The Cheesecake Factory adventure played out at last as we celebrated my wonderful daughter Elisabeth’s birthday this past weekend at the Syracuse mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA.
We’d been waiting to experience this new franchise, the four of us, since our failed attempt to eat dinner there the Saturday of its opening week.
The takeout cheesecake was so dreamy that night two months ago.
And the inside of the restaurant had looked so cheery that afternoon in which I had pressed my face against the window to view the staff in the midst of training at the end of January.
What a letdown.
I hated my clumpy angel hair pasta that came with my scampi. I thought: Do they want me to eat this, or take it home for the next time I play handball? I hated the thick breaded coating on my shrimp. I hated how my initial lean onto my elbows in front of me located a sticky spot left over from previous occupants.
My dear wife Karen hated the way we waited 20 minutes for somebody to bring my replacement side dish, despite numerous visits and promises by the waitress and the manager. It arrived well after I’d finished my shrimp and when everybody else was ready to order cheesecake. And it turned out to topped with a disgusting hybrid of scampi sauce and mac-n-cheese sauce.
Elisabeth hated that her side salad was mostly tomato and leafy lettuces, except for the hard-as-a-cueball core of Iceberg in its midst. She hated that her loaded potato soup was thin and bland.
George hated the lone burned-to-black french fry included on his plate.
We all hated how dark our table space was, except for the moments when the valet parkers right outside our tableside window pulled up another vehicle whose headlights illuminated us. Our waitress didn’t get it when I crossed my hands to cast a bird silhouette upon her. We did, however, watch with worried curiosity as the ambulance pulled up right beside our window and took away a woman clutching her mop-haired youngster to her chest.
We all hated how after George found his first fork to be dirty, we checked every piece of utensil thereafter, and only about half passed the test.
It was awful.
Because of the angel hair pasta debacle, I did not complain further. The manager had come over to apologize, profusely, as I waited for the side of which I could only force down a couple of testing nibbles. And I knew the waitress overhead much of my disappointed commentary.
There were some things we liked.
The hostess was great. Because we’d been told there would have been a four-hour wait on a Saturday night our first try, Karen and I arrived at the restaurant two hours before the time Elisabeth and George told us they’d arrive.
I explained to the hostess that we’d like a table for four at 8:30 p.m. She explained that they were not taking reservations, but they’ve come up with a plan that’s almost as good.
She punched in my name and handed me a pager. When it goes off in an hour — the wait they were quoting every arrival at the desk — I should tell them our party hadn’t arrived yet, and we’d be placed on a list to get the next available table when everybody showed up.
Karen and I shopped a while, then sat a spell people-watching on the couches outside the restaurant until the kids got there.
The system worked.
We were seated at 8:30 p.m. after waiting just a moment or two.
The basket of bread was delicious, particularly the pumpernickel. But, even … four pats of butter were not enough four people, but we stretched it out.
George liked his mushroom burger. Karen liked her bang-bang shrimp and chicken.
We all adored our cheesecake, four wonderfully different varieties.
Karen was quite happy when our bill included a tape with a web address to fill out a satisfaction survey. It promised a printable $10 gift certificate.
But when I told our waitress I didn’t need any change, she took that receipt and went off to not be seen again, and that was that.
Karen emailed a letter to the company the next morning.
Our disappointment was so thorough, we won’t be going back to our local Cheesecake Factory.
What was your very worst restaurant experience?