Thanks to everyone for the amusing, detailed, and informative advice. I especially got a kick out of the suggestions involving ducking out early.
So having read many posts, I figured the agenda would be:
- Avocado Egg Rolls for appetizer
- Chicken Madiera or Meatloaf
- Dessert of Frida's Fudge Cake
Our group consisted of two Cheesecake Factory fanatics who had apparently sampled everything on the menu repeatedly, two neutral folks, and one kindred spirit who viewed the excursion as "forced." I bit my tongue as the two fanatics waxed poetic about the wonders of individual dishes. Hey, to each his own, right?
It came time to decide on appetizers. I suggested the avocado egg rolls, which elicited moans of delight from the fanatics. There were, however, only four to a serving, said one fanatic, so this item was nixed. I guess the rationale was that they couldn't be easily split among six. As this fanatic was our boss, none of us could really protest as she asked for two orders of chips with spinach dip and salsa. It probably had a fancier name, but...
Some bread was brought out to the table. I sampled the brown bread, and found it to be soft, fresh, and delicious. I would have had more if I had been in a setting where it was more acceptable to hog all the bread, but I held back.
The entire table ordered giant lemonades, some pink in hue, others regular lemony-looking. The kindred-spirit next to me gagged at the sweetness of hers, but was a sport. I ordered a regular margarita, which upon arrival impressed me as drinkable but not especially tasty. The drink seemed to be mostly comprised of ice.
Soon the appetizers arrived. They were huge! It suddenly seemed very odd and somewhat sad that given the comically vast array of appetizer options, we had ordered two identical items, which clearly we could not have finished had we had five more people and two extra days to work on it. In any event, the spinach dip was heavy, oily, and edible. The salsa reminded me of Baja Fresh - large chunks of tomatoes, a dash of onion, and an overall bland flavor. I ate a number of chips with the spinach dip, more for something to do as we chatted than anything else.
I forget if we ordered the main course before the appetizers or not, but when it came time to order, I was tempted to get a burger, as I figured the fries might be those thick Fatburger Fat Fries type. I then realized that, given the portions, there would be leftover fries, and fries don't make good leftovers! I came VERY close to ordering the meatloaf, but was swayed by the "most popular" description next to the Chicken Madeira. So I ordered that. One of the fanatics said, "ooo, that's one of the best items." However, she reserved her remark of "excellent choice" for someone's sandwich, I think the crab sandwich.
My margarita drained, I was asked if I wanted another. Since I had consumed this margarita on an empty stomach in about 10 minutes and had no effect, I declined and ordered a Coke. Like the lemonades, it was really big. Probably 32 oz. It made me think of Super Size Me, where they discuss the evolution of drink cup sizes over the years, from 8oz up to the Super Tankers of today. When I ordered the Coke, I did not specify a size - I guess all sizes are jumbo.
In any event, conversation continued, and people were fairly relaxed. About 1/4 of the way into my Coke, it was taken away and refilled.
When the main course arrived, I was glad I had not ordered a burger and fries. The fries were of the skinny variety, and the copious amount of them meant that I could eat other people's anyhow. About four people had ordered fries. They were heaped on the plate like a miniature mountain.
The chicken madiera with mashed potatoes was not too bad. It basically felt like slightly above average cafeteria food. Definitely not a lot of subtlety to the flavors, in fact it tasted somewhat processed. But it wasn't BAD tasting. I'd say the potatoes were a bit more flavorful than the chicken.
I made it about halfway through the chicken and potatoes before I waved the white flag. I was definitely done. Meanwhile the server removed our appetizers. Only about 1/4 of the appetizers had been consumed, and it made me remember the poster who had said Cheesecake Factory was so wasteful. This was!
The server came by and attempted to refill my Coke, but it was still full.
With our extras wrapped into doggie bags, we were queried about dessert. Nobody wanted any, but our leader (and Cheesecake Factory fanatic) did. So a few people ordered dessert as well so as not to make her look piggish. I decided to try the Elisa's or Sally's fudge cake. Frida's? Others promised to share it.
Yes, I think it was Frida's. It arrived and I really felt that I now did not want any fudge cake. In fact, how hypocritical am I to criticize the leftover appetizers and yet still order a slab of cake? Well, I suppose I wanted to sample it. And someone had to order dessert, or we all would have stared at our boss eating a massive slice of cake!
I took a tentative forkful, and was rather shocked at how dry and bland it was! I could only manage one or two bites. A few other folks tried some samples, but the cake remained about 2/3 unfinished at the end. Two other people ordered chocolate mousse of some sort, and down at the end someone had a cheescake slice. Most went home in doogie bags.
Ovearll, I would say that Cheesecake Factory, for me, lands in the tolerable (barely) category. I would never seek the place out. If I had to make another forced excursion, I would probably look for the lightest possible items on the menu, things like salads or small appetizers. Dessert I would skip, and I'd eat a whole bunch of that bread! Do they serve beer? I would definitely load up on free bottled beer next time instead of that anemic and flavorless margartia. Or stick to the bladder-busting Coke; it's hard to mess up Coke.
Well, if you read this far, thanks for your tips. You helped turn a potentially negative experience into a sort of adventure.
And if you love Cheesecake Factory, more power to 'ya...we all like different stuff....