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Red Lobster at Night, Casual Diner’s Delight

Is there any casual dining establishment that’s enjoyed a catapult back into the public consciousness like Red Lobster has in the past year? RL has been with us since the 60s, with its life-giving Cheddar Bay Biscuits and its seemingly endless -fests (see: Lobster, Shrimp, etc), but Beyonce’s reference to it as a post-coital reward for satisfactory lovemaking has reminded us all that it’s time to revisit the place that brings slightly classy seafood to the masses.

The chain’s longevity and its distinction as being the only true seafood restaurant around in the upper Midwest gave this encounter a special feeling. Also contributing to that special feeling? The fact that this was two members’ first time at any Red Lobster. We kept expectations high for those tasty biscuits, and low for everything else.

This casual encounter was also notable for welcoming Sadie, Rachel’s newly-born daughter, as a participant. She slept almost the whole time, but her outfit showed that she was committed to the cause.

A thematically-appropriate onesie? Come on, that’s adorable.

Food:

Seafood, duh. But a wide variety of preparations for said seafood kept it interesting. Would you like your seafood fried? Skewered? Atop pasta? What about a sauce or seasoning? The menu was not quite Cheesecake Factory-level of length and complexity, but it was somewhat daunting.

John says: Johnny on the spot, aka Rachel Levitt, let us know if we sign up for the Red Lobster Club we get a free dessert or app with the purchase of 2 entrees. So we hit that up. Aaron ordered some calamari. It was fine. I ordered the Ultimate Feast for my dinner! It didn’t disappoint. Lobster tail, crab legs, two types of shrimp, rice, mashed potatoes, and a salad. Everything was good. 

Jenna says: I found the lengthy menu to be overwhelming, almost to the level of Cheesecake Factory’s menu. I sort of assumed that my first visit to RL should include lobster, but holy hell, that s**t’s expensive. I went instead for a lightly breaded tilapia in honor of Tilapia Monday [Ed. note: Follow @twinkiejiggles on Snapchat to learn more], and it was very good. Not too fishy or oily, perfect ratio of breading to parm to fish. It even was better the next day. Dinner included a basic bitch house salad, steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes, all fine. The cheddar bay biscuits were…..overrated? Sorry not sorry, I said it. Perhaps I found them just “meh” because my pants are still tight from eating my weight in delicious biscuits in Nashville [Ed. note: What a f***ing hipster].

Tilapia Monday

Rachel says: In true Rachel fashion, I spent too much time kibitzing with my fellow diners and not enough time looking at the menu, which led to panic ordering. But it turned out just fine. My garlic shrimp skewers were tasty and light. The menu also features calorie counts for all food, with which I have a love-hate relationship. Don’t tell me my business, menu! But also, thanks for helping me make healthier choices. Confession: I also think the Cheddar Bay Biscuits are overrated. Good, but overrated.

Shrimp skewers. Note also the plate that once held biscuits.

Food rating:  

Beverages:

The drink menu tended to skew more towards “beach” than “asea,” but you didn’t hear our crew complaining. [Ed. note: What would an “asea” themed drink be? Seawater served out of a buoy?] Lots of blended drinks and synthetic fruit flavors.

John says: I had a Malibu hurricane. It was refreshing unlike other hurricanes. I’m looking at Katrina and Andrew. 

Jenna says: I really wanted a well made margarita on this particular Monday evening. As in no super sweet margarita mix, just tequila, triple sec, lime juice. I tried to explain my desire to Susan and her suggestion was to add soda water to cut the sweetness of the mix. That’s a stupid idea, Susan. My marg was full of soda water, and not enough tequila. Despite the snickering from my dining mates, I stand by my request. [Ed. note: Stop trying to make margaritas happen at non-Mexican establishments, Jenna. Bad marg once, shame on them. Bad marg twice, shame on you…]

Rachel says: This was only my second drink postpartum, after not drinking for about a year, so I really regressed and went for a pina colada topped with strawberry puree. OMG IT WAS DELICIOUS. 

Behold, a table full of delicious yet obnoxious beverages. Not pictured: A decent margarita.

Beverages rating:

Service:

John says: We had great service! Another home run. She was very friendly and helpful. She even made sure our order got in before the table of 16 in the corner did. That was huge. She spoke very highly of Red Lobster and that was really cool. She wasn’t Earth but she was damn close. 

