Tucanos

The place: Tucanos Brazilian Grill, in the Shops at Riverwoods (across the way from La Jolla Groves), at 4801 North University Avenue #790, Provo, UT 84604

Contact info: online at http://tucanos.com, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 224-4774

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Thurs / 11 – 10
  • Lunch/Dinner:  Fri & Sat / 11 – 11

About: Come to Tucanos Brazilian Grill, where a dining experience rich in flavor and heritage awaits you. The Brazilian tradition of grilling, or CHURRASCO (shoe-HAS-ko), is a fusion of South American and European cultures. From its birth in the Pampas or grasslands of Brazil, to the sparkling beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Tucanos now extends this festive tradition to you. At Tucanos, meats and vegetables are carefully selected to ensure that only the freshest cuisine is served. Our meats are tastefully seasoned and cooked on skewers over open-flame grills. The skewers are then brought to your table where sizzling portions are sliced onto your plate. You may choose as many different flavors and cuts as you like. The Salad Festival features both Brazilian and American specialties, providing a fusion of distinct flavors, textures and colors. Festival selections include the Tucanos House Salad, hearts of palm, shrimp, seasonal fruit selections, fresh mozzarella, quail eggs and many other items. Hot selections such as seasoned rice, pastas, potatoes, stroganoff, feijoada (a traditional black bean stew) and freshly made soups including lobster bisque are also available on the salad festival to accompany the meat selections. New Salad festival selections are continually added to ensure freshness and variety. Source: Tucanos website, http://tucanos.com

Photo courtesy of Tucanos on Facebook,
https://www.facebook.com/tucanosprovo

The ambiance: Bright, colorful, a little loud (depending upon what time of day you dine), and full of enthusiastic servers and employees ready to assist as you delve into the deep, dark world of sinful gluttony. The restaurant is set up a little like a maze, with the Salad Festival housed not quite in the center, and there is a large grill/rotisserie at which all the meats, vegetables, and pineapple are cooking, waiting for your arrival. You’ll receive a red, yellow, and green cue, which will let your meat servers know whether you want them to keep coming by or to stop for the time being (or permanently because you’ve had to embarrassingly undo the top button of your pants).

The Munch: Since it’s all you can eat (both the meat and the salad bar), your culinary experience can be different every single time you go. This review will go a little differently than others because of this, and, not to toot my own horn, but *toot toot* I am something of a Tucanos master.

First, there has to be a method to your madness. I once sat back and watched a young woman on an awkward first (or second) date who’d never stepped foot inside Tucanos and decided to opt for a very large plate of salad and a dinner roll. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you could see the growing terror in her eyes as her small meat plate kept getting fuller and fuller, till it was a small hill of beef, chicken, and pork. This is not to say you can’t go the churrasco and salad bar route simultaneously; you just have to be smart about it.

My favorite meats are the garlic sirloin, teriyaki beef (served only at dinner), brown sugar ham (generally only served at lunchtime), mango cod, and the pork loin (served only at dinner). It was a fairly difficult task, narrowing down my favorites since, at any given time, you might see up to 18 different meat/vegetable options, but these generally stand out from the rest. But don’t limit yourself to partaking of only these few — each time you visit, try something new or do what I do — try them all in one sitting and then feel like dying. It’s worth it in the end. The grilled pineapple is, I’m sure, everyone’s favorite, and it’s sweet, juicy, extremely flavorful, and very much like a dessert. Paired with any of the meats, it’s a delicious taste treat, or you can gobble it up on its own.

A good example of what happens when you focus more on Instagram than your plate. I see seven types of meat and one vegetable.

When it comes to the Salad Festival, don’t get too ambitious and try everything out there. There’s really no reason why you should even put together a green salad — it’s a waste of stomach space and eating time because, after all, you can get a green salad at essentially any restaurant. The salad bar is very fresh, but it’s also not particularly special. When you slide around to the hot foods, you’ll want to try the mashed potatoes (creamy, buttery, garlicky, and smothered in melted cheddar cheese) and the beans and rice. The collard greens are delicious if you like your collard greens a little on the bitter side, and the fried bananas are an easy target for overconsumption. If you’re not particularly in the mood to try the entire farm and would, in fact, rather stick with salads and soup, then check out the Tucanos Citrus Salad (spinach, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges) and the Tuna Pasta Salad. The Wasabi Shrimp Salad is good and not too spicy, although it’s something you’ll want to avoid if you’re not fond of the flavor of horseradish. And, this should be obvious, go ahead and skip the sushi altogether. You’ll be able to find better sushi at one of the many Japanese restaurants in the county, and again, you’ll be wasting precious belly room with it.

