May 6, 2008

NYT BREAKING: Long Waits To Eat At Crayon-Filled Chain Restaurants

My sister-in-law came down to DC from NYC over the weekend, and she wanted to go to Olive Garden. I'm an Outback guy, but she was a guest, and it was her birthday, so she got to choose. At dinner, while the kid was busily coloring away at her map of Pisa, I asked how the Times Square Olive Garden was. She rightly gave me a look like I was crazy.

It got me thinking, though, what would Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic, say about the Times Square Olive Garden? Oddly enough, the Times was thinking the same thing. They just ran a lengthy report/review of some of the tri-state area's most popular restaurants, including: Bertucci's, The Cheesecake Factory, TGI Friday's, Red Lobster, Outback, and Olive Garden.

The verdict, roughly: Waits are long! Kids get crayons and chicken fingers! Food's not bad! And "The soft, chewy breadsticks were warm, wrapped in a cloth napkin and absolutely irresistible."

Uh, actually, they are resistible. The bread has less flavor than a Subway roll; it serves merely as the too-foofy vehicle for a fat brushload of that butter-flavored oil [a fry cook's secret weapon] and too much garlic salt. Meanwhile, the actually tasty, slightly sweet dark brown bread at Outback [which the kid calls, "the brown bread restaurant," btw] went totally unmentioned. [Note: Apparently it's called Bushman's Bread. The reverse engineered recipe involves 150 drops of food coloring, which I didn't know they had in the bush. The scale of the chain restaurant copycat recipe movement blows my mind.]

Anyway, point is, the Times did a cheap stunt, allowing wide-eyed, suburban staffers to pretend they've never been to the wilds of Westchester Mall. If they want to be serious about it, tell Bruni to get off his ass and walk the half block from the Times new HQ to Red Lobster flagship on 41st & 7th. Meanwhile, Applebee's and Olive Garden are up, and the Outback is down. The people ride in a hole in the ground. New York, New York, it's a helluva town.

Deja Vu Dining [nyt]


Why would anybody eat at any of the chains you mention when there's so much good food to eat elsewhere? Bleah. I guess this is the same crowd that looks for McDonald's in Europe and Asia?

You sure don't go to Outback or the Olive Garden for the ambiance, and at least some of us don't go for the food, either. Or at all. As for the NYT review: what a waste of ink.

[It's easy to not eat in a chain in NYC, but it's a dishonest, snobby lie for the Times to pretend that chain restaurants are only in the suburbs now. The reality is that it can be hard to eat out in chainland; the secret is that those chains might also be better than the random Chinese joint on the corner. it cuts both ways. -ed.]

It looks like Ajo and I share the same view there. I don't understand why anyone would eat in a chain restaurant in NYC, or any major metropolitan area where there are so many other, better choices (for both price and quality). I've certainly been to the chains before, but it's usually in the middle of nowhere, in an unfamiliar place, and late at night so options are nil. I suppose it's considered snobby to say that, but to me it's just all about the taste. Plus, everytime I drive by places like The Cheesecake Factory, there are crowds of people out front waiting for a table and I have no patience for that - especially not with a restless two-year old in tow.

As a general rule, I tend to avoid places that feature pictures of food on their menus - whether it's the chinese restaurant on the corner or the Olive Garden.

Oh, and do New Yorkers actually go to places like TGI Fridays and Olive Garden in the city, or just tourists from places like Des Moines? None of my New York-based family would ever admit to setting foot in one. They'd probably feel that you had to drive all the way out to Westchester just to justify it, or to avoid being seen by anyone they knew.

[I don't know who goes there in the city, either. It was eye-opening to read that TGIF started in Manhattan, though, as a "singles bar" down the street from our old place on the East Side, so there's no accounting. -ed.]

can i offer another point of view?
some people (like me) are simply picky. and while chain restaurants may not offer the best food ever, it's familiar. most of the time i like to try local restaurants when i'm in new cities - it's part of the expereince. but sometimes i've had a little too much *newness* and i simply want something familiar and comfortable.
i don't want/can't afford to eat out at chain restaurants all that much but i like knowing that they're everywhere.
btw - i'd so 'no' to both the olive garden and outback... i like ruby tuesday for the salad bar. i can pick out what i want and i don't have to tell anyone that i don't want any salad dressing and get that question-mark-face for five minutes.

Chain restaurants are predictable- when you are bringing those short unpredictable people with you- it's desirable to try and limit the scope for disaster.
I can't say I like Olive Garden very much either-I find the food too salty and it all tastes the same...I do not understand why people will queue to get into there when they have other options. We have come to the conclusion that the population of New Jersey at least, is so desperate for a place to dine that it really is a case of "build it and they will come".
Dining out with twin 2 year olds is very rarely about the adult's food! It's about service (and a glass of wine). Our weekly excercises in indigestion are part of a training program from which we hope to emerge with 2 more children that can dine out in real restaurants with real food, with enjoyment ( we already have one who has graduated). More often than not we choose Macaronis- it actually looks like a real restaurant inside, service and food are generally acceptable.
I am a little bit concerned that you might actually think Australian food might be found at Outback.... just for the record- "bloomin onions, Monteray jack cheese, or "shrimp" are not staples of the Aussie diet. We always cause quite a stir when we go to the local "Outback"...they obviously don't get a lot of Australians in there! Our biggest gripe at restaurants here in the US is the lack of imagination as regards childrens menus. starch and fat...with soda ...mmmmmm almost as good as that donut and glass of milk breakfast that DD were so proud to be offering!

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