Jenna says: Susan, oh Susan. Our evening together had its high points (she made sure our orders got put in prior to a large party), low points (her defending RL’s decision to not make a bigger deal about Beyonce name dropping the chain) and just weird points (more info than needed on her love life). One thing’s for sure though, Susan LOVES working for RL, specifically this location, and she will defend the s**t out of them. Our relationship with Susan was a rollercoaster, but in the end she earns 5+ cheesecakes because she checked on me multiple times while I was dealing with the aftermath of my car being broken into [Ed. note: What kind of a**hole breaks into a car in a Red Lobster parking lot???], and she brought me supplies to help cover my broken window.

Rachel says: I agree with everyone else in our party, Susan was top-notch. Such a pro move getting our order in before the big group. Nothing makes me harrumph harder than having food be delayed. Susan was maybe a little too talkative at times, and spoke a lot about her dating status when it was just time for the damn check or whatever. But I don’t hold it against her. The newly-created mom in me also appreciated that she made us agree to actually drink our water before she brought out waters for all of us. Susan is not putting up with any BS.

Service rating:

Ambience:

Ahoy! Red Lobster definitely leaned into its maritime heritage [Ed. note: Red Lobster is based in Orlando, so no actual maritime heritage to speak of], but not too much. They could have gone with a crap-on-the-walls aesthetic, like a nautical Chili’s, but they didn’t. Way to take the high road, RL. Except when it comes to the depressing tank full of lobsters in the entry way. Give ’em a little wiggle room, why don’t you?

John says: Nautical theme of course. The obligatory lobsters in aquarium was gawked at. Nothing too exciting. 

Jenna says: This was my very first visit to the RL, and I went in with the lowest expectations. I expected it to smell like the aquarium at the Minnesota Zoo. Or like the flaky food you feed goldfish. Much to my surprise, not only was there barely a smell, but I totally dug the decor. I am such a sucker for anything nautical, turn an anchor into a light fixture and throw an East Coast seaside on the wall and I’m yours.

Jenna attempts to discern whether a squall is a-brewing.

Rachel says: Classier than I’d expected. I figured there’d be way more whimsical decoration than their was. This kind of restraint is admirable, but made the dining room somewhat bland. Kudos for not having a fish smell, but demerits for having a bathroom that smelled like one at the State Fair.

Ambience rating:

Casualosity:

John says: VERY casual. It was so casual even a baby was allowed in. Specifically, Sean and Rachel’s newborn Sadie! She was fun.

Jenna says: I’m reaching a point in this ranking process where I’m getting downright pissy that the cost of food and drinks at these “casual” restaurants is on par with the not so casual restaurants in this city.

Rachel says: On the one hand, not very casual. Prices were pretty high, and the dark wood and cloth napkins gave it a somewhat classy feel. Susan talked about how often this place is used as a date spot, which tells me it’s not very casual. On the other hand, Aaron wore Crocs as footwear, and no one really noticed. [Ed. note: We’d love to know more about how Aaron felt with this footwear chocie, but he refuses to take this project seriously and submit his ratings.]

Crocs. Very casual, very gross.

Casualosity rating:

Dessert:

John says: Putting our freebies to work (described in detail earlier so I won’t explain again, you can’t make me) we ordered two desserts: vanilla bean cheesecake and a chocolate cake with ice cream. Both were quite tasty. I wish the cheesecake had been better than Old Country Buffet’s though. 

Jenna says: All the cheesecakes/gooey brownies/ice cream things are starting to blend together. I’m sure the dessert was fine.

Rachel says: The vanilla cheesecake was tastier than anticipated. The chocolate cake was good, nothing groundbreaking. I’d hoped for something more…molten. But no complaints. 

Dessert rating:

Favorite part:

John says: Special guests! Always my favorite part when it happens. Rachel’s husband Sean was with as well as baby Sadie! My sister Jessica also was there! All great additions.

Jenna says: Sadie’s first casual encounter! Spending Tilapia Monday with Sean McPherson, creator of Tilapia Monday! John’s sister!

Rachel says: Special guests, like my husband and baby!

