Tag Archives: Sadie

Benihana and the Jets

Before we start this post, some happy news: We tracked down the author of the original “casual dining restaurants, ranked” post and let him know that we had embarked on our adventure to re-rank them ourselves. To our surprise and delight, he actually responded! In fact, he said he was “truly honored” by our endeavor. This guy is now a David Carr Fellow at the New York Times, yet his enduring legacy, to us, is casual dining. Whether he thinks we’re funny or total weirdos, we’ll never know.

And now, to the review…

This encounter was a big ‘un. Benihana was ranked #1 by the originators of this list, and expectations were high. Benihana is for special occasions: Birthdays, bachelor parties, good grades, successful parole hearings…you name it. What were we celebrating? The ongoing nature of this blog, of course (and also Rachel’s baby and Aaron’s temp job becoming permanent full-time, but mostly the blog). The celebration-centric ethos of the restaurant didn’t make for high casualosity, but more on that later.

The team ventured out to the location in Golden Valley, a suburb notable for being close to the highly-regarded St Louis Park. It was either that or the Mall of America location, and you can guess how well the latter suggestion went over.

Food: There’s a sushi bar and an alcohol bar at Benihana, but everyone truly comes for the teppanyaki aka a chef cooking your food in front of you at a communal table. Benihana is unique among casual dining establishments because the food is also the entertainment. There’s an onion ring volcano. There’s fried rice shaped like a heart, there are shrimp being throw around…It’s a treat for the eyes and the mouth.

Go ahead, try this at home. We dare you.*
*We are not liable for any damage if you take us up on this dare.

Each menu choice at the teppanyaki area comes with multiple courses: Soup, salad, grilled vegetables, your protein served with two dipping sauces, green tea, and ice cream. There are lots of protein tiers ranging from basic chicken to lobster and steak, depending on how flush you feel or how much you want to impress your prom date.

John says: Oh man, the food was great. We each did the Hibachi grill. I ordered the hibachi steak and it was terrific. Cooked exactly to my liking. The meal came with a soup, small salad, veggies, and rice. The rice and veggies were made on the hibachi as well. Seriously, can’t rave about this enough.

Rachel says: There were so many choices that I panic-ordered (of course) their classic “Teriyaki Chicken,” something the opening paragraph of the menu mentioned. I realize now that if the menu had mentioned an egg salad sandwich in its intro, it’s highly likely I would have ordered that. Anyway, the food I had was pretty good. The soup was basically French onion soup without the bread or cheese. My chicken was tasty and I liked the dipping sauces.

Soup and tea. Tea and soup.

Jenna says: Excellent. Seriously good. I went into the experience knowing Benihana was going to be the most expensive of all our casual experiences, and hopeful that the food would match. Thankfully it did! Before our entrees had even arrived, I’d already googled the recipe for the onion soup. Salad was refreshing. Guys, I don’t like shrimp [Ed. note: Sources confirmed this to be true.]. But I really liked the shrimp. Vegetables and steak perfectly cooked.

Food rating: 

Beverages: 

John says: The meal came with a green tea which was delicious. I also ordered a Sapporo which was perfectly fine. Jenna and Aaron ordered some random sake that I had a bit of. All in all good beverages.

Rachel says: I got the green tea that was included in the meal because I don’t drink much and I am also cheap [Ed note: Boy howdy, is she ever.]. It was very nice. I also had a sip of Jenna’s sake. It reminded me that I don’t really like sake.

Jenna says: Kirin on tap, delicious. Picked a random sake, also delicious.

Jenna toasting Aaron, who was too lame to submit any ratings or comments for this review.

Beverages rating: 

Service: You’d expect a place that’s low on casualosity to be high on excellent service. This place was hit or miss in that regard.

John says: Great service. Our server was attentive but not overly so. She made good suggestions and was overall pleasant. Again, our chef was fantastic.

Rachel says: Service was split into two parts, one person doing seating and beverages, the chef doing the cooking. Carlos seemed shy but capable and very sweet. I wondered what kind of training program the chefs have to go through and how many times he’s gotten hit in the face with a flying shrimp tail someone was trying to throw into his breast pocket. The beverage server seemed a little rushed. I wasn’t offered a refill on my tea, but that’s not too big of a deal.

