Sunday, April 22, 2007

Dazzlement at the Cheesecake Factory

Last Thursday, my husband and I went to the Cheesecake Factory because it was one of the few places we knew would be 1) open late and 2) near the Borders Bookstore, which is also open late. Plus we had heard the rumors about it and couldn't resist going.

The service was speedy and cheerful; it was a Thursday night, around 8:30, so we didn't have to wait at all. From what I have read online, though, be prepared for quite a wait on weekends. It wasn't packed, but there were plenty of full tables there, with people having lively conversations. Can I just say how lovely it is to be in a pleasantly buzzing place around here? Too many times, I've dined out and been the only diner in a spooky restaurant readying to close at this hour. It proves that there *is* a market out there, -- a *hungry* market!!-- for mid-to-upscale, late-night dining in the Capital Region. We are ready, restaurateurs!!!

The decor of the Cheesecake Factory is a cross between the movie set of "Cleopatra" with Miami Vice. There are palm plants, hugely lofty ceilings, and these faux columns with Egyptian-goddess-like heads on them. You forget you are in Colonie; which is mostly a good thing.

I don't usually like to promote chain restaurants, but I will consider returning to the Cheesecake Factory when I'm in the neighborhood of Wolf Road because the food was really good, the atmosphere is lively, and it's the kind of place you can take anyone: your mom, your colleague, kids, your internet date. It's convenient.

Their menu is intimidatingly huge: you can get just about anything from hamburgers of various stripes to pizzas, fish, steak, and pasta. The food is vaguely fusion style, heavy on American fare like "fried Macaroni and cheese" (appetizer), Nachos with cheese, and meatloaf. We shared the avocado eggrolls, which come with a tamarind dipping sauce that was truly addictive. Then, I got the fish tacos, which were also quite good; my husband got Evelyn's Favorite Pasta, which was essentially pasta with pesto and lots of fresh vegetables. It was much better than anything similar we've had down the street at the Macaroni Grill.

The cheesecakes were the least impressive part of the whole experience. Because of their name and the dozens of types of cheescake available (peanut butter, white chocolate, cookie dough... on and on) your expectations get pumped up. But I found both cheesecakes (a vanilla bean and a key lime pie) to be overly sweet and chemical tasting.

The other downer here is that the portions are HUGE!!! I mean they're really big. BUT they seem to know this, and they made it easy for both of us to go home with ample doggy bags. That one meal of fish tacos lasted me for two more days!

And it's hard to ignore the chirpy box-within-a-box feeling that is inevitable from a corporatized chain. Their menu is the first I've seen that actually has full-page advertisements (for things like jewelry) alongside the list of entrees.

But the things I do like outweigh my dislike of the chain restaurant phenomenon. The Miami Vice: Cleopatra vibe is fleeting; the interior of the restaurant is mostly airy, modern, and clean feeling. You can select from a good array of salads ("Weight Management TM" meals on their menu), like a cold salmon salad served on top of mixed greens; shrimp and crab salad; and a bunch of chicken salads. This is crucial!! Everyone that I know is weight conscious, and in this day and age, a restaurant has to have healthy options.


Albany Jane said...

Advertisements?! Now I've heard everything. I'm kind of glad I haven't been back in a while. I loved the place a few years ago, but now it seems so different.

Sandor said...

Hi Nosher,

Nice write-up on the Cheesecake Factory. My two visits were "Pretty Good" and "Just So So", but I like to try a place about three times to get a good feel for it (assuming nothing grotesquely wrong happens the first time I set foot inside) so will be there again sometime soon. You're right on the mark about the range and depth of the menu: if a body can't find *something* to his/her taste, then I'd suspect he/she is one of those folks that just can't be pleased. We all have one of those friends who makes dining out such a joy. ;)

I do have to call you out on your implication that the Capital District is somehow lacking in "late night" dining. Using your 8:30 pm as a starting point, it took me less than a minute to find 115* restaurants in the area that are serving past that time and qualify as "late night." There is a market and it's already being served.

Should it expand, though? Oh, hells yeah!

Ambivalence towards chains aside, an establishment like CF helps feed the momentum of dining in the Capital District, and that's a good thing.

Maybe, though, enough people will start to snap out of this sort of Wolf Road "trance" that's settled over the area in the past decade and realize that waiting in a lobby like cattle for 1.5 hours while clutching a beeper is vaguely dehumanizing, and give the dozens of local restaurants within 15 minutes of Colonie Center a chance.

Or maybe they won't... after all Disney's not going broke with its replicas of Saratoga Springs, the French Quarter, or Key West. :)

Keep posting!


Times Union online database of restaurants.
Check the box for "Serving food after 9 pm" and click "View Results"

Linda said...

I haven't been to that one yet (only several in Massachusetts). The fried macaroni and cheese balls are deadly (in a good way). I usually just order appetizers - not just because of the portions, but I like the choices better. I always order the avocado eggrolls and usually get a key-lime margarita.
I knew someone who is part of the team that does the decorative painting for the restaurants.