A very small sample of the many foods you can try from the Salad Festival. Keep the portions small and you’ll enjoy your night much more

My kryptonite is the Brazilian lemonade. With the option to have it flavored with one of their many fresh squeezed fruit juices (pineapple, raspberry, and guava to name a few) and with unlimited refills, you’ll want to try it at least once. Traditionally made with whole limes and sweetened condensed milk, it’s a beverage you won’t find anywhere else. Expect to get yourself full on the lemonade alone. The desserts are pretty subpar, which makes sense — they spend the majority of their time perfecting the meat to be the star of the show, so you should treat it thusly. Skip an appetizer, take it easy at the Salad Festival, and eat till you get the meat sweats.

I’ll try to avoid using terms like “meat sweats” in restaurant reviews in the future, I promise. But once you go to Tucanos, you’ll understand.

The bill: There are a variety of ways to get around paying a full bill at Tucanos (about $25 with tax and tip at lunch and $55 with tax and tip at dinner, no drinks or desserts during either meal). They often provide free Brazilian lemonade coupons in the mail (up to six at a time) and they have a Birthday Club, which allows you a free meal (lunch or dinner, and trust me when I say you should definitely go at dinnertime) during your birthday month. You can also arrive at the restaurant around 3:30 or 3:45 to pay lunch prices (as dinner begins promptly at 4:00 pm) and then still try all the dinner meats. Unfortunately, while this seems like a foolproof method, it’s not. The lunch meats are probably going to be a little on the “sitting out too long” side and there won’t be many patrons, meaning the meat servers will be hitting your table with only about 30 second breaks. This can get you feeling really overwhelmed (although you can request slower service) and far too full. The best time to go is usually right before or after peak time; there are still enough other customers to keep the meat service rotation at a regular pace, but the meats and vegetables are still very fresh. For all you receive, however, the prices are quite reasonable.

Total score: 7/10. You kind of hit a point (at about your 10th or 11th visit) when Tucanos starts to lose its appeal a little. After all, you’re bound to find your favorites and then, regardless of the fact that you can do otherwise, have the same thing every time. Sometimes the servers (who really only bring you beverages and take your plates on rare occasion) are not particularly attentive, and sometimes the meat servers are a little too enthusiastic for my liking (at my most recent visit to the Salt Lake location, which is actually lower in quality than Provo, the first meat server told me I could call him “Little Parker.” I did not.) If you find yourself with a less than ideal server but really excellent meat servers, you can tip them separately with cash, which I am more apt to do the more often I visit. Tucanos is a fun, novel restaurant with good food and generally good service, and you’ll want to try it at least once before you leave the county.

Cravings Bistro

The place: Cravings Bistro, next to a funky little boutique, at 63 East Main Street, American Fork, UT 84003

Contact info: On Facebook, by phone at (801) 756-3333

Hours:

  • Lunch/Dinner: Mon – Thurs / 11 – 7
  • Lunch/Dinner: Fri / 11 – 9
  • Lunch/Dinner: Sat / 11 – 8:30

About: Gourmet Grilled Cheeses for Grown Ups! Source: Cravings Bistro on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cravings-bistro/171917332895886?sk=info

The ambiance: Cravings is a funky little bistro with only a handful of tables, with mismatched chairs, and a homey, warm, welcoming feel. You’ll find the menu written fancifully on chalkboards on the wall and sandwich boards, with full descriptions of each sandwich, soup, entree, and dessert. The only downside I found to the entire restaurant was the several grammatical errors popping up all over the menus — I believe I found about four iterations of the word “avocado,” and only one of them was actually correct. But this is the Creative Writing major/grammar snob in me, and I should state that if that’s the only thing I can find wrong with an entire establishment, then you really have nothing to worry about.