Jenna says: Carlos, our hibachi master, was a pro. Did all the tricks and flips and fancy shit. Our servers were fine but unremarkable. 

Service rating: 

Ambience: The décor is stereotypical Japanese, with lots of red and black lacquered surfaces. The bar and sushi areas looked bright and inviting for those .0001% of people who come there for things other than teppanyaki. Your party is seated at table with others, wherever space is available. Sitting with strangers could lead to valuable human connections in this increasingly isolated world. Or it could lead to you shyly glancing at them and then turning back to conversation with your friends. No judgement here.

John says: Oh man, this place had some ambiance alright. Our hibachi chef was flipping things around, making onion volcanoes, and just generally being [Ed. note: John didn’t end this sentence, but we can assume the adjective in question was “awesome” or something similar]. I was surprised by the number of dude bros that were at the tables around us. That brought it down a notch. 

John, enthralled.

Rachel says: I liked the color scheme and the way the restaurant was broken up into little alcoves for a few tables. It made things feel more intimate. On the flip side, we were pretty close to other tables, which made it feel like we were in the way of traffic flow.

Jenna says: What you’d expect from a hibachi chain. What I remember most though was the couple sitting at our table. I assumed they were a high school couple out on a “fancy date” celebrating their 6 month anniversary. They were not. They were married and over 21. So apparently I’m now that old person who thinks everyone is a teenager.

Ambience rating: 

Casualosity: Benihana is an interesting choice for the top spot on a Casual Dining list, because this place is not very casual. There’s even a sign that enumerates all the casual things you’re not allowed to wear while dining. We were wearing basically all of those things (Exception: Our private parts were assuredly covered), and we also had a young baby with us.

To be fair, they don’t specify what kind of footwear (velvet flip flops anyone?)

John says: Hmm, this is a tough one. There are literal signs on the outside and inside of the restaurant that tell you this isn’t meant to be all that casual. No ripped clothing, no hats, etc. We pretty much broke all of their rules. But the staff was pretty laid back overall.

Rachel says: I was wearing torn jeans, t-shirt, and Birkenstocks. It was my last day of maternity leave and I was really leaning into it. I felt pretty comfortable, but I do realize that I was kind of underdressed. As for Sadie, I feel like babies inherently rank high on the casualosity scale due to their on-person waste management system and the infrequency with which they wear pants. My baby showed no signs of self-consciousness regarding her outfit.

Jenna says: So. Not. Casual. However, it seemed there were many people breaking the dress code, with no repercussions (like Aaron Smith). But on price alone, not casual.  

The shirt Aaron wore to this encounter. What a gentleman.

Casualosity rating: 

Dessert: 

With our low-tier menu choices, our dessert options were limited to green tea ice cream, rainbow sherbet, or chocolate ice cream. There probably was cheesecake available for an upcharge, but who are we, Nelson Rockefeller????

John says: Not much of a selection in this realm. It was only ice cream which I won’t really complain about. I ordered the rainbow ice cream which was very tasty. But having a small selection knocks it down a bit. 

Rachel says: I went with the green tea ice cream, which is one of my favorite things on earth. It was unpretentious and delicious.

Jenna says: Is this the first casual dining establishment (CDE) that didn’t have cheesecake as a dessert option? I think so! [Ed. note: It is not, Applebee’s was sans cheesecake as well. #lawyered] But the chocolate ice cream was delicious. 

Dessert rating: 

Favorite part:

John says: Of course, watching the hibachi chef. He was fun and had some good jokes. 

Rachel says: The culinary theatrics. 

Jenna says: The food, for sure. Best thus far I do believe. Also adding another punch to Sadie’s CDE punch card is always fun.

A special bonus with our tasting menu: THE WORLD’S SWEETEST BABY

Lease favorite part:

John says: Lots of dude bros.

Rachel says: I would have liked a little more tea. Good god, I’m old.

Jenna says: Nothing, really. I was prepared to spend a little more money. Very enjoyable casual encounter!

Overall rating:

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!