Archive | March, 2011

Fogo de Chão

16 Mar

Fogo de Chão
Visited Friday, March 4th, 2011

fogo de chao exterior

Ryan
I had never eaten at Fogo de Chao, but in the days leading up to the big night, many friends and co-workers told me about their experiences and really hyped this up as being more of an event than just another dinner at a restaurant. Like the Mongolian BBQ places and their bowl-stacking techniques, people have developed methods at Fogo to ensure maximum meaty intake. Some of the advice given to me included “avoid the temptations of the salad bar” and “there’s only one side to the card, and that’s green.”

ryan salad bar

I am a big carnivore; meat of all kinds is welcome inside my belly. At Fogo, I was like a kid in a candy store—succulent beef, chicken, pork, and even lamb at every turn! First, however, I ordered the house cocktail which was sort of a boozy Brazilian mojito with an entire lime sliced up. So good, I ordered two (and was only charged for one!) Some people have told me the salad bar is the highlight of Fogo; true, it was loaded with some great breads, vegetables, and even some other cuts of meat, but I knew I was only in this for the meat. I took a big piece of asparagus, a slice of bread, and smoked salmon and then waited for the servers to arrive with the meats.

drink

I don’t even know where to begin. I could sit here for 17 paragraphs telling you about each meat, but for the sake of you actually reading this whole post, I’ll just tell you my favorites. #1 was definitely the filet mignon. I could go to a different restaurant and order a filet only twice the size of the slice I was served at Fogo and be charged $30 for my meal. Here, that portion of filet ended up being about $1.50 when you average it all out, and it was the best I’ve ever had. My mouth has begun to salivate thinking about eating another piece of that!

#2 was the house specialty, the picanha, a cut of top sirloin. Shaped like a C on the poker, it was equally as tender and flavorful as the filet mignon. Other top cuts were the Linguica pork sausages and the bacon-wrapped chicken. If I were to go again, I’d focus on those four first and foremost. But that’s not to say that the others were less satisfactory, because they all were good. Seriously, all 17 were excellent cuts of meat. However, the rack of lamb was probably my least favorite. The leg of lamb was much tastier. Even the pork tenderloin, seasoned in my typically despised Parmesan, was outstanding.

picanha

Remember the Scrubs where Turk eats ten steaks at dinner and goes to the hospital in agony? I was warned about the “meat coma” by several friends and co-workers. And while I didn’t need my stomach pumped like Turk, I hit the uncomfortable stage. My heart rate sped up and I began seeing things—I thought a banana was a sausage and later I thought a piece of lamb was a chocolate-covered strawberry. Ten minutes later I was polishing off Lauren’s cheesecake for dessert, so I guess it was short-lived.

cheesecake

What else can be said? I have not had such a fun restaurant experience before. It was truly an event to anticipate, not just dinner at another restaurant. That said, it must never become a regular thing. I hope that we can visit once per year in the future for special occasions, or during the special restaurant weeks in Minneapolis with the discounted rates.

orchid

Lauren

I had been waiting and waiting for the next Restaurant Week with one goal in mind: Fogo! So when the dates were announced, Ryan hopped on OpenTable and booked us a four-top for the Friday night, and we talked the Rosoks into joining us for dinner. When we arrived it was absolutely slammed! I guess the word about the good deal to be had was out. It didn’t matter though, because the restaurant is so huge that we were seated in no time. After a quick explanation from our waiter about the “card” system and a round of drinks ordered, we were off to the salad bar!