The Munch: I am a real sucker for grilled cheese sandwiches. (Indulge me for a second): when my nephew ended up having emergency plastic surgery this summer, my brother-in-law insisted the hospital cafeteria’s grilled cheese sandwiches were actually pretty good, and I have to say he was right. I had two that weekend, just to make sure.

But Cravings doesn’t serve up anything even sort of like a hospital cafeteria grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact, I am quite certain Cravings’s sammies would point and laugh at those hospital sandwiches if they weren’t so gosh darn nice. A friend and I each ordered our own, then shared half with the other. Those two were so delicious, I naturally had to then get a third half. I ordered:

  • the abc — granny smith apple, candied bacon, and cheddar on french bread
  • the tba — fresh turkey, candied bacon, avocado, tomato, and cheddar with a caramelized red onion mayo on french bread
  • the french dip grilled cheese — homemade pot roast, swiss cheese, sauteed, grilled onions, and mayo on french bread with a side of au jus

In writing the description of each sandwich, I feel as though I could simply close this blog post right here, and that would be entirely sufficient. These are not the grilled cheese sandwiches you will ever be able to make at home. Oh, you can try. You can buy yourself a cast iron skillet (I’m speculating that’s what they use at Cravings) and a sandwich press. You can purchase all the ingredients and make yourself a pot roast and a roasted turkey in the oven or crockpot, and you can try to put together all the things that make these sandwiches so idyllic. But you won’t quite get it right, and you won’t know why.

Of the three, the TBA takes the cake for me. I can’t exactly pinpoint what it was about that particular sandwich that was so sky-high delicious to me, more than the others. The turkey was fresh, not sliced or deli meat, and it was piled on. The cheese melted perfectly, and if you haven’t eaten candied bacon, you will want to start this afternoon. The avocado was smooth and creamy, the tomato was a perfect, acidic accoutrement, and the caramelized red onion mayo was slathered on just enough to add a good, rich flavor without overpowering the rest of the sandwich.

The french dip grilled cheese, too, proved to be a near perfect sandwich. The pot roast was remarkably tender and juicy, and had they said, “Oh dear, we’re out of cheese and bread,” I probably would have settled for it just fine. The swiss cheese was a perfect culinary decision on the owner’s part — cheddar would have been too sharp and would have taken away from the flavors melding in that sandwich, but the swiss cheese added just enough bite and good flavor to simply enhance. I love sauteed, grilled onions, and they, too, were exactly what the sandwich called for. The au jus was rich and dark and delicious, and was not, as with many others I’ve had in the past, too salty.

While I will admit to the ABC being my least favorite of the three, I am in no way indicating that it was not a completely delicious sandwich. It just fell a little short of the other two, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves food. While granny smith apples are relatively difficult to eat on their own, thanks to their especially tart properties, they pair very nicely with cheddar cheese. Add to that the candied bacon, for extra sweetness, and you have a well-balanced marriage of sweet and tart and savory and salty. I would absolutely order this (or any) sandwich again.

The bill: Because my friend had a buy one, get one free coupon via text, the total for my one and a half sandwiches totaled around $7. Their prices are extremely reasonable, and if you follow them on Facebook or join their text club, you can manage getting out of there only spending a few dollars at a time.

Total score: 9/10 — you’ll want to go hungry and wear loose-fitting pants because the selection of grilled cheeses is vast and the cupcakes and cookies for dessert looked divine (although I was too stuffed to even try one).

Black Sheep Cafe

The Place: Black Sheep Cafe, at 19 North University Avenue, Provo, UT 84606

Contact info: online at http://blacksheepmenu.com, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 607 2485

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • Lunch: Mon – Thurs / 11 – 4
  • Dinner:  Mon – Thurs / 5 – 9
  • Lunch: Fri & Sat / 11 – 4
  • Dinner:  Fri & Sat / 5 – 10

About: Located in downtown Provo, Black Sheep Cafe is a contemporary take on traditional Native American cuisine. Drawing on not only the Native American foods from the Navajo, Hidatsa, Hopi, and Mandan tribes but also internationally from Guatemala, Mexico, Italy and France. Owned and operated by Bleu Adams and her sister Jovanna Mason with their brother Chef Mark Mason along with their mother, Alberta Mason, creating the best frybread in Utah and their father, Winston Mason, operating as a silversmith with beautiful jewelry and crafts.

