A visit to the Cheesecake Factory In Suburban Cleveland, or, How To Use a Fancy Pants Word Like “Insipid” Twice In a Two-Minute Video (insipid: 1. without flavor, tasteless 2. not exciting or interesting, dull; lifeless).
A week or so ago I made fun of author and journalist Kelly Alexander after she wrote an article in praise of the Cheesecake Factory. She quickly issued a challenge by email: “OK, Ruhlman: A wager is in order, clearly. If you go to the Cheesecake Factory, taste that miso salmon, and after that can honestly tell me it doesn’t rock, I will not only pay for your salmon but will personally buy 15 copies of Ratio. If you go and eat it and then concede that it tastes good, you have to blog KELLY ALEXANDER IS RIGHT ABOUT THE SALMON AT THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY. Deal or no deal?”
Watch the above for the actual tasting and response, but beyond that, the whole visit brought up for me all kinds of questions about why my gut reaction was opposed to the CF. Was it simple unexplored snobbery? Or is the place truly reprehensible?
As it happened a friend had organized a lunch, four high school friends welcoming a fifth back to town. I suggested the CF, saying I would explain. (That it required an explanation, says a lot.)
“I never ate here because the name turned me off,” said DH perusing the menu. “Do you think the Roadside Sliders are made of possum?”
The menu runs 20 laminated pages, many filled with full-page ads for Coke and Carnival Cruise Lines and Alberto Men’s Pants.
DL said, “There are 92 specialties. How special can they be?!”

Beside the dish filled with foil-wrapped pats of butter was a second menu, with still more “specials.” There is indeed a lot to choose from.

We ordered five entrees (lunch-sized portions, except for the salmon): the crispy beef, an Asian-style stir-fry, the salmon, chicken piccata, pasta carbonara and eventually the fish tacos. The salmon, as described above was delicious–juicy, flavorful, excellent miso glaze, just the right amount of sweetness, the sauce was buttery/creamy but lacked the acidity that would have added a lot to an already sweetish dish. The crispy beef was indeed crispy, lightly coated and deep fried I suspect, then tossed in a sweet sour sauce and al dente green beans. I’m a sucker for this dual cooking technique and enjoyed this the most.
The piccata was fine, but more to the point, it would have been fine even if you didn’t like boneless skinless chicken breas
I’d ordered the carbonara because it’s so simple and one of the best pasta dishes there is and I wanted to see how the CF handled this classic. The waitress asked if I wanted chicken on it. I asked “Why I would want chicken on it?” She said, “You’re just like my husband, I don’t know why.” (She was very nice, btw—all service was prompt, friendly and attentive.)
The carbonara came dressed in a cream sauce and was garnished with peas (where did this peas thing come from—CF is not the only one).

The friend beside me, LJ, said, “It’s a guilty pleasure, liking bad pasta,” as he polished off the carbonara.

And the fish tacos, which we ordered on the fly, were all about texture, since the fish didn’t have a flavor of it’s own. But the texture and the garnishes were enjoyable, as was the fact that you could eat a few tacos and not feel stuffed. That, the beef and salmon were winners. The lay-ups, the piccata and carbonara were like muzak versions of the real thing. Portion size was generous. By the end even LJ was too full to taste the White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake that he’d wanted to order for his lunch entree.

So, clearly, decent food can be had at more than reasonable prices, but it takes some careful choosing on a menu with more than 200 offerings. The biggest drawback is the mall-like atmosphere, a sense of faux everything that is perhaps inevitable in any large chain. The fact that any of the 146 CFs around the country can put out this astonishing variety of food is an impressive work of corporate organization and efficiency.

But I left feeling sad, and not sure why. I think, on reflection it was because of the sense that what we’d just experienced was simply a company responding to the demands of America, and the demands of America were helping us to take our food one step backward rather than one step forward, and I don’t think we have time for backward steps.


129 Wonderful responses to “Cheesecake Factory:
The Alexander Challenge”

  • carri

    Too bad, because there is possible, I think, for a place like this to do alot of good in a local community. So much of their ‘product’ is premade and boxed just for them requiring little skill to remake, when they could be buying locally and training people to cook it well. BTW, I wonder where their Salmon comes from? Did you ask?

  • chad

    After hiring more than a handful of former CF cooks to work in our kitchen, I believe that the organization to deliver this product with their degree of consistency has to be nazi-ishly strict. It must be this way since the skill level of these cooks was extraordinarily weak.
    To add to this, my last meal at CF was over a year ago here in the Miami area (not revealing the exact location) and it was disgusting. Cannot even remember what I ate, except for my overwhelming feeling of just having thrown my money away.
    On the positive side, we can all learn something from the SOP’s of a place like this… consistency (whether good, bad, or mediocre) is one of the most difficult things to achieve in a kitchen.

  • Jerzee Tomato

    CF is kitchy. It is trendy and eye candy and their cheesecake sucks. It is waxy and full of junk so it stays pretty when frozen. Having said this I love their limoncello torte. I now make it but if I am there I always get a slice of that which is not their cheesecake. I also love the bar at CF usually staffed with great people who actually understand what a bartender is and what a bartender should do. My fav CF is Raleigh NC. The bartenders there are awesome. The food at CF is what it should be no more no less. Get a nice mixed drink and try the Limoncello torte then go home and make the drink and the torte. Salmon I can eat anyplace.

  • carri

    Two years ago on the Waikiki strip, the line outside CF was 2 1/2 hours long…what does THAT say? (Who waits 2 1/2 hours to eat? not me!)

  • adri

    Hi Michael, I was the only female cook you met in Ad Hoc last year. I too feel that same sadness you mentioned in your article, when I have eaten in CF and many other chain restaurants around the states. To me that feeling comes from the lack of awareness the American public have for food. They have lost a personal interest and with that have perpetuated the industrialized kitchen. Perhaps one day Slow Food will actually be the norm for the masses…Although I feel that will be a long time coming.
    PS I have since moved on to Miami,Fl currently on a project to serve a healthy, mostly organic school lunch program,any insights you may have will be well received. Tks!

  • Natanya

    This statement sums up not only your CF experience but so many dining experiences around the country:

    “…what we’d just experienced was simply a company responding to the demands of America, and the demands of America were helping us to take our food one step backward rather than one step forward, and I don’t think we have time for backward steps.”