Unlike my dear husband, I could definitely see myself going to town on the salad bar. I like meat but I’m more of a veggie eater than he is! So I found it tough to not fill upon the tasty things lining the salad bar; I limited it to some bread with balsamic vinegar, red peppers, lettuce and endive, mozzarella, broccoli and artichoke bottoms. Oh, and some smoked salmon! All of it was so delicious, the smoked salmon especially was amazing. It was definitely difficult for me to set the salad aside and ready myself for the onslaught of meat.

salad bar 1

So, unlike Ryan I did not try all of the meats. I first tried the garlic beef, which was not a favorite of the rest of the group. I liked it because it had some delicious charred bits and great garlic flavor. Next up were two bacon wrapped items, chicken tenders and filet. The chicken was amazing, but the bacon-wrapped filet was not as good. I think it’s the difference in the two meats – you definitely want to cook bacon fully, but cooking filet to well-done ruins it! Another surprise favorite was the linguica sausage, which was very spicy. With all of the prime beef cuts, I didn’t expect to love the sausage but it was delicious. And of course, I really liked both the ‘house specialty’ picanha top sirloin but the regular, non-bacon wrapped filet mignon was definitely the best – the favorite of the whole group.

meat

I really do think I could be satisfied with a meal at Fogo without the meat, and that is helped by the never-ending sides. The polenta was amazing. Frankly I didn’t think the potatoes were worth eating and the plaintains (which I normally love) were just so-so.

side dishes big announcement

Ambiance – It’s a little hard to get accustomed to the non-stop servers offering you meat, but we did okay after getting over the initial shock. It was very busy during Restaurant Week, of course, filled with happy diners chowing down on what had to be at least 30 whole cows.
Service – Very enthusiastic and prompt…except when it was time for the bill. We sat for quite a long time waiting for our server to bring us back our credit cards.
Food – Deeeelicious! Ryan may have stuffed himself full but I kept my meat intake under control, which was difficult at times. I even managed to order and eat a little bit of dessert!
Overall experience – A very fun night! It was definitely a great bargain during Restaurant Week. If not for the special deal, I wouldn’t have felt like I could have justified the cost but this was an awesome treat. Ryan is already looking forward to the next restaurant week…

The Necessities
Fogo de Chão
645 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN
612.338.1344

Have you eaten at Fogo de Chão? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below!

Great Mandarin

12 Mar

Elsewhere on the web: As part of our partnership with FNS Delivers, Ryan & Lauren review Great Mandarin in Eden Prairie.

Ryan’s reviewLauren’s review

Note: Outside of the cost of food, we are not being compensated for our writing at this time. We have no financial interest or stake in FNS Delivers. FNS Delivers is a wholly owned subsidiary of BLACKSUN PRODUCTIONS.

Joe’s Garage

5 Mar

Joe’s Garage
Visited Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

exterior

Ryan
First, I must say this was our most controversial restaurant visit. Controversial in that we received extremely poor service, left a tiny tip, and later complained to management. However, management’s quick and satisfactory response erased my feelings of hostility. Now to relive the story of our visit to Joe’s Garage on Wednesday night.

This week is Restaurant Week in Minneapolis, where a lot of places give customers the opportunity to eat lunch or dinner from a special menu for flat rates of $15 or $30. Lauren suggested Wednesday night that we take in one of the $15 dinner restaurants, and gave me the list of her five finalists. From that, I selected Joe’s Garage due to its largely American menu, just what I was in the mood for.

We arrived and were seated at 6:55 near the kitchen. Lauren wasn’t thrilled with where we were seated, so I asked the waitress if we could move to a booth. The waitress said that shouldn’t be a problem, at which point Lauren changed her mind and insisted she was fine with where we were. I don’t know if this little exchange somehow rubbed the waitress the wrong way or not, but it’s the only possible reason I can come up with for the events that soon unfolded.

The waitress returned at 7:05 and we placed our drink and dinner orders. There were five selections from each of the three courses: appetizers, main courses, and desserts. At this point, a pair of ladies were seated near us in a booth, and another couple was seated beside us. Lauren and I were chatting and enjoying each others’ company when I noticed the ladies in the corner were receiving their drinks and appetizers. “Ours must be coming soon!” I thought, finding it odd that people who sat down well after us were getting their food and drinks before us.

bread

Time continued to tick off the clock, and we were getting confused and impatient. Now the ladies in the corner were being served their main courses, and the table to our side was getting their appetizers. A third table behind us was seated during this time, and I thought “if these people who sat down at least twenty minutes after us get served first, I definitely have to say something.” A few more minutes went by, and they were served before us.