Least favorite part:

John says: For how seemingly empty the place was, we waited quite a long time to be seated.

Jenna says: My car getting broken into while I was eating mediocre biscuits. I’m still finding glass shards in my lunch bag.

Rachel says: Jenna’s car getting broken into. Having to tolerate too much small talk from Susan, at times. 

Overall rating: 

Next  up: Fueling ourselves with chicken and testosterone at Buffalo Wild Wings!

 

Chevy’s, With a Hard “Ch”

We all forgot to ask if it’s pronounced Shevy’s or Tchevy’s.

Our latest adventure was at Chevy’s Fresh Mex (#19 on our list), yet another chain that only has one remaining outpost in Minnesota. The downtown Minneapolis Chevy’s tried to keep the fiesta going but closed years ago and is still sitting empty, an ode to Minneapolis’ fickle downtown dining scene. Anyway. The crew entered with someone low expectations for the food, but high expectations for the evening since we would be joined by none other than Rachel’s mom, Helen. Make no mistake, Helen can hang with a casual encounter.

Food:

At first glance, the menu seemed to be a run-of-the-mill Tex Mex restaurant. All subsequent glances confirmed that first impression.

Jenna says: The trip started strong with a super delicious salsa experience. Very smokey with the perfect amount of heat. Unfortunately the chips and salsa were the peak – my chicken enchiladas were “meh”, definitely not worthy of a trip to Bloomington. That being said, the house made masa garnish was delicious. 

John says: I was very excited to go to Chevy’s. I’ve had good experiences and good food there before. Our server, Desirae, complimented me both on my beverage (peach margarita on the rocks) and meal (steak ‘dilla) choices. Unfortunately, the next morning I didn’t feel well and had to spend a good amount of time on the toilet [Ed. note: Ew.]. The food tasted good but the pain the next day severely downgraded it. 

sitting on toilet 2
Artist’s rendering

Aaron says: My fajitas came to the table sizzling hot.  Even after the server, and Helen, said that the pan was hot, I had to test it anyway.  Yes, it was hot.  I think they were light on the number of tortillas, but there were some extras from the others at the table so it worked out.  They were also tasty as a snack a few hours later.  

Rachel says: Fajitas at a place like this are one of my favorite things, because then I don’t have to do the insane amount of mental gymnastics required for me to get all the stuff I want on one plate. Seriously, the amount of time I spent staring at the menu figuring out a way to get rice AND beans AND not pay a $2 upcharge for sour cream (seriously??) would try anyone’s patience. The fajitas were a little more expensive (probably to swallow that sour cream margin), but my mom was paying, so #yolo. I also had my leftovers for lunch the next day, with no abnormal digestion issues. And let it be know that Helen LOVED the fajita presentation.

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Helen says “ole!”

Overall food rating  (note our new and improved cheesecake icons!):

Before John’s unhappy toilet fest  fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

After John’s unhappy toilet fest fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Service:

Like many of our Casual Encounter servers, Desirae was exceptional. She had a great sense of humor, complimented our menu choices, was Sally-On-the-Ball with refills of both chips and beverages, and even saved one in our party from esophageal catastrophe.

John says: Desirae was personable, attentive, and friendly. Can’t say enough good things. Plus, she complimented me a lot while ignoring the others. There’s nothing I like more than being the center of attention. 

Aaron says: Ample chips and salsa. Good recommendations. 

Jenna says: While Desire didn’t reach the level of Earth from the Rainforest Cafe, she was VERY good! More importantly, she saved my life. After a horrific glass breaking incident that occurred near the bar [Ed. note: None of us actually saw said incident, so we can neither confirm nor deny if it was indeed “horrific”], she made sure that my drink was remade so that it was glass free. Seriously, I might not be here typing if it were not for her. So I take it back, sorry Earth, Desire is to me as David Hasselhoff is to every girl on a beach in the mid-90s LA: a dreamy lifesaver. 

Rachel says: I appreciated Desirae’s positive attitude and her safety precautions. It’s not her fault Aaron touched the hot fajita plate. 

Overall service rating:  fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Ambience:

Chevy’s boasts a typical Mexican chain restaurant color palette (warm, reddish tones) and junk on the walls, but was refreshingly devoid of most of the stereotypical decorations i.e. serapes and sombreros. It definitely had more of a fishing village vibe than a cantina one.