    Looking back over my life of eating it’s interesting to see how my preferences and tastes have matured. When I was young, Bennegin’s and Red Lobster were special places to visit (albeit in El Paso, Tx). Now my favorites are local restaurants with creative chefs who source local and in-season ingredients which many of us would agree make for the best possible dining experiences. To get to this point though, I’ve had to be exposed to better food and understand what makes a great dish through a collection of learning experiences that I’ve intentionally sought out. I know I’m not alone in this, but still, we’re a minority. When I start to think about what it would take to move the American demand forward, I’m a little daunted. Processed and convenience foods have changed our food culture and it will be quite a task to redirect our focus to fresh, seasonal, local ingredients. While I don’t have a master plan to change our food culture, I can start at home by feeding my family differently and introducing my daughter to varied dining experiences that more often than not omit places like CF. It’s only a small step, but if we all take such steps together, we may find ourselves moving ahead instead of backwards.

  • hollerhither

    I have been perversely curious about Cheesecake Factory over the years but the 2x I tried to go (in areas where there were nothing but chains) the wait was an hour+, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

    There was an article a few years back, maybe in Business Week, about their corporate kitchens, and how they “introduce” ethnic food to a subsection of Americans who otherwise wouldn’t have at it. It was an interesting premise, but I guess I’d like to know how many of these customers ever take off the training wheels?

  • Mykl

    Hey Mark, good read as usual. CF is a sad reflection of a over commercialized society that’s hell bent on “most bang for the buck.” It’s sad because places like CF has no soul. It’s sad because people are lining up to go to these “factories” instead of places where chefs cook from their heart. I’ll take a mom and pop taco stand over any faux miso-glazed salmon any day of the week.

    Also, I think it’s really irresponsible for Kelly Alexander to write an article in praise of CF. Alas, some people are writers who happen to like food, and some are cooks who also like to write.

    Do your thing Mark and let people know what’s right and wrong.

  • chef4cook

    Can you believe I have never eaten at a Cheesecake Factory and after watching your video I probably never will. Any resto name that has “Factory” in it just does nothing for me.

  • JBL

    CF isn’t that bad; c’mon people don’t be such snobs. It ‘aint TFL or El Bulli but it’s not bad.

    WTF does “has no soul” mean? Who doesn’t have a soul? The servers? The cooks? The managers? Who exactly?

  • Aaron Ward

    Haven’t got a chance to watch the video attached as I’m in an airport on my iPhone and don’t want to disturb the cattle, but liked the comments about CF. Just about a month ago I worked in the kitchen at the Des Moines CF for just 3 days. I got the job from a friend of mine who happened to be the head chef there. Since I had very little commercial kitchen experience he started me on the frier where I handled appatizers. Why did I only last 3 days, well 2 culinary reasons, first the menu is entirely too extensive in my opinion. I took the job to gain kitchen experience more out of curiosity than for need of money and trying to memorize 40+ plaitings including sauce and garnish (at least 2 each per plait) I realized I wasn’t suited for mass production of fried food for the masses. Second, which goes hand in hand with the first, is that everything hit the frier and the reason for those sauces and garnish were because there wasn’t anything special about the major ingrediants themselves.

    There were many other reasons for leaving including being opposed to the way food was handled, but before I come off completely negative, I was impressed with one thing. They do create there own sauces and dressings in house with relatively fresh ingrediants (asopposed to the Applebee’s I wsited tables at in college which had every sauce shipped in plastic gallon containers). However I understand all the cheesecakes are shipped from one of two distribution centers, one on either coast.

    On a side note, I think it funny you mention Muzak, as I’ve also worked for them. I also couldn’t agree more about the bland factor!

  • Kate in the NW

    The food…the FOOD has no soul. Nothing against anyone who works there, i’m not accusing them of soul-lesness, but something about the environment of places like CF just sucks the meaning right out of the food – and maybe out of the work, too(?). I swear you can taste its absence somehow, even when, “objectively”, the flavors are okay, or even good. It just feels like Pod People food. Like Baudrillard’s simulacra…I can’t quite put my finger (or tongue, or brain) on it exactly, but MR, I share your discomfort with both the food and my own distaste for it. It just doesn’t feel…REAL, somehow. Yet neither does that judgment…I don’t want to be a food snob…if there’s really nothing wrong with the food, I should just get over myself and enjoy it like everyone else, right?

    Yet this is exactly why I go to local places instead of corporate ones: my comfort zone just doesn’t line up well with most Americans’, I guess.

    Ha – then again, it means I don’t have to line up with them (literally) for two hours to get my dinner, either…when the taco truck around the corner looks and smells so much better to me, and the line is shorter there!!! 😉

  • Steve G

    “…what we’d just experienced was simply a company responding to the demands of America, and the demands of America were helping us to take our food one step backward rather than one step forward, and I don’t think we have time for backward steps.”

    So true… Thank you for taking one for the team.

  • tim

    Places like the CF are safe places to eat. They are consistent and everyone can find something on the menu they are comfortable with time and time again. And most CFs appear to be located in suburbs so people are comfortable with the faux surroundings. The food isn’t bad. It isn’t great either.

  • dadekian

    This whole thing made me a little sad too. I’m sad you’re sad Michael, but mostly I’m sad you’re sad because it wasn’t a terrible experience. I suppose there’s something to be said for American ingenuity in there, I just wish it wasn’t spent on The Factory.

  • Mu

    I think the “sad” is the soullessness that’s registering for you.

  • Emily

    Maybe the sadness stems from eating a full days worth of calories in a single sitting? I know you all got lunch portions, except the salmon, but even those are gigantic in a gross, too much food for one person way. My friend is a server there and most dishes are finished with copious amounts of butter and oil, even something innocuous like glazed salmon where I wouldn’t expect extra fat. Salmon is fatty and flavorful on its own.
    I’d rather have a few perfect bites of well seasoned, well prepared food made with love than a platter of CF food. (BTW< i do like the food there bc it is easy to take large groups or families with diverse tastes, with a 20 pg menu, most will find something to eat, but it is sort of blah, mall culture food)

  • Cali

    “Was it simple unexplored snobbery?”

    You hit the nail on the head. I used to be a chef at a REALLY exclusive place and I served food that was fresh, local and seasonal. I understand the ideal. That being said, what I find sad is the fact that eating tasty, well-cooked food served in an efficient manner in a clean, comfortable environment is no longer good enough. So, it’s not The French Laundry. So what? In this economy the fact that we can dine out at anyplace other than McDonald’s makes us pretty lucky in the whole scheme of things.