Producing delicious comfort food has been a staple to the Mason family since they were young and would visit the administrative buildings on the Navajo Reservation passing out many different variations of their frybread. After operating many booths from North Dakota to New Mexico and resettling in Provo they decided to open a restaurant to establish a permanent place to offer their delicious frybread, as well as many other dishes conjured up from their food experiences. Source: Black  Sheep Cafe website, http://blacksheepmenu.com/about

Photo courtesy of tumblr.com

The ambiance: The space is small but well utilized. While I’m fairly certain the kitchen takes up more than half the entire restaurant, there are several tables inside and two outside during warm weather. They’ve kept it somewhat austere, with Native American artwork on the walls, and a small alcove with homemade jewelry. When you first walk in, you are welcomed by a server or host/hostess and the warm, rich smells of Southwestern cuisine.

The Munch: I’d been once and ordered the traditional Navajo taco and decided on my second visit to expand my horizons (with a side of frybread, of course. While I’m no connoisseur of frybread, theirs is pretty amazing.) The menu is somewhat compact but offers a wide variety that will suit nearly any palate or craving. I ordered:

  • frybread
  • pork chop sandwich
  • sweet potato fries
  • cactus pear lemonade

The frybread is served warm with a light sprinkling of sea salt, which adds depth and flavor without overpowering everything that is good about frybread. It is crisp on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside, with a good chew. I am always tempted to stop at Black Sheep Cafe on the way home to get some frybread to munch on back to Orem.

The pork chop sandwich with sweet potato fries was actually a little disappointing. Housed inside warm nanniskadii (Navajo flatbread), you are served up a generous pork chop with a fire roasted red bell pepper, mixed greens, tomato, and adobo mayo. When I first saw it, I was certain it was going to be the most delicious sandwich I’d ever eaten, but the results were mixed. The pork chop was very heavily seasoned; almost to the point where you could taste little else, and it was overcooked to the point that I had to use the sharp knife provided for me. Rather than using lettuce, I’m pretty sure they used the organic mixed greens from Costco, and the radicchio was too bitter and contrasted too sharply with the seasonings. However, the fire roasted pepper and adobo mayo were very delicious — probably the best part of the entire sandwich. The nanniskadii was fairly nondescript and got soggy the longer it took me to eat.

Photo courtesy of Marcus Wickes on Urbanspoon

I am something of a sweet potato fry connoisseur. I’ve ordered them everywhere, from fast food joints to fine dining establishments to BBQ restaurants, and unfortunately Black Sheep Cafe’s did not deliver. They were far too thick cut, and rather than being crispy (as I like them), they were more like stick-shaped pieces of, well, plain old sweet potato. Again, the spices were so  overwhelming, I could have probably been served up any root vegetable and not known the difference.

The other high point of the meal, aside from the frybread of course, was the lemonade, which almost transcends all other lemonade. It’s fresh squeezed and they use fresh cactus pear that’s shipped from the Southwest. The flavor is just tart enough to taste like lemonade should, but the flavor isn’t cloying at all. Just pure refreshment.

Photo courtesy of Black Sheep Cafe on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/blacksheepcafe

The bill: ~$24.00 including tax and tip. As it was a business lunch, and the other person ordered a Navajo taco, I’m guesstimating on the total. It is certainly one of the more wallet-friendly restaurants in the area, and you can cut down on cost further by not ordering the frybread ($4.00) or the lemonade ($4.00 for a carafe that will provide for you about four glasses worth).

Total score: 5/10. Although the frybread and lemonade were phenomenal — quite possibly the best I’ve had of either variety — that wasn’t quite enough to compensate for my flavor-blasted sandwich and fries. However, this doesn’t really deter me — the overall experience I’ve had both times has been very pleasant. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable (one is an extreme food enthusiast) and it’s a great place to sit down at, enjoy a meal with a friend, and chat for awhile. Just … maybe don’t order the pork chop sandwich.

UPDATE: After discussing Black Sheep Cafe with a coworker, and reading a Tweet that was in major disagreement with my score, I’ve decided to amend my total score, for the pork chop sandwich visit, to 7/10. The frybread really is quite delicious, and perhaps they were having a bad day when they overcooked the pork to a dry piece of near cardboard. It happens — I overcook pork all the time, after all. Thank you, @jimmycdii, for helping me rethink things.