It was now 7:35. I was getting downright angry. We tried to get the waitress’s attention, but she avoided us and wouldn’t even make eye contact. Now we suspected that the wait was not an oversight, but intentional. But why would she do that? Because of Lauren’s tiny little two-second scene about seating? I told Lauren that if we weren’t given some sort of attention by 7:40, we were walking out. Lo and behold, at 7:37, our wine arrived and the waitress informed us the apps were on the way.

bulgogi tacos

Apps were out soon after, and they were good. We split orders of Korean tacos and wontons. The ladies in the corner were now waiting for their check, and the table to our side was on to dessert. The table behind us was finishing off their main course. We had now been at Joe’s Garage for over an hour and were still waiting on our main courses. Clearly it wasn’t backed up because others were being served in a timely manner, just not us. We couldn’t figure it out! It was 8:15 when our main courses arrived, and the tables near us had all paid and left. I had the jerk chicken and it was decent, had a little kick to it. The fries were not very warm anymore, but Lauren was kind to share her hot fries with me.

jerk chicken

The rest of the night, the service was good. Our dishes were cleared, our water glasses stayed filled, and dessert and the tab were out quickly. Dessert was the highlight of the meal for me. The warm chocolate tart and ice cream was excellent.

chocolate tart

I had such high hopes for Joe’s Garage. The food was fine but it was such an afterthought to me after the worst service we’ve received since last summer’s Moto-i debacle. Clearly the poor service had me forgetting about the rest of the night. The food was decent, prices were great, portions were reasonable. Ambiance wasn’t great in the kitchen area, but not awful.

So anyway, for the first time since a similar experience at a local D’Amico & Sons restaurant a couple years back, I wrote a letter to management and let them know we did not enjoy our experience. Within only hours I had heard back from the owner, who apologized and offered a gift card to make up for the poor service. That made me feel a lot better that management is working hard to ensure customer satisfaction. No ill will towards Joe’s Garage; we’ll try it again with our gift card this spring and hope for a much more pleasant experience!

Lauren
Gah. Well, Ryan has already said plenty about the service we received at Joe’s Garage, so I’ll just add this: We would have left much happier about the whole experience if our waitress would have acknowledged some kind of mistake or made some sort of apology. Any indication that she realized that she had messed up would have gone a long way with us.

When we got to Joe’s we were led to an area that I am a little shocked that they seat people in – was this to accommodate extra MSP Restaurant Week traffic? I don’t know, but I did not much care for being shoved into what seemed like a service area. To my point, this was the scene to my right:

ugly ugly ugly

And that’s why Ryan wanted to ask to move tables, but what I would have really preferred was to move sections and I don’t know how I would ask a server to put me in someone else’s section without coming off like a jerk. Having said all that it was kind of fun to watch the cooks do their thing, since I was directly facing the window where the servers picked up orders. Open kitchens are cool and I was liking watching them but you would think that Joe’s Garage could do something to make this space a little less horrid. I would think that for a relatively small investment they could make this into a much nicer space so that people stuck back there didn’t feel like they were secondary citizens, smashed between a service area and storage.

waited 30 mins for wine

Now that I’m being honest, after waiting 30-plus minutes for house wine I was in such a mood that I really wasn’t going to have anything positive to say about the experience, and the wine backed that plan up. I know house wine is by definition not the best stuff, but this tasted halfway to vinegar.

shrimp wontons

The shrimp wonton appetizer I had was good. Chopped up shrimp that was seasoned with curry and a coleslaw that was dominated by toasted sesame oil flavor. Dipping sauce is what you’d expect, some kind of Ponzu sauce.

lamb sliders

The lamb sliders were surprisingly meaty, although they were done more pink than I would have liked, as I have a natural aversion to underdone ground meats. They had a generous slathering of chevre and roasted red peppers which were both slightly warm, but also ice-cold strips of portobella mushroom which were unpleasant against the warm burgers. My fries, in contrast to Ryan’s, were still hot and I was happy to share them with him — I didn’t want to fill up on them when I had a dessert coming anyway. Priorities, people!

coconut creme caramel

For my dessert selection I went with the coconut crème caramel. I had checked out the menu online for Restaurant Week, which turned out to be abbreviated as online it was Banana Cream Pie, and when we actually got to the restaurant it was listed at Chocolate Banana Cream Pie. Bah!