  • cathy deininger

    the sadness for me comes from knowing that the masses flock like cattle to these chains and miss the opportunity for a real experience of locally owned restaurants. I had family in town and was planning to take them to a gem of a place but as we passed CF their kids knew it and insisted on going to a place where they knew the food, ect. That is sadness…

  • Rhonda

    Oh, Ruhls… What can I say… I luv ya.

    Yes, at the end of the day it was shit but my mother does lunch at one of these (and, I suspect yours does as well).

    As both of our mothers have accused us of being assholes and snobs in the kitchen (can’t remember your exact post but laughed my ass off), is it really so bad that they go to lunch at the CF?

    Nobody died. “Insipid” sauce is being kind…

    Our wonderful, darling, “mature” mothers, like it. …And I hear the “Chardonnay” is cheap.

    It is what it is.

  • cdelphine

    Interesting… my family never ate at these casual dining chains when I was growing up so they seemed quite exotic to me. When we ate out it was at small diners, pizza places or chinese restaurants. Foodies always romanticize the mom and pop restaurant quietly churning out good home-cooking. While there are some good places like this, a lot of them serve up crappy food cheap. Applebee’s is quite the fine dining compared to many of the local places I’ve eaten. (or at least on par with them)

    Also, the most common complaint here is the lack of “soul?” What happens when chefs start setting up outposts and chains? Where is the line? What about Wolfgang Puck bistro?

  • Kristin Ohlson

    CF won’t get my buck, no matter how tasty their salmon. I know too many wonderful locally owned and conceived restaurants that are languishing. Why don’t CFs and other tolerable chains locate at airports, where there’s never any decent food?

  • Roberto N.

    As I tweeted you, I’ve only really enjoyed the Dirty Martini at CF. I see your point about the steps backwards. Unfortunately, they aren’t just doing that in the US. Chains like Chili’s and Applebee’s are staples of the Monterrey (Mex) “dining scene”. I’m just a few steps away from one and people ask for their Brownie dessert… And here I was trying my butt off to give them interesting and different options.

  • Victoria

    I live in NYC where I am not confronted by too many of these kinds of places, although more and more of them are slowly sneaking in.

    On a few occasions I found it convenient to travel upstate on a Friday evening by taking Route 17 in New Jersy around dinnertime. Any time I took a stab at dining at a large chain restaurant (CF not included), it would be an understatement to say I was disappointed.

    By the way, Judy Rodgers’ recipe for Pasta alla Carbonara in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook has peas in it. She calls it a rogue dish. It has smoked bacon, not pancetta, and ricotta mixed with the eggs in it. Judy Rodgers calls it “pleasantly curdy,” and I think it’s delicious.

  • Tags

    We still need to focus on getting the meat producers to treat animals humanely and sustainably, flavor or no flavor.

    And we still have to fight just to be allowed to grow food that doesn’t fit into the lobbying agribehemoths’ profit profile.

    We need to rally behind Temple Grandin and Alice Waters.

  • Harry

    With a little background, one can tell from the menu that the ingredients are of medium quality at best. Simple prep requires good quality because there’s nothing to hide behind All CF’s prep is elaborate or fried.

    Even so, they have a few dishes I think are quite good. One is the Shepherd’s Pie. Another is the chocolate cake, the one with jimmies on the side, not the one with nuts. I don’t like cheesecake so I can’t comment.

    It’s not the food that I find obscene. It’s the portion size.

  • David Loomis

    As the videographer of this CF adventure, I’d have to agree with all of Mike’s comments (though I wouldn’t have used the word insipid. I admit to looking it up after lunch to see what it really meant). At lunch I told the story of a town I recently visited where we couldn’t find a local restaurant. Truth is, America has only itself to blame for generating the demand for this lack of authenticity. If people didn’t go, the supply wouldn’t exist. Is it all crap? Of course not. But we’ve probably starting fooling ourselves that a lot of it is better than it really is. Lots of folks don’t even have the good stuff to compare it to. It has become the standard for “good.” Still, it was a fun exercise and I thank Mr. Ruhlman for the experience! -D

  • Tamara

    Oh my how I laughed loudly when you said at the end, “It kinda makes me sad.” I hear you man.

    When we lived in NYC and would go to Long Island for family visits everybody wanted to go to either Red Lobster or Olive Garden, both of which were packed to the gills during the dinner hours. My husband (a chef) and I (pastry chef) would simply *sigh* and al least enjoy Red Lobster’s cheddar biscuits.

    But such is life. At least CF is a step above the before-mentioned ones. Although the portions simply scare the hell out of me, it could be worse.

  • Carol Blymire

    What chaps my ass about that place is that it teaches people to accept frozen, packaged mediocrity as superb food or a special treat on a Saturday night. And, those enormous portions aren’t helping anyone in the obesity/diabetes department. Take a look around the dining room of your local CF — heart attacks and insulin pumps waiting to happen at every single table. People eat it because most of us were trained from an early age to clean our plates — and we feel guilty leaving anything behind, or like a tool for carrying out a doggy bag (which gets pushed to the back of the fridge and eventually tossed out anyway, because after eating at CF you feel full and nauseated for days afterward).

    I also hate that their so-called ethnic food is so far from what the real thing tastes like. For instance, I took a friend to a Thai restaurant near my house, and he ordered the Pad Thai. Took one bite and said, “this isn’t Pad Thai; what did they give me??!!” because the only Pad Thai he’d ever eaten was at Cheesecake Factory — where they stir-fry noodles and chicken in Heinz chili sauce, peanut butter and ketchup, and call it Pad Thai.

    I can’t eat there because it’s too loud, and the food is just bad. Plus, as someone with celiac, I don’t trust places like that with an assembly-line kitchen, mass-churning out food. Too much risk for cross-contamination or just plain fucking up the order.

  • Tut

    I have never eaten at cf’s but had a gift certificate for applebees that we had to use couple yrs ago i was seated at the back wall my wife facing me so had a view of the place looking around I was amazed everyone in the place was fat lol I started laughing an told my wife an just then a couple came in an sat in the booth across from us they had to be 500 lbs on the hoof atleast I almost fell out of my chair laughing then we ate I had some chicken dish can’t remember what though but there was alot of it an gordon ramsey would have puked an there can’t be a god cause if there was he never would have let an animal be wasted in making a dish like that,that was my only chain experiance an my last.

