Its inevitable that the Culinary Wiz will have to, at times, eat at chain restaurants. Its where I make my living. My wife and I dropped into The Cheesecake Factory last Saturday in Frisco, Texas for a lunch of appetizers; sort of our version of American Dim Sum. We like variety and we like eating with our hands when the mood hits.
At 2:00 in the afternoon, there was a 20 minute wait for a table. The bar was packed to capacity, so we couldn't "skip" the line and dine in our favorite spot in the restaurant. After the wait we were seated at a two-top table (for restaurant new-comers, that jargon means the table will only seat 1 1/2 people). To make matters worse, we were seated in that row of two-tops that have about a 12" clearance between tables so that you can see what your neighbor is eating, what they are talking about, and what cologne/perfume they are wearing today...or not. I always strive to hide my annoyance when being seated at such tables because they were only designed to maximize profits, not customer satisfaction. This is done by restaurant designers jamming as many tables into as small a space as humanly possible, without regard for comfort, minor privacy, or gustatory indulgence.
We placed our order for three of the appetizers, a Bloody Mary, and a glass of German Reisling. I can't recall the name of the Reisling, but neither could my waiter, he had to come back and ask me what I had ordered.
The food arrives after a short wait and we immediately run into another problem with the two-top situation. The table can only comfortably hold a Bloody Mary, a glass of Reisling, and only 2 of the 3 appetizer plates that we ordered. After being called into service to re-arrange our table to accommodate our meal, we were finally able to begin eating our Dim Sum.
The Vietnamese Shrimp Summer Rolls were nice and fresh. I prefer a little mint in my summer rolls, but these would do just fine. The peanut dipping sauce was a nice, chunky, blend of peanuts and heat. Highly recommended.
The Crispy Crab Wontons were crisp, hot, and not greasy. You can tell they are handmade, like the Summer Rolls, due to their mis-shapen construction. But that's fine with me. However; I have had the Wontons on an earlier visit and remember that the filling had "chunks" of crab in it. This time, the Wontons had a crab flavor, but the filling is what we in the industry call "spooge". In other words, an over-processed filling of any kind. There were no visible chunks of crab meat, which leads one to wonder, in this day and age of processed foods, did the crab flavor come from "crab flavoring" or real crab meat? They were, however; decent enough to pass for OK for the average Joe. Who can resist deep fried anything. Especially when the Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce was a great addition to the dish. But, I would still like to see more real crab chunks, in the crab filling, in a Crab Wonton.
Last, but not least, we had also ordered the Avocado Eggrolls. It was a nice blend of chunky avocado, sun-dried tomato, red onion, and cilantro. Deep fried in a crisp Chinese wrapper and served with a Tamarind-Cashew Dipping Sauce. I remember the first time that I had an avocado eggroll. It was at B.J.'s Restaurant and Brewhouse, a Santa Ana, California transplant. It was very unique, very tasty, and craveable. But just like any good idea in the chain restaurant industry, it isn't long before someone copies your work. The Cheesecake version isn't as good as the B.J.'s version in my opinion, but it still hit the spot for a crisp fried, creamy centered, hand held appetizer.
I had another drink and got out of there. Overall;
Service - OK; the waiter only forgot my order once. He wasn't very personable, only talked to us twice, but, he kept my cocktail glass full. One thumbs up!
Atmosphere - Needs work. The people to the right of us were having breakfast (served all day), the people to the left of us were having a giant salad of some kind and a pizza. If they offered, I could have reached over and had a sample of anything my neighbors were eating without getting up and joined their conversation without raising my voice. I can't shake the feeling that we were being treated like cattle; move 'em in and move 'em out, which is the expectation at lunch during the weekdays. But, today is Saturday, lighten up.
Food - Good, on a scale of 1.) Bad, won't come back 2.) Poor, won't come back 3.) Good/OK, will come back if the Price to Quality ratio is in balance. 4.) Very Good - The Quality ratio is much higher than the Price ratio. 5.) Excellent - Everything is exceeded in every way.