During our extended wait that evening I saw many of the crème caramel being brought out with lots of lovely blackberries and raspberries, so I was disappointed when mine had mostly sad-looking blueberries. Outside of that, the custard itself was very good and was also the highlight of my meal, but that’s not surprising given my love for pretty much all custard desserts.

Ambiance – Bad. Ryan didn’t hate it but I have never been seated in such a terrible area of a restaurant. I don’t understand how they can justify seating people next to an overflowing storage area.
Service – Well, it was just plain terrible. We were ignored, our order was obviously forgotten but there was no attempt to address the situation or even recognize that the server screwed up. It doesn’t even take 40 seconds to pour a glass of wine, much less 40 minutes. However, Ryan and I both appreciated the response of the manager to our email complaint. He knew where we sat and who our server was and said that he was going to address the situation with her.
Food – It was fine. Considering the three courses were a total of $15 the value was there, but when you’re waiting over an hour for a chicken breast, mini burgers and fries it’s impossible to muster anything but the very faintest of praise.
Overall experience – Very bad. If we had not been offered a gift card by the manager I would not plan on going back, ever. We will give it another shot, perhaps in the summer on their rooftop patio overlooking Loring Park.

The Necessities
Joe’s Garage
1610 Harmon Place, Minneapolis, MN
612.904.1163

Have you eaten at Joe’s Garage? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below!

Kieran’s Irish Pub

1 Mar

Kieran’s Irish Pub
Visited Saturday, February 26th, 2011

kierans exterior

Ryan
Saturday morning, I was in the mood for a long walk despite the driving snow, howling wind, and zero-degree temp. My plan was to venture from our Uptown apartment to Downtown Minneapolis. Lauren decided to come along as well and test out her new camera. After close to three miles of start-and-stop walking, pausing to take pictures of squirrels on branches and snow on Target Field, we were cold and hungry and decided to duck into Kieran’s Irish Pub for a pint of lager and a wholesome lunch.

beer list

Kieran’s was surprisingly festive and busy for noon on a Saturday in the winter, but there was some sort of costumed pitch-n-putt competition going on. Lauren and I were seated in a back dinner area that was much quieter than the main bar floor. We arrived during happy hour, which meant $4 pints of all the good draught beers. I opted for the Kilkenny, a Boddington’s-like frothy beer from Guinness, which was a quality brew, no doubt. I had two, in fact.

kilkenny full

The brunch menu was still in effect, so our choices were a little different than normal. I was very hungry and immediately shifted over to the section of the menu that featured a handful of dinner-like options. I was in the mood for something warm and heavy, also something authentically Irish. That’s when the “Green Ox Sausages and Champ” struck my attention. Described as “Green Ox black pepper & leek sausages on a bed of champ with peas, topped with rich caramelized onion gravy,” I couldn’t help but wonder what to expect. The waiter insisted it was an awesome choice, so I went with it.

green ox sausages etc

The waiter, Bryan G., asked me to give my honest feedback on the sausages after I was finished. These sausages are produced locally especially for Kieran’s and have recently been classified as gluten-free. My first impression was that this meal was exactly what I had in mind, only a little smaller in portion size. Two homemade sausages covered in gravy, sitting on a bed of champ (mashed potatoes, essentially), with peas and onion straws: this looked like a hearty meal on a cold winter’s day.

