Monday, January 26, 2009

The Cheesecake Factory

My adventures in unadventurous eating continue, as last week I was in Oakbrook, Illinois, and had dinner at The Cheesecake Factory.
Let's say that compared to The Olive Garden, this place is like Per Se. It belongs in the category of chain restaurant that could be either a guilty pleasure or a cure for anorexia.
The interior is decorated as an Egyptian temple. Hard as I try, I can't possibly see the connection between cheesecake and the Pharaohs, except perhaps for the penchant of CF and King Tut of making everything huge.
The menu at the CF is several pages long, very colorful. It contains advertisements for local businesses. This to me is the height of tackiness, but nobody else seemed to mind.
The CF distinguishes itself for serving a hodgepodge of what Americans like to call food. There are tacos and linguini, pizzas and pu pu platters, and appetizers the size of the Marshall Islands. I can't imagine anyone making it to the cheesecakes after such gargantuan portions.
For instance, the menu promises that the "light" salads are all below 590 calories each. I guess you lose the weight just from gasping. But if you go to the CF, you should be nowhere near the vicinity of a diet. A glass of water in this place may make you fat.
Having said this, I went for their "famous meatloaf". How wrong can one possibly go with meatloaf? I was not disappointed. It was yummy. Classic, rich, the size of the Hammurabi Code and quite satisfying. It came with a very nice mushroom gravy (not with cornstarch and guar gum), a mountain of mashed potatoes and a land mass of zucchini and corn (the corn was a bit raw, but at least it did not come from a can). We ordered a decent bottle of California wine and everybody seemed happy with their enormous platters of food.
But this is what happens in restaurants outside of New York (brisk and professional, constitutionally immune to cuteness, God bless 'em). For some reason we were made to wait for the table forever, even though the cavernous place seemed able to acommodate us tout suite. They always make this big deal of gathering the menus at the door, as if you were being deployed to war and those are the training manuals. It took three people to sit a table for 5.
Then the lovely waitress volunteered her name and introduced us to Jason or whoever, who was being trained.
Not to be rude to either of them, but I don't care. I do not announce my name to waiters either. I find this custom of "I am Conchita and I am going to be your server" unnecessary and ridiculous. It reminds me of the quirky aunt of a friend of mine in Mexico who speaks like this to the waiters: "Pepito is going to have the steak, and Sarita is having the enchiladas, and Chuchito wants his milanesa without breadcrumbs." To the credit of heroic, long-suffering Mexican waiters, I never saw them bat an eye.
None of us made it to the cheesecakes, which are the size of Stonehenge.
I had lunch at the CF in the Houston Galleria and was not impressed. The one in Oakbrook is better.

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