Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Cheesecake Factory Food Review

The Cheesecake Factory: Timing is Everything

Not many places serve dinner after 9:00 PM in this city, yet alone up to 11 on a Tuesday night. So I was thrilled to visit The Cheesecake Factory at Chevy Chase Pavilion after surviving an especially bad movie across the street at Mazza Gallerie. It's not often that I experience anything bad at Cheesecake Factory, so off I went... for a late burger and fries.

The restaurant was surprisingly busy when I arrived a few minutes before 9:30 (evidently, I'm not the only one who holds this place in high regard.) I went upstairs and was promptly seated by a hostess. Unfortunately, she parked me next to a table of two especially loud and ultimately gross ladies (more on that later.) A couple of minutes later, a friendly server took a drink order (Diet Coke, although I was craving alcohol not long after.) At 9:30, I placed an order for an appetizer of Papas Bravas ($4.95) and a Classic Burger with fries ($11.95.) I also asked for some bread.

My server brought me a small piece of baguette (I was disappointed: Cheesecake Factory normally gives you a great basket of assorted breads) with apologies, "Sorry, that's all we had." No big deal, as I thanked him. The two pads of butter were so warm, that they had melted through their packaging, immediately covering my fingers (yuck.) Again, no big deal. Over 20 minutes later, my appetizer and entree arrived... at the same time. A mistake like this should never happen in a quality restaurant; yet when I asked the server about it, he could only reply, "I don't know" followed almost a minute later by "Do you want me to find out?"

Papas Bravas with Garlic Aioli and Spicy Bravas Sauce

While my burger sat (and cooked... that's what happens to burgers when they sit for a spell) I tried a couple of the potatoes (advertised as crispy, golden brown.) They were crispy alright... but burned. I immediately asked to speak to a manager, which my server arranged right away. I made a point of telling the manager that I was not upset at the server, but rather the bad timing and even worse condition of the appetizer. I went on to tell him that I was reviewing this meal for my website and handed him my card. He said "I don't need that," and handed it back to me. Given his display of professionalism, I assume he wanted to treat me like any other customer... which I totally respect. After all, that's all I am.

I showed him the singed pieces and he told me he'd do whatever I wanted. I asked him to take away the appetizer and remove it from my bill; as I didn't want to allow my burger to sit any longer. To his credit, he offered to prepare both items again; but it was already 10:00, and I had no desire to turn a burger and fries into an all-night affair. One curious note: When I asked him why this happened, he explained my appetizer was "cut to order." Call me crazy, but does it take that long to cube a potato and fry it? Also, it doesn't explain why I was served both simultaneously.

From there on, I noticed a serious improvement in customer service... including two mid-bite requests to see if everything was OK. I nodded in the affirmative; but I was telling tales. A bad dinner was actually getting worse. My MEDIUM burger had become WELL DONE waiting for me to eat it. It came with cooked onions, a single small slice of tomato and shredded lettuce (a curious choice, especially served on the side.) Advertised as a Gigantic Chop House Hamburger, it was 8 ounces tops (which is more than big enough for me.) The onions were especially greasy, and the burger was now overcooked (not to mention void of seasoning.)

Classic Burger with French Fries

The fries were also overdone (quite a few were burned at the edges) and tasteless. I ate only four, and left the rest (It's fair to say they were inedible.) I've had these fries on countless previous occasions and have almost always enjoyed them. I finished 2/3 of my burger and asked for my check. My server couldn't have been nicer (and the appetizer was removed from my bill.) I wasn't in a good mood to begin with, considering I had to listen to a profanity-laced conversation between the aforementioned LOUD and gross "ladies" sitting in front of me. I counted four uses of "bit*h," two "mother fu*kers" and one "fu*k you." And they appeared to be friends. Of course, it's not the restaurant's fault; but it still affects the atmosphere.

Looking back, I should have asked for a new burger and fries; but I'm not big on second chances... at least not during the moment. Even a small discount (especially when you could plainly see I barely touched my fries; nor finished the burger) would have been appreciated; but $16.39 (plus a $5 tip) won't kill me. It does affect the likelihood of my returning... or perhaps more importantly, recommending it to my readers and friends.

Atmosphere: C (It's not the restaurant's fault, but nobody wants to sit next to people like that.)
Burger: D+ (That's why you don't serve an appetizer and main course at the same time.)
Fries: F (I was hungry, and still only ate four fries.)
Service: C- (At least my server was polite and understanding... most would have taken offense.)
Value: D (Not much value when you can't/don't finish your meal.)
Overall: D- (It wouldn't be so bad; but Cheesecake Factory makes their name on portions, quality and service.)