku curry rice (raisins, bean sprouts and onion in a light curry sauce, $10.50).
Libations: The Haiku bar has some cool cats-literally, there are two ceramic animated cats along the top shelf that peer down at you as you sip your sake, Tsingtao or tea of choice. The hot tea is served in a traditional-looking square teapot and goes nicely with a rainy day. The Tsingtao beer is a great choice to help wind down, and the overall beer selection ranges in price from $3-7. There are no happy hour specials, but there is plenty of sake to pair with your meal.
Décor: Everything about the décor at Haiku screams "Perfect for a dinner date!" The street-side patio in the front of Haiku is what everyone notices about the restaurant at first, and for good reason- it's massive, and has cloth canopies draping the terrace beams throughout the entire space, carrying on into the inside ceiling.
Each table manages to feel semi-private, with backless benches, candles and a triangular cup housing paper and pencils for easy haiku crafting. When you're done with a particularly literary haiku, feel free to add it to the diner-written haiku boards that line the beautifully decorated walls (a soft green in the north dining room, more vibrant patterns in terracotta, red and slate in the south dining room). The lighting in Haiku is great, ranging from sconces to small hanging lights over individual tables. Cloth canopies draped along the ceilings complete the contemporary Asian vibe, along with a mix of dark and light woods, creating an ambiance that is borderline sensory overload.
Service: The service at Haiku has been pretty superb for us, with easy and spacious seating, especially on a nice day when the capacity practically doubles to include the front terrace. Servers are patient and willing to give you more and more time, without the awkward absences in between visits that would regularly leave you wishing you were ready the first time they stopped at the table. Instead, servers are good at noticing when to discreetly remove an empty chopstick wrapper or pour the rest of your beer into your glass for you. They take service above the average level, but not in a way that feels uncomfortable or forced on their part.
Crowd: Haiku is ideal for a romantically hip date or for introducing sushi to newbies. You'll find a wide range of folks here, from those actually on dates to those picking up a drink and food at the bar after work, to those who have groups of eight or more. There's a lot of hype going on with the décor, but the general attire feel here is casual, with most people wearing jeans. The music of Iron and Wine and Death Cab for Cutie inspire a calm but cool vibe to take over the place, with nothing played to loudly or too softly. This is great for conversation, because you'll be able to hear some good tunes, but also be able to hear your dining companions.
Insider's tip: While the soup is delicious, it is incredibly awkward to eat, with heavy noodles and hard boiled eggs cut into halves-it's honestly easier eaten with a fork and the aid of a chop stick, but it feels weird to do so.
Bottom line: Haiku combines traditional elements of fresh and natural Asian cuisine with a fusion of modern design, inspired thought and literary soul food.
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