  • ruhlman

    great comments all. thanks. I want to quote from Dave’s blog, a marketing blog that has dovetailed nicely with this food blog post, and he makes one of the most important point of all:

    “As a marketer, I have to appreciate what many of these organizations, including the Cheesecake Factory, have done. It’s masterful, really. But as Maine starts to look (and taste) like Missouri, Arkansas like Arizona, when do our senses go numb? At what point will we wake up to realize that there’s no local flavor? Or, in some cases, no flavor at all.”

  • DJK

    “the whole visit brought up for me all kinds of questions about why my gut reaction was opposed to the CF. Was it simple unexplored snobbery? Or is the place truly reprehensible?…

    …So, clearly, decent food can be had at more than reasonable prices.”

    The reason I don’t believe it’s snobbery to keep one’s nosed raised to chain restaurants is that, at least for those of us in Cleveland, we can get vastly better food for the same price as a trip to one of these insipid places (in honor of the video, that’s the only negative adjective I’ll use throughout this posting), if not less.

    For example, when taking my dad out for lunch for father’s day, he chose Friday’s (he has insipid taste in food and lives in an insipid suburb of Cleveland).

    My girlfriend had an insipid chicken sandwich that cost $8.99, I had an insipid salad that cost $8.99, and my dad had an insipid chicken entre that cost $13.79. Our insipid soft drinks were $2.50 a piece. (The insipid place was very busy with insipid customers as well.) Our insipid meals tasted as insipid as they looked, but since we didn’t taste it, all we can say about my dad’s meal is that it looked… insipid. And the service was, of course, insipid.

    Today, my girlfriend and I ate at Light Bistro in Ohio City. As it’s been every time we’ve been there during lunch hours, the place was completely empty. In addition to some pretty decent free bread and butter, my girlfriend had the best chicken salad sandwich she’s ever had for $9.00 and I had a very, very tasty pork belly sandwich for $8.00. Our soft drinks were $2 a piece. And the service was very good as well.

    So we had a great lunch for less money than an awful one would have cost us at Flairy F’ing Fridays. That’s nothing short of offensive.

    And while I think Light Bistro’s lunch menu is a particularly good deal, it’s hardly alone. Even at Lola, the sandwiches are only $9 & $10, and the majority of the lunch menu consists of items that would have cost less than my dad’s insipid $13.79 entre at Friday’s.

    Yes, it’s POSSIBLE to get some decent, reasonably priced food at chain restaurants in the burbs, but why the hell would you want to do that when you can get a great meal for the same or less and help your local economy at the same time?

  • ruhlman

    great point and thx for mentioning light bistro, for those readers lucky enough to reside here.

  • Feisty Bourbon Girl

    I’ll stand by what I said on your FB page – TCCF is NOT THAT BAD. It’s better than Applebee’s, Olive Garden, TFI McFunster’s all those other crappy places. The salmon is decent and I had an asian salad that was pretty tasty. Not great, but tasty. Yes, it does have a mall like atmosphere (yuck) and the portions are way too big, but it’s OKAY people, quit being such snobs…

  • Tut

    All joking aside factory farms and the offshoot factory restaurants are a fact of life might be bland but its the only way you can feed the population in this country the small farmer of last centuary is gone your fools if you think you can surround ny city with small farms an feed that city,stop being food snobs an deal with reality,millions are starving and all of you throw out enough food in a day to keep atleast someone in this world alive,like what you didnt take out in a doggy bag at cf’s we cant even find it in ourselves to feed our own poor let alone people from other countrys your all part of a money grubbing greedy corporate system that puts the ability to make money over human life,you helped make it you deal with it an stop whining because the 80 bucks that you spent on food that didnt meet your taste would have probably fed a hundred starving people,shame on you an try an get a conscience!!

  • Natalie Sztern

    Being from Montreal we do not have such chain restaurants so I always know when I am in the United States of America when I get to eat in one of these chains in a ‘mall’ and it is often quite exciting especially when the Diet Coke get free refills!

  • Wilma de Soto

    I agree with Mr. Ruhlman. It’s a bit like The Wal-martization of America.

    A great local chef, Terence Feury, opened a fantastic Bistro/Market in Philadelphia’s Main Line.


    Due to the lockstep eating habits of the locals, the restaurant has closed and Chef Feury is back in Philadelphia kicking major culinary tail at Fork.
    A shame. Beautiful food!

    The CCF keeps rolling along in suburban America.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Tim Hortons is about as close as montreal gets to having chain restaurants…i hope that Tim Hortons USA (ny is first) get to have the coffee of the same quality and price that finda me in the take-through every morning: medium w two sweet’n’low and two cream….

  • luis

    Wrong Ruhlman. I don’t know how to break this to you but Cheese Cake factory is prominently mentioned in David Kessler’s M.D.’s book and not in a good light.
    That they are responding with a few offerings… is pure guilt as part of the problem in big food. That I think it is wonderful they are gives me hope America’s is still America and American people will do the right thing in the end. Even corporate America at that.
    That you have to drag it kicking and scheming to do it is just.. what it takes.
    But you are wrong. David Kesslers book clearly mentions that Americans were healthy in the 1960’s and he painstainkanlly outlines how it all went wrong. C.F. is part of the problem not part of the solution in so far as it is just out for pure profit and they (and most corporations) will sell you drugs if they were legal… Oh please folks… just LOOK at the TOBACCO COMPANIES before you take issue with ME!

  • Lon

    The saddest thing is that restuarants like Cheescake Factory, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and the dozens of other “chain” concept restaurants are just a commodity. They are operated purely as a business with portions measured, turnover measured, everything measured. And as long as people eat their and turn in good comment cards, that’s is what will succeed.

  • luis

    Hey, Ruhlman, I love to see you doing the videos… this is your calling man. Hope Donna can help you along. Listen bro, you have content and you are relevant even when I think you are not hitting on all cylinders you matter.
    Godspeed guys…

  • Wilma de Soto


    Say it ain’t so!

    I truly felt for Mr. Ruhlman as it must have been a great compromise to his principles just to eat there.

    I want to hold out more hope for this country.

    For instance why are people doing so many gourmet kitchen remodels if they are not interested in making good food on good equipment?

    I should hate to think it to be nothing but a status

  • luis

    Hey tonite I found some Hellman’s mayo at the Publix made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Green top to underline it. How is that for corporate America trying to meet the public espectations…I don’t trust the bastards… someone should take that right to the lab and let everyone know if this is on the level or not. Yes, I bought a jar of it… out of pure solidarity with their gesture. But I am gonna scour the web for the skinny on this new big food farce…you betcha I do NOT trust them! Although I root for them to get it right!

