Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Trip to the Cheesecake Factory, Bridgewater, NJ

So, we all know chain restaurants are typically held to lower standards than most restaurants. In recent years, the chain restaurants seem to have made a concerted effort to step up their game- so when my young daughter innocently asked to go to the Cheesecake Factory after her pre-school "graduation" ceremony, I was curious to see how they would do (and have a nice big hunk of cheesecake too...)

The local Cheesecake Factory is impressive looking- a massive, cavernous place decorated with a combination of new-age and ancient Egyptian styles, with very high ceilings. The effect reminded me of a casino in a way.

We started our lunch with the avocado eggroll appetizer. As the name suggests- this was your standard fried egg roll shell, filled with avocado slices and a mild pico de gallo, served on a bed of flash-fried rice noodles. The texture contrast between the avocado and the crispy shell was intriguing, and made the dish. The sauce it came with looked like a cross between a teriyaki sauce and a chimichurri- but it was nothing like either- the dominant flavor in the sauce was cashew, backed by something sweet- probably honey. While this sounds odd, it worked. The shell was a touch on the greasy side, but the dish was overall a nice combination - an interesting balance of flavors and textures, with an interesting sauce to tie it all together.

As you can tell from this post, and this post, I am a sucker for Fish Tacos, so I ordered tempura battered fish tacos, served with a side of rice and beans. The fact that the menu did not indicate what kind of fish was being offered in the tacos should have raised an alarm, but I wanted my fish tacos despite that. The execution of the dish was a little off-mark- perhaps I should have listened to the little warning in my head....

The avocado slices on top were somewhat irregular- the knife work here came off as sloppy. The slaw, the pico de gallo, and the crema on the tacos worked well enough- not necessarily great, but not an issue. Something in the taco was too wet though- the tortillas themselves quickly became soggy on the bottom and started to fall apart. The real problem was the mystery fish- which was, I believe, hadock, or scrod, or some other generic white fish. The tempura was nice looking, and had that light crunch I was looking for, but the fish was cooked inconsistently. One taco had a piece of fish that was overcooked- the tempura looked goo, but the fish inside was clearly dried out. The next taco was just about right on, and the others were somewhere in-between- noticeably overcooked at the ends, but better in the middle. Apparently, someone was not having a good day at the fry station today., I liked the concept- all the parts tasted right, but if it's a fish taco, the fish has to be right. Thankfully, the sidecar of rice and black beans hit the spot, and provided a little burst of heat.

So far, my appetizer was a hit, and my entree missed on execution. Naturally, a killer dessert was needed to save the day- and naturally, at this restaurant, that means Cheesecake. This dessert was a home run. White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake- an over-the-top-decadent combination that delivered the goods. The big chunks of macadamia broke up the heavier cheesecake, and kept the cake from being too heavy. The caramel and white chocolate (and the whipped cream) are pretty much the perfect thing to go with something so heavily studded with macadamia nuts. I think the photo speaks for itself.

All in all, the Cheesecake Factory is missing the mark, but they do seem to be trying hard to be better than just a joe-average chain restaurant. I suspect that on any other day, my fish tacos would have been executed better (or maybe I should have asked for the version with grilled fish). I do suggest that the restaurant actually name what kind of fish they are using in the tacos- even if it isn't something exotic.

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