John says: There was a boat/camper hung from the ceiling. That was pretty cool. Otherwise, fairly blah. 

Aaron says: The main thing that stuck out to me was the camper hanging from the ceiling right behind our table. Lots of other random Tex-Mex junk hanging on the walls.

Jenna says: Very laid back beachy vibe with a boat (or pop up camper if you ask Rachel) hanging from the ceiling. I love boats, so this totally worked for me. 

Rachel says: I want to thank everyone for continuing to make fun of me for thinking,  until about a month ago, that pop-up campers were actually pontoon boats (they’re both square-ish!!! I don’t have a lake home! Cut me a break!). So now, every time we see a boat, they point out the “pop-up camper” to me. Great friends. Other than that, I got an amazing Chi-Chi’s vibe from this place. If there is one dead restaurant I wish I could revive, it would totally be Chi-Chi’s. So that made me happy. 

Overall ambiance ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Casualosity:

Aaron says: No one kicked me out for wearing my velvet flip flops.  

Jenna says: Had it not been for the rainy, cool day, I feel like it would have been totally acceptable for Aaron Smith to have been wearing swim trunks with his velvet flip flops.

John says: Very casual. I appreciated that they made their chips in house, for us to see! 

Overall casualosity rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Dessert/cheesecake:

They might as well set fire to any dessert menu at a Tex-Mex chain, because there basically is one dessert and one dessert only: Fried ice cream. But, since one person in our group is hilariously allergic to cinnamon (and we never let him forget it) we had to branch out. All desserts were served in confusingly, unnecessarily large vessels. It was like eating ice cream out of a flower vase [Ed. note: Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it].

Aaron: I was real excited for fried ice cream, but considering it was cinnamon ice cream fried with a cinnamon battered shell served on top of cinnamon crisps, I abstained.  [Ed. note: That is literally all fried ice cream at every restaurant. Not sure what weirdo place you went to that didn’t have cinnamon on its fried ice cream.]

Aaron's Blizzard that he bought because wittle baybay is allergic to cinnamon.
Aaron’s cinnamon-free Blizzard that he bought on the way home. Womp womp.

John says: This also may have contributed to a bad bathroom morning the next day. I shared fried ice cream with others. It was tasty but way too big. 

Jenna says: Just cinnamon. So much cinnamon. On everything.

Rachel says: My dessert was some kind of fried dough thing with dipping sauces. It was served in a goblet shaped like a champagne flute on steroids. It’s hard to mess up fried dough, but they managed to do it. The fried bits were all very dry, and the dipping sauces should have been served warm. 

Overall dessert rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Beverages:

Your typical Tex Mex offerings.

John says: My peach margarita was delicious. 

Aaron says: Non-cinnamon margarita [Ed. note: Duh], decent, but a little spendy, especially for the fancier ones. 

Jenna says: DELICIOUS MARAGRITAS. And I’m a tough critic. I paid extra for the “top shelf marg” and there was an excellent ratio of booze to lime, with no sugary mix. Also, John Ward was super happy with the fruity drink he ordered, which was definitely the most Sex in the City-worthy cocktail on the menu. All we needed was a penis straw and we could have relived his epic bachelorette party! Wooooo girls! 

Overall beverages rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Favorite part:

Jenna says: Our Special Guest – Fargo’s own Helen Levitt! And let’s be honest, that margarita.

Aaron says: Helen “something funny” Levitt. I couldn’t think of any nickname in time. 

John says: Being joined by another special guest! Rachel’s mom Helen joined in the fun. She even thought our poop jokes were funny. Big win. 

Rachel says: Having my mom there to witness and partake in the glory of the Casual Encounters team. She’s a great lady, folks. I also enjoyed the smug feeling of not getting sick after eating there, in contrast with John. 

Least favorite part: 

John: The pit in my stomach the next morning. 

Jenna: The prices DID NOT reflect the laid back, casual beach vibe. I feel like the prices were on par with Barrio, and no matter how many of those delicious margs I have, Chevy’s will never be Barrio.

Overall Chevy’s rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

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Our next outing: It’s a Tex-Mex Twofer! We’re headed to Chili’s in Roseville for our next outing.