For the past few years I have taken my wife downtown Minneapolis to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I typically spend a few days picking out the perfect fine-dining establishment; basing most of my final decision on local magazine’s restaurant awards and friend’s recommendations.
This year was bound to be different. I had recently received a restaurant.com gift card (valued at $25) and had determined I would use it during our upcoming fourteenth anniversary. After much consideration I choose Woolley’s Steakhouse; located in the Embassy Suites just south of Hwy 494 near the Minneapolis Airport.
Unless you knew Woolley’s existed – and exactly how to find it – there is no way you would stumble upon it. There are absolutely no signs that a restaurant exists inside this hotel. The only way I can imagine people have ever heard of Woolley’s is by word of mouth, or they stayed at the Embassy Suites and quite literally happened upon it by accident, or someone was brave enough to approach the hotel hoping there might be a nice restaurant inside. At one point I actually asked my wife to call Woolley’s after we had driven into the hotel parking lot, slowly drove past the front door, and then circled the building looking for any indication of a restaurant. I finally spotted a small vertical sign, somewhat obscured by a miniature pine, tucked around the right side of the building and we determined we were in the right place.
We arrived about fifteen minutes prior to our 7:00 reservation but were sat immediately, nonetheless. This wouldn’t have been a problem anyway as the restaurant was mostly empty. The center of the Embassy Suites is sort of an overgrown atrium; complete with a giant bird-cage sort-of spot (the premium seating area, I am told). There are two streams that run through the area, glass elevators, lit walkways and small bridges, and lush vegetation. It’s all very organic. Woolley’s is located in the right one-third of this central atrium. My wife and I were seated at a table for two that butted directly up to one of the two streams. It all seemed very romantic.
Within two minutes of being seated we were greeted by our waitress, Dani. We were handed menus, offered a wine list (which we declined), and our drink order was taken. She arrived when we needed her and disappeared when her service was not necessary. Invisible, but completely aware of your needs. Our water glasses and coffee cups were never empty. As far as I was considered she did an exemplary job – exactly what you want from the wait staff.
Because Woolley’s is a steak house there was no way I would be ordering anything but steak – and their menu points out that their tenderloin is the specialty. My wife and I each ordered the 6 oz. petite cut tenderloin; which comes with a vegetable and choice of potato. For nine dollars more my wife added the shrimp. For five dollars more I added gruyere cheese and caramelized onions. Each entrée comes with a dinner salad but I substituted my salad for a cup of the broccoli cheddar soup – at no additional charge. So far, so good.
Then the food came. My wife’s salad was serviceable (how do you screw up a salad?) but my soup was terrible. I like cream-based soups to be a bit thicker than most broth-based soups. This one was watery and bland. Adding two saltines and some pepper helped, but not much. You know those bags of dry soup mix? That’s pretty close to what this tasted like. There were no large chunks of broccoli – just the tiny little green dot-like nubs.
The entrees arrived within three minutes of us finishing our first course. Strike two, and I felt obliged to tell Dani that we were in no rush. She apologized and assured me we could take as much time as we wanted.
The presentation was nice. Each of our tenderloins sat atop a small piece of toasted bread. We each had a very large potato and a nice mix of vegetables (green and yellow zucchini, onions and red pepper). Butter and sour cream were served on the side as was a small dish of steak sauce. My steak was topped with about a tablespoon each of gruyere and onion – which seemed like a small amount for five dollars. My wife received four large shrimp. They were cooked to perfection… but, for those playing the home game, that’s $2.25 per shrimp. Suddenly my five dollar cheese and onion topping seems like a bargain.
Our steaks, which were to be prepared medium, were both well done. By no stretch of the imagination were these even medium-well. There was zero pink meat to be found. Both steaks were 100% grey all the way through. This leads me to one of two conclusions: 1). both were cooked by an ill-trained chef, or 2). they each sat under a heat lamp waiting for us to finish our first course. Either option is inexcusable at a restaurant that prides itself as a steakhouse (and charges $32 for a six-ounce tenderloin). Why we didn’t complain I’ll never know; not that my wife would ever complain anyway (it would have to be an egregious error before she’d say anything – like bringing her liver instead of tenderloin). The steak was edible – but not prepared to our liking.
Desert was altogether a different story. I asked if their $12 signature dessert (the awfully named Strawberry Woolley’s) was large enough to split and was answered with a definite yes. In short order we received a platter holding a large dish of strawberries (at least twenty) and three ramekins; containing confectioners’ sugar, homemade whipped cream, and Grand Marnier. Dani then lit the Grand Marnier on fire and told us to dip the strawberries into the alcohol, put the flaming berry out in the powdered sugar, and finish it off with whipped cream. I can see no reason not to have this after every single meal. It was that good. Simple. Light. A completely different taste and texture than the previous courses. Fantastic presentation and fun! I’m serious when I say that there were other diners with dessert envy.
Our bill – after subtracting the $25 gift card and adding tax and gratuity – was $92. From the moment we checked in until the moment we walked back to our car we spent about eighty minutes at Woolley’s. By contrast, for our eleventh anniversary I took my wife to Vincent’s downtown Minneapolis. We spent over two hours there, were waited on hand-and-foot, had an incredible three course meal, and were wished a happy anniversary by almost everyone (the waiters, maître de, chefs, people at adjacent tables); and that meal cost me just a little over $100 after tip.
All things considered (atmosphere, wait staff, quality of food, presentation) I cannot recommend this restaurant at this price. For considerably less money I can go to Pittsburgh Blue, in Maple Grove, and have my steak expertly prepared every single time (without trading off any of the other criteria).