  • Jenna

    Please do tell me that you understand that for most of America an $83 dinner for a family of five would be their biggest dining out splurge of the year?!

    Cheap is relative.

    For many the Cheesecake Factory is not cheap. It is event dining. Something for a very special occasion. And isn’t it nice to know that they can get a well cooked piece of salmon?

  • Tags

    If we could harness the power from Julia Child, MFK Fisher, Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and AJ Liebling spinning in their graves as a result of this post, we could run an air conditioner powerful enough to not only reverse global warming, but induce a new ice age.

    And that’s after factoring in Alice Waters’s blood boiling.

  • Cecil

    The sadness you felt was realizing how disconnected you might be from the mainstream. It didn’t suck as bad as you hoped it would. You lost the bet and didn’t book an order for 15 books. Bummer.

    Why do fine-dining folks expect so much from everybody else? Do Foodies alone define the playgrounds we’ll be so lucky to go to? If your in the top 1% of tasters/chefs do the other 99.9909% of us have to sheep your way?

    Yeah, the snobbery does show, Micheal. That’s OK. Most of the world is not going to pay $12/lb for bacon. If you can, buy more, preach less.

  • Robert

    Only a few of the chain restaurants have made it to Anchorage. CF is not one of them. Sad thing is that slowly they are finding their way even this far north. They just encourage and reward mediocrity. One great big upside to the current economic situation is that expansion plans of corporate places have been stopped dead in their wishful tracks.

    What kind of salmon was it anyway? You know, what species specifically? I am such a salmon snob that I have not ordered a piece of it in at least 10 years. I only eat the salmon that I catch myself. Kenai River sockeye are in my crosshairs next.

  • Tags

    Snobbery? Try a little perspective. We’re talking about a guy who completed training at the Culinary Institute of America. That puts him securely in the top 1% of cooks right there, let alone food writers. Now, consider the hard-fought research he did to write all his books on food.

    It is more than a little irritating to see monkeys lazily lob their poo at what they don’t even bother to try to comprehend.

    In the words of the great Richard Belzer, “That guy would piss in Picasso’s paint.”

  • BrianB

    Good article – I’ve never been to a CF and it doesn’t sound like I’m missing much.

    One question – were those really lunch-sized portions of pasta? What does a dinner sized portion look like? If I ate that much pasta for lunch I’d be down for the count.

  • Applehome

    I’m one that is convinced that restaurants simply reflect the audience. No great authentic, independent, creative, caring, restaurant can survive in the midst of people who want mediocre grub cheaply, and in massive quantities. We’ve all seen it a thousand times – mom&pop start with lengua soft tacos and end up serving crisp hamburger tacos so they can survive.

    American tastes are what they are. Corporations simply accommodate the lowest common denominator – to make the greatest profit. It all has very little to do with great food and creativity and skill and knowledge and understanding. To put it succinctly, it has nothing to do with you, or what you do. It’s corporatized America, that just happens to be dealing with the commodity of eating out. Could just as easily be sun block or computers.

  • PaminBB

    Interesting post. as to this comment:

    “Yes, it’s POSSIBLE to get some decent, reasonably priced food at chain restaurants in the burbs, but why the hell would you want to do that when you can get a great meal for the same or less and help your local economy at the same time?”

    The last point needs to be considered as well. The chains provide mostly low paying jobs. Locally run businesses can provide more than just low end jobs.

  • Carrie

    I think I can understand why you would feel sad after eating there. One thing that came through loud and clear in Making of a Chef is that food is more to you than a vocation or a basic source of energy and nutrition. It’s an art form and a passion. And like all of us, when something very important to you and dear to your heart is taken lightly or explolited by someone else, it’s painful.

    I’m a violist, and when I hear someone massacring Bach or see a sad little violin pasted on the wall as an instrument, it makes me sad. I saw an episode of Mythbusters where they blew up a piano, and while it was kind of funny it also made me sad.

    So I can see how a place that uses food solely as a source of income and treats it as a product rather than a passion would be disheartening.

    Honestly, I didn’t think the post was snobbish at all. The comments from the public on FB and on this blog, most definitely. I think the general attitude of “OMG, a CHAIN restaurant!! Someone hose him down with disinfectant!” is a little much. It depends on whether people want to be an ambassador of great food or a critic of bad food. A post like this is great fun for the chefs and ardent foodies out there – a great chance to snicker at the unwashed masses and all the fat people and monkeys throwing poo. Fun for them, but not the kind of attitude that’s going to change the way people look at food in this country. The snobbier you get about good food the more unnattainable and outrageous it’s going to seem to be. Do you want to make it rarified, a select club of elite chefs and gourmands who look down their noses at us plebians stuffing our faces at Pizza Hut? Personally I think a friendlier and more inclusive approach (which is typically the tone of your blog, and even in this post I think) is a lot more effective.

  • Wilma de Soto

    Applehome makes some good points, but I have to disagree that American tastes are what they because we’re American.

    Rather, they are what they seem to be because of lack of exposure to something better.

    Corporations contribute a lot to dumbing down much of American culture in order to make a quick buck. This is evident in music, art, news reporting and food.

    I’ve never met anyone I cooked for, no matter how uneducated the palette, who did not love properly prepared food with good, fresh ingredients. Rather, they marveled at how quickly and effectively it was done. No box, no jars, etc.

    MR’s “Ratio” also goes a long way to demystifying the process of cooking almost anything.

    Long may it reign!

  • Natalie Sztern

    I second Cecil’s comments. I see mothers everyday who worry how the rent is going to be paid, and would clearly love a meal at The Cheesecake Factory; I understand where u are coming from and the readers, myself included, but there is a place in mainstream America for such restaurants. People who eat there should not have to feed ridiculed for their behaviour..i am sure everyone could enjoy a meal at le bernadin

  • Tags

    Do you really agree with the inference that because Michael doesn’t think CF is wonderful, he’s disconnected from the mainstream? The gentleman who wrote that wouldn’t know the mainstream from a hole in the shinola.

    The people in the mainstream should be able to have access to good food (they don’t) but the food supply and knowledge about it is controlled by the real food elitists – those who have the power to move in the right direction but accelerate the opposite way for the sake of a few extra pennies of profit.

  • hollerhither

    Carrie, I completely agree — the post isn’t snobbish at all, but many of the comments here are, and that’s regrettable.