ukelele

The sausages were really tasty, though they fell apart and tore badly before I could get them into my mouth. This, Bryan explained, is because they no longer use bread crumbs in the recipe. The champ was tasty, probably a bit thinner than regular mashed potatoes. The peas were surprisingly tasty, and the onion straws, although likely there for garnish, added some liveliness to the meal. I told Bryan that this meal was positioned perfectly on the menu in that it was more brunch/lunch-like than dinner-like. I would order this again as a daytime food because the sausages more closely resembled breakfast sausages than a grilling-type brat on a bun. Additionally, I would have liked one more sausage. That would have earned my highest rating. But the meal was borderline filling for noon-time.

samuel beckett

Lauren
I’ll cop to being a little perplexed when Ryan announced his intentions to walk downtown from our apartment on Saturday morning. It was driving snow! Zero degrees outside! Add to that his initial plan to walk from our apartment to Target Field to the Metrodome and then back, just over six miles. In the zero degree, driving snow weather! He reconsidered and I decided to accompany him on a brisk march to Target Field, so long as we stopped at our favorite bagel spot first for carbs and caffeine. Admittedly, I was excited to try out my new telephoto lens! In addition to my Canon T1i with the 18-55 kit lens, I recently bought a used 55-250mm telephoto lens from the awesome crew at National Camera and was excited to play with it.

wall mural

After walking through Loring Park and taking about 412 thousand pictures of a squirrel eating some bread, we made it to Target Field. We warmed up in the pro shop before I took photos of Ryan with all of the statues. However, after we spent a solid ten minutes in the pro shop feeling all warm and toasty, going back outside was absolutely miserable. I told Ryan that a Guinness was just the ticket back to warmth for this gal! So we set course for Kieran’s Irish Pub. We’d been there a time or two before, of course, most notably for the US-England 2010 World Cup game, but it was much quieter this time. Not too quiet though! My oh my was there a rowdy crowd in downtown Minneapolis.

crispin

I started my afternoon out with a Crispin, which is always a favorite but I really regretted it this time. I was freezing cold and Crispin is served on ice!! But it was very tasty, as always.

I was still feeling pretty full from my Common Roots bagel and Honey Nut latte (mmmm delicious!) so I went for a bowl of the Whisky Tomato Soup and I requested a bit of bread on the side. It was warm, creamy but not too heavy with just enough spice to warm me up inside…mmmm, perfect. Ryan seemed shocked that I was just getting a bowl of soup but I could barely finish it! How that husband of mine has such an appetite, I will never know.

whisky tomato cream soup

After that I switched it up and finally got my Guinness. Much better choice.

artsy guinness

When all was said and done I knew I didn’t have it in me to walk all the way back home, so I convinced Ryan to hop on the bus. We parted ways when I got off at Franklin & Hennepin to go to the Wedge for a few groceries, and he went further down Hennepin to Penzey’s Spices to pick up some Sweet Hungarian Paprika for me. What a guy!

empty kilkenny glass

Ambiance – Traditional Irish pub look and feel, I like the bar area with its little nooks and crannies better than the dining area we were in. I really liked the lamps on the ceilings, like the one above of Samuel Beckett…really cool.
Service – Bryan, our server, was very friendly and engaging and talked with us quite a bit about Green Ox, which I had heard of before as I keep up with local food blogs. It was fun to try some of the product! He was also telling us that they are producing their own whisky for just the Local, Kieran’s and Cooper’s starting soon…very interesting. It’s always great to chat with a server who is genuinely interested in the food they’re serving and not just pushing crap from the back of a Sysco truck.
Food – My soup was perfect for the weather, a touch of richness from the cream but not too heavy, and of course I loved that it had some spice! The bread I requested ended up being unnecessary because of how filling the soup was, but I didn’t have any complaints.
Overall experience – Very good, definitely hit the spot on a cold Saturday afternoon to spend a little time in a cozy Irish pub. Kieran’s has my vote for a return visit for food and drinks!

The Necessities
Kieran’s Irish Pub
601 1st Avenue North, Minneapolis MN
612.339.4499