Saturday, May 26, 2007

The dining experience always varies

I took my wife, Alison, and son, Aaron, to dinner Friday night. We discussed here. Mexican. Been there. Chinese. Been there. Italian. I can make better pasta at home, although I love the stuffed artichokes at Palermos on 95th Street.

So it was to the peanut gallery. The Texas Road House for some meat and potatoes and an evening of cowboy fun south on LaGrange Road just before the I-80 expressway. Now, I don't mind the long wait there because they have two large barrels of Jimmy Carter peanuts that you can scoop up into pails and enjoy. I was cracking the peanut shells and dropping them on the floor, which as littered with broken shells, and then noticed the sign asking everyone to keep them in the pails. Oops!

So much for being a cowboy.

And then we sat down for dinner. I ordered the 18 ounce Texas steak. Medium well. Crisp edges with mashed potatoes. Alison ordered a steak kabob and rice. And that's where the cowboy experience ended. The meat was terrible. She complained -- I always just "take the pain" as they said in the Vietnam War film Platoon. And after paying the bill, she had to tell the waitress and her assistant that the meal stunk. Yikes! I hate it when we complain about the food.

The waitress as concerned and rushed to the boss who chased us down as we were leaving to give us a $15 coupon for our next meal.

Well, my problem is when I "take the pain," I never go back. I used to eat at Poor Phils in Oak Park until one night they served me a spoiled lobster. That's a memory I can never erase and haven't been back there. (I've remained so far from it I don't even know if it exists any more.)

But Saturday as an entirely different experience. I can't allow a bad meal at a restaurant to ruin a weekend, especially since the Iraq War has already ruined the Memorial Day Holiday. So we went out again. And landed at the Olive Garden in Orland Park.

No cowboys there, but a lot of great food. The waitress gave us a complimentary glass of white wine. It was good. Okay. I ordered another glass. (Great idea to get you to buy something. Give them something. If it's good, the customer will buy it.) The soup and salad is endless there. The waitress said some customers come in and order six or seven servings of soup and salad. You can keep getting more. I had two small bowls of the pasta fagioli -- pasta an small chunks of beef. Spicy. Tomato and oily base. My Arabian taste buds were going wild.

We also ordered an appetizer plate. Stuffed mushrooms, calamari and some stuffed pasta squares. Whatever. Do I have to know the name of everything I eat. Just enjoy it!

Alison ordered the soup and salad and I had the mixed plate of chicken and steak with vegetables. It was great.

And you know what, the prices were the same. $44 for the Texas Road House disaster. And $44 at Olive Garden.

I don't know. Maybe the problem at the Texas Road House is that they treat the customers like cattle at a rodeo. Too many girls at the front counter doing what? Handing out beepers and taking names? It should be more like a dude ranch. And all that screaming to celebrate someone's birthday. Too much noise, I guess.

Still, the food wasn't as bad as the memory I still have of Poor Phils. Poor Phil. I might still go back to the Texas Road House again.

-- Ray Hanania

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