Thursday, November 26, 2009

Restaurant Review - The Cheesecake Factory, Mall of Millenia, 4200 Conroy Road, Orlando, FL

For the first time in its history, The Cheesecake Factory has developed a kids menu. The new menu was released in September, and offers kid-friendly food, including a drink, for $4 - $7. There are a lot of offerings including pasta, mini-burgers, grilled cheese, quesadillas, mac-n-cheese, chicken strips, pizza, and others.
To match, the adult menu is huge, as well. It is almost like a catalog and even has advertisements (I kid you not). To break down your decision, you should first decide what kind of food you want: American, Italian, Mexican, Asian, etc. Then, you can decide whether you want an appetizer, a salad, a sandwich or a main meal. Yep, they have all of that and more.

While deciding, we munched on the sour dough and pumpernickel breads our server brought us. And truly, we had to send the server away twice until we finally decided what to get.

On our first visit, Grandpa ordered the Beef Ribs ($25.95), a very large plate of beef ribs served with fries and onion rings. While he agreed there was a lot of food and the taste was okay, he wasn't sure if it was worth the high price. Grandma, who clearly had her eye on the cheesecake display case, ordered a Margherita Pizzette ($4.95), basically a small, oval pizza, with large chunks of mozzerella and slivers of basil. She thought it was the perfect size for a pizza snack. I had the Fresh Fish Tacos ($14.95), an extremely large platter with three tacos, rice, black beans, and salsa and guacamole on the side. It was very messy to eat, with pieces of grilled fish and cabbage falling out constantly, but it was wonderful. There was a lot of fish per taco and the spicy avocado cream gradually increased in spiciness the more I ate. I was only able to finish two of the tacos and make only a small dent in the rice and beans.

BB ordered the kids pasta with alfredo sauce ($6.95), while LB and my two nieces ordered the kids mini-corn dogs with fries ($5.95). The pasta was a good size and my son was only able to eat a little over half of the serving. The corn dogs came as three skewers of the dogs, covered with corn meal, and a large serving of fries. I don't exactly know what made these dogs "mini" because, although they were shorter than normal, they were pretty thick. All three kids were only able to eat two of the skewers.

On another visit, all of us decided to try the Factory Appetizer Favorites ($28.95) as our shared meal, which is a very large version of an appetizer sampler. LB decided to get the kids mini-corn dogs again which was a good decision as I don't know how much of the appetizers he would have wanted to eat. That left four of us (Grandma, Grandpa, BB, and me), which worked out well as each appetizer came with four pieces. Four separate dishes arrived holding the Quesadillas, Pot Stickers, Summer Rolls, Calamari, Buffalo Blasts, Corn Cakes, Spinach & Artichoke dip, Avocado Eggrolls, and all of the associated sauces. The big winners were the Avocado Eggrolls (creamy/crunchy goodness), Pot Stickers (very flavorful), Corn Cakes (sweet and spicy all together), and Calamari (delicate, not chewy). No one really liked the Summer Rolls, cold rice wrappers filled with noodles. It was a good way to sample many of the appetizers, but it really wasn't enough food to be a meal for all four of us. The plus side is that left room for dessert!

Of course, you can't go to The Cheesecake Factory without getting cheesecake, right? They typically have between 20 and 30 cheesecakes available, with some seasonal selections as well. Slices are $6.75 to $7.95. The slices might look small, but they are very rich and I suggest sharing. We ordered a slice of the 30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake ($7.50) and a slice of Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple Cheesecake ($6.95) on our first visit, and the seasonal Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake on our second visit. The 30th Anniversary cake has a layer of cheesecake along with chocolate cake and a fudge layer. It ended up as the overall favorite. The peanut butter one was super rich and had cheesecake swirled with caramel, peanut butter, and peanut butter cups. I absolutely loved the Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake - it was my personal favorite. I was expecting pumpkin cheesecake with pecans in it. Nope, it was even better. It was a pumpkin cheesecake ON TOP OF a pecan pie. A double decker pie - two pies in one! The creamy cheesecake went great with the ooey gooey pecan pie. We will definitely be back to tackle more of the menu and try more of the cheesecakes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Restaurant Review - Menchie's Frozen Yogurt, 7339 W. Sand Lake Road, #406, Orlando, FL

Menchie's Frozen YogurtMenchie’s Frozen Yogurt, located on Sand Lake Road’s “Restaurant Row”, is a fun, interactive dessert store. It is do-it-yourself with simple instructions: Fill your bowl with frozen yogurt. Top with snacks and candies and sauces. Weigh. Then pay. For 44 cents an ounce, you can get what you want, in the quantity you want. The concept is brilliant. The staff just makes sure the toppings are kept filled up and then monitor the scale as Pick Your Flavorscustomers finish their creations and weigh and pay.

Don’t worry if there is a crowd milling about inside. Remember, this is do-it-yourself. So, step right up, grab a bowl, and start pouring your frozen yogurt. There are 12 flavors every time, with only chocolate and vanilla staying the same, as far as I could tell. With more than 40 different flavors, including seasonal offerings like pumpkin and eggnog, rotating constantly, you will find a different variety available almost every time you visit. At the “Snackage” bar, where the dry toppings reside, are about 30 different types of add-ins, including nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans), candies (Reese’s Pieces, chocolate chips, yogurt chips, Jelly Bellies, M&M, Snow Caps, Gummy Bears, Rainbow Nerds, etc), cereals (Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, etc.) anSnackage Bard other toppings like coconut flakes, granola, and graham cracker crumbs. At the “Chill” bar, are freshly cut fruits such as strawberry slices, maraschino cherries, mango, kiwi, bananas, pineapple, as well as the decadent stuff such as mini-peanut butter cups, cookie dough balls, mini-cheesecake bits, and even mochi, a sticky Japanese confectioChill barn. Finally, there is the “Hotties” sauce bar with caramel, chocolate, peanut butter sauce, and hot fudge, as well as marshmallow sauce and non-dairy whipped topping.