    Don’t all of us here already know that local is better, and don’t we all pretty much already walk the walk and talk the talk? Those of us in the foodie echo chamber may have forgotten about the rest of the country — and the way to approach others is to engage them on how great and easy it is to eat locally and prepare fresh ingredients simply. Not look down our noses, shaking our fingers, rolling our eyes in disgust.

    And yeah, it’s true some fat people eat at Applebee’s. Just like some thin people. Some fat people also support local restaurants and farms. Just like some thin people.

  • Tom

    I find the CF to be Applebees, but with a higher price point and a more sophistcated/upscale (at least trying to be) atmosphere. The menu is just too big. I can understand wanting to try and appeal to a large section of the population by giving them a variety of choices, but at some point it becomes a detriment. Its a daunting feeling when they hand you the menu that looks more like a tome. I don’t even bother opening it most of the time. In these types of places I generally stick with a sandwich or burger of some type.

    The dessert is definitely worth sticking around for, I’m a sucker for their royal caramel mocchiato (light years above Starbucks’).


  • Bob delGrosso

    For years, going back to the 1970’s, I’ve been told that that “chefs” should respect everything that McDonald’s puts out because they make better French Fries than one can get in France.

    Well, it might be true that McDonald’s makes great french fries , but the cuisine of McDonald’s still sucks because the food is not hand made by people who know how to cook and it’s all salt sugar fat, umami and CHEAP.

    Same damn thing goes for the Cheese Cake Factory. And while I’m at it: Am I the only one who gets sick to his stomach when I read that name (Cheese Cake Factory)?

  • Sandy

    No, don’t be dismayed that you recognize the cheap poor quality of some of these meals. I don’t think that’s the point people are trying to make.

    Instead, think of people like my sister-in-law and brother, who cannot understand why I want to make my own broth and who buy canned produce and broth. And yes, they LIKE Applebee’s and think their oriental chicen crunch salad is actually real.

    When I actually make that broth and cook corn and peppers from scratch, and make creamed corn from a corn stock, and their eyes widen in wonder as they taste, THAT is education.

    I won’t accomplish a thing by whining about my meal with them at Applebee’s, other than perhaps making them less likely to want to share time with me at a table.

  • ruhlman

    jenna, cheap is relative agreed. but $17 per person for a substantial restaurant meal (and yes those were lunch portions!) is pretty cheap. of course, you could cook it yourself for half the price, but perhaps that’s more of my snobbery coming out.

    I like Sandy’s response above, which is the writer’s maxim as well: show, don’t tell.

  • Mimi

    I have lived near CF in several cities for many years. I have used it to nudge my family and friends towards more authentic ethnic foods. My 20 year old nephew started with pot stickers and a spring roll at CF upon my suggestion when he was 14. He liked those and now we go to authentic Thai, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants at his suggestion. Those of us who know better need to be willing to encourage new foods within the comfort of the familiar like CF then help our friends branch out by helping them find the next step. Although I will add that for every one person I convinced to step out I have two friends still in the same old rut.

  • luis

    Well I love the blog and all the commenters. But after reading David Kessler’s well written book on food and overeating I feel that I am looking at this problem with much wiser eyes than most. But label me a root cause type guy here and I would embrace it. As I said there is nothing wrong with America and American restaurants and they will do the right thing ultimatelly. Profit and goodness are not incompatible elements. It’s just that clueless ignorant masses make very bad consumers and are their own worst enemies.

  • luis

    Mimi, I totally understand and share your frustration. The Psychological component of salt sugar fat on our diets is so strong and addictive (yes like alchool and heroine folks)that folks pretend not understand it. Or like smokers they just do it till it kills them. And kill them it will.

  • luis

    When I first started to cook I made lots of stuff pies included. I made it with rules and I made it tasty. Or so I thought.
    When I started bringing the stuff around which is NOT cheap by any means just great and healthy I found folks labeling it as crap. Not sweet enough.. not what they are used to.
    It is a huge uphill battle to get folks to enjoy proper food. that is when I realized that food is either over the top bad for you out there or very personal and cooked and controlled by you in your kitchen. Basically now days when I eat out I reach for the salad of the house and then carefully ezplain to them I want that vinaigrette on the side. Then I nibble the apetizer or what have you and ask for bottled beer because coffee is a totally lost cause. Nobody makes decent coffee out there.

  • luis

    Oh and it goes without saying…. I cook differently (as healthy as they let me) for folks than I do for myself.

  • The Italian Dish

    I have to laugh at the pea observation.

    My mother was from Sicily. Growing up, she put peas in a lot of dishes, like lasagna. We were all used to it and didn’t think anything about it.

    After she died, I went to visit her family in Sicily. Everywhere I went, they put peas in so many dishes we were laughing about it. Not just in their home cooking, but in the diners and restaurants, too.

  • Lamar

    I kind of understand why it would make Ruhlman sad. There are a lot of foodservice professionals just literally working themselves to the bone to offer a quality product, but there is a HUGE percentage of the american population that would just as soon shovel in a plate of over-salted dog chow, finished off with a mind-numbingly sweet half gallon of carbonated corn syrup.

    It’s enough to seriously frustrate you, if you let it.

  • Tyler

    Good post here. I think there is a place for chain restaurants. Will many of us be going? Probably not. That’s not to say it’s not a big deal for others.

    I think the biggest realization is that not everyone is as conscientious about there food as many people here are. We had friends over for homemade pizza awhile back, and they were astonished that I made the dough. “I thought dough just came from the store” was an actual quote from my friend. I think it’s important to advocate as much as possible good food, drink, etc to try to make people aware that tastier, often healthier choices exist.

    As far as CH goes, why does the menu have to have so many choices. Reminds me of Spaulding from Caddyshack “I want a cheeseburger, I want a hotdog, I want a milkshake”

  • heather

    We don’t have a Cheesecake Factory here in Nova Scotia…that I know of anyway.

    I just tend to shy away from these chain restaurants….not out of snobbery just….not my style. The quality of ingredients cannot be controlled with a menu so varying…JMO.

  • Melissa

    Too bad that salmon was probably farmed. I used to think salmon was a good choice for eating out. I didn’t feel as bad eating a fish as I did eating some factory farmed chicken. But reading Bottomfeeder, I realized that farmed salmon IS factory farmed, with correspondingly large environmental impacts.

  • Christina K

    The frame of you with the ginormous, ad-filled CF menu was worth watching the video. I am a huge fan of the Godiva Cheesecake. Hooked.

