Review: Brasa Rotisserie [MSP]
I rarely get to a new restaurant when it's still actually new, but when I heard that Brasa Rotisserie just opened yesterday, I had to rush right down. (Brasa's owner is also the chef/co-owner of Restaurant Alma, one of my favorite places.) I'm now basking in the glow of a full and happy tummy. Brasa is great!
It's a small place with a small menu. There are two choices for a main dish - roast chicken and roast pork shoulder - and a dozen or so side dishes. You can order family style or choose "individual plates," which offer meat (small or large portion) with a choice of two sides plus cabbage salad.
Mr. Tastebud and I shared some chicken, some pork, and five sides: cabbage salad, collard greens, pink beans and yellow rice, fried plantains, and marinated chickpeas with barley. The collard greens and cabbage salad were my favorite, but all the sides were delicious.
The pork is to die for, but very rich - it's shredded and resembles carnitas in its richness and flavor. The spice-rubbed chicken is simply roasted, without saline injections. As a result, it was drier than a supermarket rotisserie chicken, but had much better flavor. And such beautifully crispy skin - I can usually pass up the chicken skin, but not this wonderful stuff.
We shared an order of tapioca pudding for dessert - it comes topped with passionfruit sauce and diced fruit (pineapple today). Yummy and rich. (Actually, a little too rich for someone who ate all that pork and plantains and chicken skin.) They also have chocolate cake and a fruit-and-cream biscuit/shortcake kind of thing.
The only negative I noticed is that vegetarians don't have a main-dish option, but there's a vegetarian plate that offers a choice of four sides plus bread. (Note that a few of the sides contain ham or sausage or bacon, but most appear to be meat-free.) If I were a vegetarian, I'd eat collards and cheese grits and rice-and-beans and cabbage salad and corn bread. In fact, I think that's what I'll get the next time I'm there.
Our bill came to $45 with two glasses of wine. I thought it was a bargain for food of such high quality - an especially good value because Brasa uses locally sourced, free-range and/or organic, fair-trade, and sustainable ingredients. I can't wait to go back. Maybe tomorrow!
600 E. Hennepin Ave. (in the former "Betty's Bikes & Buns" site)
The menu says they're open Monday-Saturday, 11am-11pm.
I couldn't find a web site, but here's a recent Downtowner article:
Yes, let's! But not all at once - the place only seats about 30 or 40. Plus the outdoor seating (5 or 6 tables when I was there).
I want Brasa to be a huge success, but not so much that that there's no room for ME when I get a craving. I need to try the sweet potatoes with Andouille sausage!
I'm reporting on my husband's visit there yesterday for lunch while I'm thinking of it. He got the pork with sides of grits and sweet potatoes. His opinion was that it was all good, but not great. He's not normally one to pay attention to prices when it comes to good food but he felt like the meal would have been satisfying for $8, but for $14 for lunch he was expecting much better. He didn't have any specific complaints, just that it wasn't fantastic for the price. I'm still hoping to get there though because I love cheese grits and they're so hard to find up here.
The prices are the same at lunch and at dinner. I agree - it's expensive for lunch. It seems like a better deal at dinner.
And note that there's a choice between a large portion ($14) and a small portion ($11) of meat and three sides. For me, at least, the large portion would be way too much food for lunch. (Even the small portion would probably put me to sleep.) But $11 is still a high price for lunch, especially when you add a beverage.
And remember, the food is local and/or organic, which probably increases the price somewhat.
I made it to Brasa Rotisserie for dinner tonight. I'll confess a bias right up front: to me, "brasa" means a particular chicken dish that I found all over Peru, where the rotisserie cooking infuses the bird with the smoke & flavor over time. The meat parts tenderly from the bone and the skin is just fantastic. That's what I was hoping to eat tonight.
The good notes:
1. Prompt, friendly service.
2. Emphasis on local poultry & pork.
3. Pickled vegetables are a nice crunchy bit of sweet, tart & salt. My portion came with a smoked pepper and a warning about its spiciness. Just as an experiment I cut into the pepper and it seeped a bit of rich, wine-colored juice. On the tongue it tasted surprisingly fruity, a bit like a dried fig, and the heat came later. It might have been a bit like eating the garnish, but no regrets there.
4. The shaved cabbage salad is so simple that it's really attractive: green cabbage sliced so fine there's nary a hint of cole slaw, chopped cilantro, and a little liquid to bind them. A nice contrast for everything else on the plate.