On our first visit, I tried both the Pralines ‘n’ Cream and Pistachio frozen yogurt flavors and thought they made a great combination. I added pecans, coconut flakes, mini-cheesecake bites, and then topped that off with caramel sauce. BB was happily moving along, getting his yogurt and toppings while I helped LB put the yogurt flavors he wanted into his cup. By the time we reached the scale to weigh our creations, I glanced over and noticed my older son’s cup was completely filled to the top with yogurt and toppings. Oh dear, I should have been watching more closely. I had the staff weigh his separately from ours and, as I suspected, he had passed the pound mark! Yep, at 44 cents an ounce, he was looking at a $7.80 cup of dessert. The real test was, did he finish it? Of cYep, that's a pound of dessert!ourse not! Luckily, Menchie’s has lids to place on your creation so you can take it home if you want.

Next time, I walked in and was shocked to find that most of the flavors had changed and my Pralines ‘n’ Cream AND Pistachio were gone. After a moment, I realized this was probably a good thing so I could try some of the other flavors and I would not be stuckMuch better quantity in a rut getting the same flavors every single time. This time, I did a Cookies ‘n’ Cream and Cheesecake swirl (if two flavors are in the same machine, you can do a swirl), and then added some of the French Vanilla flavor. I also added some different toppings, trying peanuts this time, Snow Caps, and strawberry slices.

You can also try tastes of the different flavors first with the provided mini paper cups. This is actually a pretty good idea. I did not try the Cappucino flavor before I added it to my cup and when I was eating it later, it had a very strong coffee taste (it should have been called Espresso instead). So definitely taste-test if you are not sure what a flavor will taste like.

This visit, I watched BB like a hawk, and stopped him several times by the yogurt machines as I saw him place too much of each flavor in his cup. I also had to watch him at the toppings bar as I discovered he was putting scoop after scoop of chocolate chips into his bowl. “Hey, this is a yogurt shop, not a candy store!”

LB was more adventurous than I thought, trying more than just chocolate and vanilla and venturing to the Irish Mint and the Cheesecake flavors, though his favorite was Cookies ‘n’ Cream. This time, all of our creations came out to around $15 total , putting us closer to the 10-12 ounces per cup mark.

This is currently the only Menchie’s location in Florida, although another is planned for Fort Lauderdale. The shopping area it is in has several other restaurants so parking can be tight. However, there are “30 minutes or less” parking spots right in front. Menchie’s has already become a habit with us and I look forward to going every couple of weeks, especially to discover the new flavors in store for us.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Restaurant Musings - To Tip or Not to Tip for Take Out?

We have several new upscale chain restaurants in our area and we have become dinner lazy lately and have been ordering take-out. My favorite of the lot is Chili's because they have really made a nice guest experience of their Take Out. There are parking spaces just for Chili's To Go and a separate entrance and cash register as well so I don't have to wait at the bar and try to attract the bartender's attention so I can get my take out order. My angst is always - should I tip for Take Out? If I was eating in, I would certainly tip, of course. But when the restaurant seems to do a really good job of putting all of my food so nicely together in special take out boxes, including all accompaniments such as rolls and butter and dressings, I feel guilty just paying what is on the check. Does any one out there tip for Take Out?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Quick Bites - New Menus at Quick Service Restaurants at Mexico Pavilion at Epcot Theme Park

Cantina de San Angel menuToday for lunch I went to Cantina de San Angel at the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot because I had heard from @AmandaTinney that this quick-serve restaurant now serves Chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are a chicken and corn dish that has been my favorite at past Epcot International Food & Wine Festivals and I was very excited that it is now a permanent item on the menu at Cantina de San Angel. Both my friend and I ordered the Chilaquiles ($9.59) whichChilaquiles, Guacamole and Congo Juice - Yum! comes with refried black beans and Mexican rice. I also got a guacamole with chips ($5.50) to share between us and a Congo juice ($3.99) to drink. The Chilaquiles was a good portion and was the mushy corn and chicken combination I love. It was topped with a mild red sauce versus the spicy green tomatillo sauce that used to be served with it when it was a Food & Wine item. That makes sense considering most people in line with me would probably not expect a spicy item on the menu. The guacamole was okay but I guess I am getting spoiled with all the tableside guacamole that restaurants are serving these days; I missed the chunks of fresh avocado in this version. The Congo juice is a combination of pineapple, orange and lime juices and was very refreshing.

As we were finishing lunch, I looked over at the Mexico City booth that had been used at the Food & Wine Festival, that just ended two days ago. To my surprise, there were people at the bTaqueria Del Lago menuooth, and they looked like they were getting food! What is this, I thought? Did Epcot leave the Mexico booth open for some reason? We investigated after lunch and I saw a sign outside the booth that declared this as the Taqueria Del Lago. The menu had Taquitos (I was wondering why they had takeNew Quick Serve location at Mexicon those off the menu at the Cantina), Tostadas, adult-size Quesadillas (previously the only Quesadillas on the Cantina menu were the kids' version), Flan, and other items. I asked the Cast Member behind the counter if this was a permanent food location and she said it was (but it still could be a test seeing how well the location does). Of course, the issue is if half of your party wants Chilaquiles or Burritos or a kids meal, and the other half wants Taquitos or Quesadillas, then you will end up waiting in two different lines. Still, I think that will help with the crowd control as the Cantina was very packed and it took a while to get the food. I'll have to return and try some of the items at the Taqueria.

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