  • ruhlman

    i hardly needed to ask (a chain this size couldn’t afford to put wild salmon on the menu) but i did anyway to make sure. yes, farmed salmon.

  • lisaiscooking

    So, yes, chain restaurants suck for many reasons. But, I’m always hoping to find good news. Are the chains getting better or worse? Are they introducing new and different dishes to people who may never have tried them before and opening eyes? Are they beginning to support local farms? (I know Jason’s Deli was attempting to do so.) Are any of them supporting organics or fair trade? Are they ever going to suck less?

  • Jan

    I have to agree tha there is just something about the atmosphere of CF that made me try it only once. The food and service and price were all good, the CF was in walking distance of home but something was just not wuite right. I think soulless is an apt description.

  • Ruben Urias

    Of COURSE you were sad M.R.: Regardless of portion size, the sauces for your alfredo, spinach dip, shepherds pie, chicken dumplings, shrimp scampi, caesar salad, chicken chop, teriyaki, chicken marsala, and steak diane should not have the texture of 7-11 nacho cheese.

    Every dish tastes exactly the same…starchy, gelatinous, and sugary.
    And I would bet money right here and now–without ever having tasted it–that the sauce for your salmon was sweet? That is, if you personally had to categorize the flavor as savory, salty, or sweet…would you not lean toward sweet? All their sauces are the same.

    I could go on for hours about why we have not been to a CF in over three years but suffice it to say, once you see through heaven’s veil, you can’t go back.

    Cheesecake Factory is the upper-end of the minor leagues….but it is still minor league. The only difference is that CF does a better job of convincing people that they are serving high quality food. And apparently it worked on someone like Kelly Alexander.

  • BC

    I’ve eaten a couple of times at the CF in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. A former boss of mine would occasionally take the staff out for lunch, and this was one of her favorite spots. I was disgusted, but not by the food. It was ok. Pretty much just ok. What disgusted me was the 2-3 hour wait I heard quoted to people as we’d walk in for our reservation…and them not having a problem with it.
    My hometown has a plethora of wonderful, locally owned pubs and restaurants just a few blocks away from this location, yet the (primarilly) tourists were all about waiting for CF.

  • Victor

    I have eaten at CF’s in Chicago, Seattle, and Belleveue, WA. In my college days, going to CF was considered a fancy meal. As my standards increased over the years, I did not return to CF until my friend suggested we go. Horrified, I asked why. He said that he and his family love CF because they have such a wide selection, everyone can eat what they want, and the food standard is generally satisfactory. Not long after, stuck in Bellevue without a car, we ended up at CF, as it was either that or Red Robin. When there are no other choices (like in these corporate towns), CF is as good as it gets.

    CF really puts itself out there as a fancy restaurant that has an extensive menu. Judging from the lines we have endured, its a winning marketing strategy. Though for foodies like us, it takes a strong stomach to endure the palette of the proletariat. For the price, I’d rather splurge a bit more, and eat at The Brisol.

  • Ethan

    Beside the dish filled with foil-wrapped pats of butter

    Foil-wrapped pats of butter used to be a pet-peeve of mine… I used to think “jeez, how hard is it to scoop a bit of butter into a little dish?”

    But my opinion turned around when I read some chef (Anthony Bordain?) who said it isn’t uncommon for table butter to be reused and with foil-wrapped pats of butter at least he’s assured that he’s eating his own butter.

  • derek

    I am not quite sure that all of the commenters read the part where Michael liked his your food…

    Anyway, who cares about portion size? Don’t eat it all! I mean, you are certainly throwing a little bit of money away by not eating all the ingredients (or you can take it home), but I am under the impression that most of these portion complaints are independent of price. Although I am aware of the studies about appetite and portions, it’s still basically your own stupid fault if you can’t manage to restrain yourself.

    Also, I think many people here have a rather inflated opinion of local dining. I lived in a town of 80k that just got an Olive Garden, and this Olive Garden instantly became, by far, the best Italian in town. There are a lot of just garbage local restaurants out there. Local is certainly not an instant marker if excellence, and there is a decent chance that it will be worse than an Olive Garden or Cheesecake Factory. I have also eaten at a lot of garbage local restaurants in real cities that were pretty nice aside from the food.

  • Robin

    While I am a reformed chain restaurant eater, meaning I try to avoid them whenever possible, I understand the purpose they serve. Salmon at the CF may not be as top shelf as Chez Francois, but honestly…diners know they aren’t at Chez Francois and don’t expect it. The also aren’t paying $35 for it with everything ala carte, or having to make reservations a month in advance. One other observation in the post was that the server was kind and attentive. My boyfriend and I have been fortunate enough to sample some of the higher end places in Cleveland, Ann Arbor, and Detroit. The food may be amazing, however the service more times than not gave us a bit of indigestion. Chic table settings and soft lighting can only go so far. The wait staff represents the establishment more than a tablecloth. When I feel like I am the only guest in the place, the food always tastes that much better…

  • Laurence

    I for one am glad these places are busy. If their customers all wanted to go where I like to eat, I’d never get in.

    But it is funny how these topics bring out the Inner Elitist in some people who normally would consider themselves bastions of tolerance and diversity.

  • Amen Corner

    I don’t really like the Cheesecake factory. But I feel like it’s the height of hypocrisy to castigate a certain restaurant type as a “step backward” whereas some restaurants are a “step forward” without any critique more substantial than “I left feeling sad.”

  • Lauren

    A health magazine that I receive monthly broke down the caloric values of several Cheesecake Factory dishes and compared them to their fast-food equivalents. One of the most particularly horrifying, and unforgettable, equated consuming their chicken and dumplings entree (or chicken and biscuits) with eating an entire 8-pc fried chicken bucket from KFC and 5 biscuits. I have no desire to ever go there besides maybe to gawk.

  • John L.

    To the Foodies: CF is what it is. Sometimes you want some a local cooked meal that quality, sometimes you want a hot dog.

    To the CF lovers and reverse snobs (with a wink): You should really read this on Amazon:

    The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

    If you want to know why people call the food “soulless” it’s all in there.

    engineering everything so people don’t have to chew

    Mixing combos of fat/salt/sugar to get people into the food, etc

    Personally I consider CF to be a guilty pleasure, like potato chips..or when the relatives from fly-over country come on down and want something safe.