5. The fried yucca was perfectly done, perfectly salted, not at all greasy.
6. The tapioca dessert just as rich and yummy, just as Anne says. The passionfruit topping is concentrated, like for sorbet, with little chunks of pineapple. The pudding was creamy, not at all gummy, as though perhaps some whipped egg white had been folded in.
Pink beans and yellow rice are okay. I should have squeezed the lemon pieces on the plate into their mix.
Sadly, the weak part of the meal was the chicken. An order for a quarter-chicken should prompt the server to ask whether that's for light or dark meat. No such luck here -- white meat by default. The skin had a bit of salt & herb but the rest of the portion hadn't yet picked up any flavor yet. The meat was cooked to just done, rare enough that knife & fork had to join in urging it off the bone.
Perfectly fine bland chicken, but it doesn't wow. And of the three MPLS spots that allude to a South American brasa style in their rotisserie chicken preparation, this was the weakest. (The other two are Charly's Polleria, at 28th & Central Ave NE, and Rotisseria, at Lake & Lyndale. The search continues for a place that serves the usual trio of cremas/salsas that go with Peruvian pollo a la brasa, including one made with olives.)
But the dessert was good and when the weather gets colder I could go for a plate of collard greens and grits w/sharp cheddar. Maybe I'd try a leg & thigh then, to see if that was better.
One quarter-chicken meal that is served with shaved cabbage and two side dishes, one side order of yucca, one beer and one dessert to go: $23.65 plus tip.
Just wanted to add a second impression of Brasa. A notion about cold weather and cheddar grits sidled into my head last night and just wouldn't leave. I went back, despit not having loved the chicken on the last visit that I wrote about.
There have been some tweaks worth noting here.
- The pricing structure has changed a little bit. There is a price for the meat portion of the dish, which comes with two sauces and a shaved cabbage salad. Other side dishes are priced separately at $3.00 each.
- The side dishes are served family-style, and the small portion is quite a bit larger than it was. Meat and two sides will be more expensive than before for a single diner, but less expensive for people eating together. I took half my meal home.
Perhaps because I had no fixed ideal for it, the pork was a much better experience for me. Flavorful, smoky, moist. Ohh, it was good.
Of the two sauces, one appears to be made from fire-roasted tomatos and peppers, and the other is an aioli with cilantro, garlic and ginger. They were both really nice, and might be just what the yellow rice/pink beans dish had been needing.
Don't know if this is a change or if I finally identified the flavor, but the shaved cabbage was mixed with a little bit of cilantro, then moistened with lime and coconut milk. Still a nice taste contrast.
For sides, I ordered the cheddar grits and the collard greens. The seasoning on the collard greens is pretty subtle: I mostly noticed the peppery greens themselves. And yes, they are chewy but I liked that. The cheddar grits was a little more soupy than I would have expected. Folks who are thinking of a to-go order might want to know that they congeal rather quickly.
We stopped by there on Saturday, had chicken and pork plates, with sweet potatoes, greens, plantains, rice and pigeon peas. All the sides were very good and the meats were tasty, light and fresh tasting. The surprising aspect of the meal was the light touch on the seasoning of the meats. They are seasoned well, but not as strongly as is typical for this style of cooking. The meal was certainly good value for money.
Quarter chicken served with a choice two side dishes and shaved cabbage: $11.00
Extra side order of yucca: $3.00 -- not a terrific value for the amount on the plate.
Yeah, you could drop the extra side order and get there for $20.
I wanted to love this place, too. But no.
My quick thoughts:
Excellent: Chickpeas, Yuca
Good: Yellow rice w/pink beans, cornbread, cheddar grits
Needs Work: Service (no one came to our table for twenty minutes even though they weren't full!), Pickled Vegetables (no one warned me about the peppers!)
Overall, I am going to do it and get clobbered: The food is somewhat better and I love the local emphasis on ingredients but the concept is a lot like Boston Market.
And now Toast serves meats from Brasa. Toast - the wine bar - doesn't have a full kitchen. That's why they serve only pizza and crostini and salads and sandwiches. But, they struck a deal with Brasa. Brasa delivers the chicken and Toast puts it on their pizza. It's a nice alternative.
Toast Wine Bar & Cafe
415 N 1st St, Minneapolis, MN 55401
Well, I finally got over there. In a word: disappointing.
