It took me several weeks to recover from my experience eating at the Cheesecake Factory, as well as finishing the leftover "Grilled Chicken Tostada Salad" that was my choice-- seeming to be the only salad without a wheat element (though, to be fair, the menu said to please inform servers about food allergies, and there is a good chance they could have accommodated my request to leave out various glutinous ingredients, as I was in NO HURRY). Actually, I finished off my leftover salad the next day, nasty of course, as lettuce doesn't survive, and the whole mass was a sugary, unappetizing mess from the overly sweet dressing. Which kind of sucks, because the whole point of the Cheesecake Factory seems to be about overeating at the time of dining, then overeating again the next day, with your leftovers. (Which is meant to justify the high prices; my salad, a coke, and tip came to $20!) Well, the other point is spectacle—and in keeping with the whole philosophy of the place, when my salad arrived at my table, arranged on the giant oval plate in TWO heaping mounds, like silicone breast implants, it was somewhat jaw-dropping. Which was kind of fun, and also led to a conversation with the two suburban ladies sitting next to me, facilitated by the European style seating. Interaction with strangers is unusual in the Midwest, so that was unexpected and nice.
So-- I did have good time at the Cheesecake Factory, if just for the experience of looking around trying to figure out what in the HELL the design was, and reading the menu, which is a spiral bound BOOK, complete with ads (some for the CF itself, and some for other businesses, including Allison Lefcort’s pop art Warhol rip-off portraits)! My salad was enjoyable, as the greens were fresh, and you can't argue with lots of cilantro. I could really do without the drizzled on "avocado cream" and sour cream, however. I don't want my salad to look like some disgruntled chef had a little too much fun in the kitchen at my expense, if you know what I'm saying. Let's put an end to this "drizzling" bullshit RIGHT NOW!
I was trying to match design elements of the decor with menu items, but since they seem to be trying to cover just about all the popular cuisines of the world, maybe that's what the design is attempting. I was thinking, at first, perhaps Aztec or something, and hoping for some human sacrifice theme to appear suddenly, but I think it's more of a mixture of Europe in general, and “South of the Border,” all filtered through Disneyland, which, I guess, pretty much says: Las Vegas. I haven't been to Las Vegas since they tore everything down and rebuilt it, but I understand it is this kind of thing. Like you are traveling to some exotic and famous location, but a movie set version. I personally think they should go a whole lot further with it, like incorporating live entertainment and dinner theatre-- why not?
Besides the super high prices, a big difference between this place and your overblown family restaurant is that this is SUPPOSED to be an elegant dining experience, while remaining casual, and the large and prominent bar exemplifies this. It's a place where you can take the kids AND the grandparents AND have birthday parties AND have office functions AND go on first dates AND anniversaries AND go with drinking buddies. Looking at the drink menu part of the menu was most fascinating to me. I was happy to see some classic (now retro) drinks like the Gin Rickey and Mint Julep, but the rest of it is sweet, fruity drinks, with lots of Margaritas, of course. The worst thing is the "Specialty Martinis"-- not ONE with gin!-- and one is even a fruity rum drink! This got me to thinking, maybe it was THIS PLACE that started this unfortunate trend of changing the word “Martini” to mean cocktail. A Martini is a particular drink-- it contains gin and dry vermouth, that's it. But now you go to a restaurant and look at the "martini menu" and it contains various cocktails. These bastards have changed the language and eliminated the most classic cocktail of all time from existence! Why aren’t the GIN companies fighting back?! One of the "specialty martinis" is the Cosmopolitan, which is a separate cocktail in itself and has NOTHING to do with a Martini! It's like having a list of "hamburgers" and one of them is plate of spaghetti! This drives me crazy!
Sorry, that was quite a tangent, and really there is another time and place for that whole spiel. The menu at this place seems to be trying to cover every popular food anyone might order, and includes: Shepard’s pie, fish and chips, goulash, teriyaki, pasta, pizzas, and burgers of course, and Chinese, Mexican, breakfasts, brunches, and "health conscious" menus, and of course-- desserts-- several pages of them, featuring a variety of cheesecakes which go from $6.25 to $7.50. I eventually got down to trying to find what WASN'T on the menu-- thinking it would be fun to open an ANTI-Cheesecake Factory restaurant with just those items. Here it is: Ray Speen's Diner, serving ONLY chicken and waffles, and banana splits!
Probably the worst thing on the whole menu is the soft drink department. Soft drinks are $2.95, which includes free refills, if you really WANT to drink a quart of soda pop on top of everything else. Worse, water (sparkling, or spring water) is $3.95. And the very worst thing of all is: coffee-- a cup of coffee goes for $2.95! But worse than that, yet, is the DESCRIPTION of the coffee, no doubt meant to justify such a price. "Our blend of artesian batch roasted organic fair trade shade-grown coffee." I nearly fell out of my seat laughing when I read that. Thank you, Cheesecake Factory-- for laughter is good! If you can think of another descriptive element to trumpet their coffee, I'm sure the Cheesecake Factory will welcome your suggestion!
* (one star)
-- Ray Speen