  • Nick

    I don’t think the worst thing about CF is the quality (apparently middling to good), the portion sizes / caloric content of the food (overlarge, but so are many places), or even the menu that is so extensive that it makes it difficult to do any one thing well. The main problem I have with CF / TGI Friday’s / etc. is the “soullessness” that others have commented on. That the word factory is included in the name is telling I think. The menu was likely formulated by focus groups and economists. The ingredients are mostly shipped from thousands of miles away. It’s representative of the homogenization of America (though America isn’t the only place where this is happening).

    I would rather eat at a local, independently owned greasy spoon, or some similarly cheap place of questionable quality, because at least that would have character.

  • ethiessen1

    For some people, a meal at the CF is a special occasion-
    I found that sitting on a hard plastic bench with fellow diners literally six inches away from your elbow on either side was hardly special-more like an overcrowded cafeteria-which was the quality of what we had for lunch on that visit. Also came to the realization that if four people came in and ordered just a slice of the fully loaded cheesecake (many toppings available to exponentially increase the already elevated calorie level and size of the check)and a soda, the bill would come to over $100.
    Pretty expensive for 6000 or so calories…

  • Gabe

    Interesting conversation. Certainly local food is hit or miss, thats part of the joy. When you find that little taqueria or pizza joint that gets everything right it is like finding treasure!

    I live in Denver and I find it amusing when suburbanites rid the lightrail into downtown and go to Chilis or Cheesecake Factory “Mommy where are we going?’ “See that cheesecake factory we are passing? We are going to that restaurant but all the way downtown, yay!”

    It is more the attitude that bothers me than anything. You can get cheesecake factory style food anytime, anywhere, it isnt special. Playing it safe all the time is dull. But maybe I’m addicted to being out of my comfort zone.

  • eyehrtfood

    I live in Cleveland, like Ruhlman, and love our great local restaurant scene – Lola/Lolita, The Greenhouse Tavern, L’Albatros and all the other great places that Ruhlman and other foodies know. I support those locals and know enough about food to recognize great execution and quality.

    At the same time, I wholeheartedly support “good” chains – for what they are – and, in my mind The Cheesecake Factory is good – and I’m not ashamed to say it. Whereas many of the posters above grudingly admitted they’ve eaten at a Cheesecake Factory once or twice, I’ve literally had hundreds of meals at dozens of Cheesecake Factories over the past 15-20 years, with at least half of them at the same restaurant in Cleveland that Ruhlman went to.

    A great place to take friends, family, a screaming kid or two and a big appetite… for reliably good food in a good portion at a good price. No reservation needed and nearly 400 seats. It is what it is – it’s not pretending to be fine dining or “local” or anything else..

    It’s really no fair to judge a place like this vs. your favorite local down the street… Love it or hate it – it’s a different idea – just like Walgreens is different than the local mom and pop pharmacy… They each have their place.

    When I want a great meal – or don’t have a kid in tow – you’ll find me at the nice local foodie haunt.

    But much of the rest of the time, you’ll find me here. Call it soulless or too big or whatever you may… but it’s a reliable and fun place to go – when that’s what you’re looking for.

  • bingo2

    IS Ruhlman out of his mind? TCF is totally disgusting and not worth a 1 second wait let alone a 1 hour or 1 day wait or whatever you clones would sit through. Give me a break.

  • Cedarsteve

    Isn’t it enough that it is a place where you can enjoy a meal as the “event”. If a family or group of friends go out Is it so important that the food rate that of a local chef. If I go out to a hot place I expect more but if I go to a chain I know what I’m getting and it is more important to enjoy the people your with. In my humble opinion.

  • Lamar

    Haha…I can attest to foil-wrapped butter being a blessing.

    Someone mentioned table butter being re-used earlier. I’ve seen it done way too often. But of course, that was back when I worked in brain-dead places like a failed celebrity chef’s fine dining/buffet/bar venture (I was young! I needed the money!)

    Oh…another survival tip. If the bread isn’t toasted, or if it’s overly hard…ditch it. I’ll bet 1/4 of restaurants recycle table bread. Which is the main reason I never order bread pudding.

  • Michelle

    I used the same word, INSIPID, to describe the dish I had CF. Bland? Bland would have been okay. That would have meant there were some hope of saving the dish – with a little seasoning, a hit of acid, some fresh herbs. But insipid pretty much sums it up – insipid, soulless food. And that wasn’t even my worst complaint. The NOISE. It was way too loud! I’d rather of eaten with the bums under a nearby bridge (and there were bums under a nearby bridge.) For all the people who think we are food snobs for shunning CF, I would recommend they read this article from Time Magazine. This sheds a clear light on the impact of corporations in your community.

  • Sarah

    LOVE this post and reading what everyone has to say.

    I am an American expat in Lisbon married to a Portuguese. This issue illustrates so well what is at once beautiful and ugly about the US in a way that I lack the space and ability to accurately describe, but that so many have touched on.

    It is difficult to find an affordable restaurant here that doesn’t serve the kind of fare that foodies and foody-wannabe’s drool all over—most of the restaurants are mediocre, but plenty are great at atleast one thing—whether it be squid or black pork or shell fish or bean stew.

    Moreover, the style of life (decent weather, tiny country with concentrated population and commerce, 10 cafes per square inch, enough vacation time that you can actually use some of them to chill out) is set up in such a way that real life allows you to see friends and family enough in every-day, “organic” situations that you all don’t have to drive to a decorated warehouse to gorge yourselves into an insulin coma as an excuse to get together.

    On the other hand the kind of organization, quality control, personal incomes, available real estate, marketing genius and slew of other things I’m not bright enough to recognize that fuel places like CF and its incarnations in the culinary world as well as almost any other sector of the American economy that you can think of are very noticeably absent. And by very noticeably absent, I mean VERY noticeably absent.

    When I gather with my Portuguese extended family for a meal, we eat lots of seafood and lots of potatoes and drink lots of wine—my husbands grandmother couldn’t even recognize a cheeseburger out of a lineup.

    When I gather with my expat friends, if food is involved, we go to Hard Rock Café and it burgers and deep friend circus-food appetizers (even though I’m the only American in my group).

    I think they both serve a purpose. It would be nice if there were a little more balance in both of my homeland and my adopted homeland. The Cheesecake Factory phenomenon in food and in life is something both my husband and I are quick to criticize when we are in the US (and is why we, perhaps irresponsibly, decided to leave to raise a family), and something we both struggle with constantly now that we live here.

    And finally: the bottomless glass of Diet Coke is a gorgeous thing. God Bless America for that one.