Maybe equal parts expectation/hope, nature of carryout and execution. I ordered the pork, grits and plantains.
When you talk about slow-roasted pork shoulder, I start getting visions of sizzling meat with bits of crispy pieces mixed in, and larger pieces of meat that easily pull or fall apart with the touch of a fork. Here, take Dara's word for it: "well seasoned and then slow roasted until parts are crispy, crackling, and salty, while other bits are soft as cheese". If that's what she got, that's what I should get right?
What I unearthed in my takeout container was a pile of stew-like pork chunks and plantains (very nice, plump ones) half drowned in a sea of yellow stuff that looked like corn chowder without the corn. All glopped together even though I dutifully held the bag/container level, carrying it like a waiter toting a tray all the way to my car.
The pork tasted good and I appreciated the light hand with the seasonings, but it was texturally equivalent to cut up cubes of a pork chop -- a waste of 11.5 hours of cooking time. I applaud the use of special, naturally raised, local pork but any subtlety in flavor or other advantage to that other than feeling good about it was lost in the mess of the grits juice.
Someone mentioned above that the grits were too soupy for their liking but that they quickly congeal. No luck there. The problem, to me, appeared to be about 1/4 the amount of actual corn grits that should have been there. It was like someone melted just enough cheese in a pot of cream to turn it yellowish, then spooned in a tablespoonful of grits. I'm a grits lover and in a twisted way was hoping for my next diet killing, highly addictive vice. Not only was it not that, but I would only order them again because I'm such a sucker for anything involving grits. No cheese flavor either. The "dish" was a complete failure and really should have been served in a mug or glass.
Plantains were, as I said, good. They would benefit from some kind of sauce and didn't pair really well with the grits they were submerged in.
If you put this food in front of me (not all mixed together) in a cafeteria or some other neutral site I would think it's tasty and would probably be pleased enough, though not overly impressed (and downright turned off by the grits). My interest would further be piqued hearing it was "local, naturally raised, free range & pasture raised, organic, fair trade and sustainable" as the menu says. That said, there really wasn't anything special about the execution here and any uniqueness in the food was destroyed by their thoughtless packaging.
Love the concept, love the menu, love the vibe and location. Just don't love the food. Not what I was expecting at all.
600 East Hennepin Ave
I guess I should have listened to the negative reviews, because this place was a disappointment. We wound up trying it out though, out of lack of ideas and because it's in the neighborhood.
The wait was very long, though it's our own fault for not making reservations. The staff were struggling to keep up with the Saturday crush. They had run out of pork, which was a bummer for me, since I'd had my heart set on it.
The food was just plain mediocre and the portions were WAY too small, especially since they're el cheapo ingredients! I got cheesy grits and fried plantains as my sides and my BF got greens and red beans + rice. My sides were done well but I wanted about 30% more of each. BF's sides were even more paltry and not nearly as good. The rice seemed boxed and the collards were slimy and overly smoky.
The chicken was inconsistent: the drumsticks were great but the breast was dried out. There's a chicken rotisserie up Marshall that makes them much better. Hell even Rainbow's are pretty good for an easy meal.
Also, the Coke wasn't chilled (they probably ran out and threw a few more in the cooler only a short while before).
Overall, I like the concept and I think it could work, but it's clear they're trying to shove simple , cheap ethnic cooking into the overpriced, small-portion bobo mold. It left me feeling taken advantage of and not quite full. I guess I shouldn't be surprised with the way the neighborhood is going.
actually i think brasa is much improved in consistency, although it sounds like you definitely got them on an "off" hit if they were out of pork and the soda wasn't chilled. when dining in i've had wonderful experiences lately on 2 occasions, and they do seem to be packed full at mealtimes. i don't prefer the collards at brasa, but the other sides are good and sometimes wonderful. i could eat their black beans and yellow rice all day when they're done perfectly. haven't tried the red beans & rice, though.
i think the prices are pretty good considering brasa uses kadejan chickens and berkshire pork.
I have to agree re: the protein pricing. Considering the commitment to local ingredients, I feel the pricing is fair, though I must also have to agree with tasmonia that grits, beans, cabbage and greens are cheap ingredients no matter where you get them. While I can appreciate the pricing concept (brisket, chicken, and bbq shack meals) Alex is going for, I think at some point, the setup will need another tweek. It has already been tweeked twice I believe.
