The Cheesecake Factory

Though part of me rallies against admitting this, I love The Cheesecake Factory.  The only reason I don't eat there more often is that I simply can't afford to.  Those of you who read my Red Robin write-up might be surprised that I'm gushing about a place that is every bit as obviously a chain restaurant as Red Robin is.  There's just a vibe, a feeling you get by how the place is laid out, the little buzzers that tell you that your table is ready, the logo everywhere you look, the feeling that everything you're seeing and tasting was determined by a committee...all those things are the same, but to me, that's where the comparison ends.  At The Cheesecake Factory, it's all about the food.

The Cheesecake Factory is part of Boise Towne Square, which basically takes up the land between Franklin & Emerald and Milwaukee & Cole in Boise.  The restaurant is on the Southern side of the mall, next to Borders.  Okay, enough store links.  I've never had a bad meal at the place, but as I said it is a little on the pricey side, and I tend to avoid the mall.  However, it is one of my girlfriend's favorite places, so when our anniversary rolled around it seemed like a natural choice.

We went on a Friday evening during a BSU game, thinking that it might mean the place would be a little less busy.  I don't know if that was the case, but it was still plenty busy for my tastes and a little on the noisy side.  I approached the front desk, gave my name, and got my buzzer.  While we waited we stood off to the side by the bakery counter, which was full of all kinds of amazing-looking cheesecakes.  If I hadn't already been planning to order dessert, that wait would have changed my mind.  Soon enough, our buzzer went off, and we were shown to one of those odd little tables that's in a row where one side is chairs and the other something like a very long booth seat.  I've never liked these things, especially when trying to have an intimate dinner.  If the place is busy enough, you end up having all the privacy of a sushi bar during lunch rush.  Just at the moment, there was nobody on either side of us.  She sat on the booth side, allowing her to see the game on the overhead TVs, and I sat in one of the chairs where I had a very good view of myself in the mirror that runs the length of the giant booth seat for no reason that I've been able to determine.  Oh well, I intended to focus my attention on my beloved anyway.

Iced green tea

We'd barely been served our drinks and hadn't even had a chance to order an appetizer when a man (the manager?) sat down next to us and apologized profusely for inconveniencing us, but that he had to ask us to move because they needed the long table for a party of ten and that there was already a booth ready for us.  That was just fine with me because hey, more privacy and no mirror, and in short order we were re-seated.  Our waitress came by soon after, and I allowed my gal to talk me into the Avocado Eggrolls as an appetizer.

2/3 of the Avocado Eggrolls

I love the lighting in this place, very subdued but focused on the center of the table to showcase your meal, but it sucks for taking pictures in.  Anyway, I will admit I was a bit skeptical, but I've found I can generally trust my girl's taste.  Personally, it would never occur to me to stuff an egg roll skin full of avocado, sun-dried tomato, red onion and cilantro and then fry it, but that's what they've done and the result is pretty impressive.  The place we differed was on the tamarind-cashew dipping sauce; she loves it, I hate it like poison.  In the end, it didn't matter because they were perfectly fine without sauce.

Chicken Bellagio

I rarely order from a "specials" menu, but there was a dish called Chicken Bellagio that kept calling to me.  I don't know if I'm remembering the entirety of the dish, but what I do recall is that it was pounded and breaded chicken on a bed of basil pasta and Parmesan cream sauce, topped with prosciutto and arugula salad.  I think that's all the ingredients, but I know their menu said it a lot prettier, and that plus the fact that it was seven bucks cheaper than anything else on the menu that I wanted cinched it.  I truly loved the dish and might have to try to make it at home some time.  Every component had a strong and distinctive flavor, so mixing together different things in different ratios ensured that no two bites tasted exactly the same.  My girl was impressed as well, enough so that I gave her a rather big chunk of my chicken.  Unfortunately, she wanted it because her own entrée was less than spectacular.  She ordered the Pasta Carbonara, which like most things she eats when we go out, I didn't get a chance to take a picture of before she dug in.  I need to be better about that.  Anyway, I've had homemade carbonaras, and they're usually a hearty and not too saucy dish.  What she ended up with tasted more like an Alfredo to me, albeit with smoked bacon and peas.  It wasn't bad, but if I had ordered it expecting carbonara, I would have been disappointed.

Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake

I'm not one much for ordering dessert, and I hadn't on my prior trips to The Cheesecake Factory, but I knew my girl was so I figured why not?  I made a perfunctory effort to look at the menu, but I'd been wanting to try the Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake since I'd first heard of it, since red velvet cake is one of the few desserts I truly love.  Here, it's been taken to a new level of evil by being layered with cheesecake and then covered in cream cheese frosting.  It was decadent and rich, but not even all that creaminess was able to cancel out the flavor of the red velvet cake.  I was very, very happy until I tried a bite of my girlfriend's dessert.  I may have come out with the better main course, but she certainly regained the upper hand with her dessert selection.  My eyes had lingered on "Pumpkin Cheesecake" on the menu long enough for me to wonder if it only a seasonal item, and then I was on to the next thing.  My beloved knew better, and after trying her dessert I spent the rest of our time there wishing I had ordered the same thing.  At this point, I'm even contemplating making one for Thanksgiving.

I heartily recommend The Cheesecake Factory.  Yes, it's pricey and badly located, but it has the most diverse menu I've seen around here and is pretty much pure decadence.  The flavors are bold, the portions are huge, and unlike so many places where dessert is an afterthought, here it's totally worth pushing your dinner plate away while you still have some room left.  Unfortunately, it won't be a regular stop for me until I have money or more special occasions.

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