We live 2 blocks from Brasa and eat there often, but we wouldn't ever suggest eating there on a Friday or Saturday night as they run out of some things and you will inevitably feel rushed with people standing around waiting for your table. Though it is no fault of the restaurants, feeling rushed ruins meals for me.
ah, maybe weekend nights are way too busy-- i've hit them for lunch, & getting there around 1pm seems to be the ticket. i could see experiences varying at brasa, because it is a little place and they do seem to get slammed; particularly after a positive writeup. i have had some very good meals there though-- i think the way to do it is family style, group of 4 or so, with a whole chicken, 1/2 or full pound of pork, & several sides to share. i know that they have "tweeked" the system there and totally changed the way they've cooked/seasoned/presented the meats-- some folks who had uneven early experiences might want to try it again & follow Foureyes' advice to avoid weekend dinners.
I find that very normal. Experiences differ, as do tastes and a sense of value for the dollar.
Without implying any praise or disparagement of A. Zimmern (or J. Iggers, K. Jenkins, R. Nelson, D. Moskowitz), he is still one diner with an opinion and a publishing outlet. Chowhound is an outlet for all the other diners and their opinions.
Since this post was just resurrected and since we just had lunch there, I thought I'd share. First off, Brasa has made some more changes. They've added a new meat: braised beef. It's local like the rest. It is served in a sort of barbecue sauce, slightly sweet and a bit spicey. Exceedingly tender (like, falls apart on your fork) and tasty. I don't think I'll switch from my regular order (the pork, oh, the pork), but it's very good. I also tried a new side option: grilled masa with cheese. Really excellent, but then I adore all masa-based things (it was a bit like a pupusa, another of my favs!).
They've also expanded the beer list (Bell's 2-Hearted on tap! hurrah!).
We had a lovely experience, as we have had each time we've been to Brasa (with all due respect to the less-than-positive reviews here). I love the creamed spinach side, my wife loves her beans and rice side, sadly they were out of the plantains we both love....
Anyway, if slow-cooked beef is your thing, give it a try.
I guess this is my week for restaurant redemption (see also: Wienery Uphill Alert).
I just went back to Brasa, this time opting to dine in. Completely different results, thank goodness. I really don't have anything negative to say at all -- the pork was more similar to pulled pork than stew cubes this time. The spicy braised beef is very flavorful. If you're averse to oily foods, I wouldn't recommend it. Think along the lines of the Chung King items at Little Szechuan. There is a good amount of spicy oily-ness which doesn't bother me at all but I can imagine it would turn some off. That said, it's not swimming in a pool of oil like Szechuan.
The sides were equally as satisfying. I sampled the yuca root and will likely order it on a future visit. The yams with chorizo was generous and tasted good -- the chorizo is very mild.
The most pleasing aspect was the contrast of the grits from my first experience. These were as good as advertised -- perfect consistency. I was looking for a bit more biting cheese as well as a pepper shaker (none of the tables had salt and pepper) but even without that, this was among the top bowls of grits in town for sure.
It was good lunch and great to experience what it is that has drawn raves. I still have serious hesitation about the take-out but I'm much more eager to give it another go than I was before.
I'm glad to hear the grits have potentially improved. They were horrible the time I had them and I have refused to go back to Brasa since.
On the topic of grits, I had fantastic grits at Red Stag last week (the rest of the meal was okay, not fantastic). You might want to try them out.
The grits at the Red Stag are not only the same consistancy as those at Brasa (at least on our many many visits to both), they actually come from the same local field and mill. I have to admit a preference for the Stag's, only because of the flavor the fresh cheve adds, but both are very similar to those I had growing up.
I think what ruined the Brasa ones for me was the promise, and then non-delivery, of the cheese taste. When living in Atlanta one of my favorite things was cheese grits - and they're not very hard to make. I couldn't figure out why Brasa's were more like tile grout than a treat.
The cheese was definitely more of a complement than a dominant flavor. I can see how that can be interpreted everywhere from very nice to miserable depending on peoples' frame of references. Grits are usually a secondary delivery vehicle for butter, cream, cheese, salt and pepper and sometimes shrimp, tasso, salt pork, and/or bacon. Brasa seems to like to let the main ingredient shine and supplement it with some very subtle complementary flavors.
I also just looked up the menu for Red Stag. I like the sound of "goat milk butter" in the description of the grits.