My last meal at Cheesecake Factory was many years ago - and that's only because my friend Miriam wanted to go… and we had a $50 gift card...
I went to the Grand Lux in the Venetian about four years ago and, although I didn't love it, I thought it was better than Cheesecake. I ate at a couple other chains on that trip - ESPN Zone and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville - and I much preferred them. They weren't great but they didn't pretend to be. (Certainly none of them lived up to my meal at Todd English's Olives, on the patio overlooking the Bellagio Lake.)
Elizabeth has had a gift card to the Beverly Center for several months. I have never liked the Beverly Center. All of the stereotypes people hate about Los Angeles can be glimpsed within ten mintues there. I am not sure if it is the rudest place I have ever been in Los Angeles, but any list of the top ten would definitely include the Beverly Center. But still, a gift card is a gift card so I suggested we head over there, grab some lunch and shop. (By the way, even though the Grand Lux is listed on the Beverly Center's website as one of the mall's restaurants, they do not accept gift cards there.)
Just like Cheesecake Factory, Grand Lux has a large menu, although, unlike Cheesecake's, it isn't littered with advertisements. Elizabeth was trying to decide between an ahi tuna salad and something called a "Polynesian" salad. I suggested she go with the latter, since she frequently orders ahi salads but I don't ever remember a Polynesian salad. I was torn between a "Carolina BBQ pork sandwich" and a "Short rib grilled cheese sandwich." I asked the waiter his opinion. His answer was refreshingly blunt.
"Don't ever get the short rib grilled cheese."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because it sounds good but the butter, short rib and melted cheese turn it into a giant grease bomb."
I did not point out to him that was a pretty good selling point or that in the last week I had eaten not one but two burritos in which the main ingredient was french fries. Still I ordered the pork sandwich. I love a pulled pork sandwich and throwing the word "Carolina" into its description is always a plus. I wondered whether I should put the sandwich in this blog or the barbecue blog. (As you will see, the sandwich turned out to have nothing in common with Carolina or barbecue.)
Our food arrived surprisingly quickly, considering the number of people in the restaurant. Liz's salad was enormous. It was about twelve inches across and piled eight inches high. Her reaction was simple: "This is the largest salad I have ever been served." It was really good, though. I had a couple bites. I expected that the apricot-pineapple vinaigrette was going to be over-the-top, but it was actually perfectly subtle. She ate a fair amount of the salad, but the portion we took home with us was still larger than most salads you are served in restaurants.
From the first glance I knew my sandwich was going to be a disappointment. There was hardly any pork visible under the mountain of cole slaw. The slaw was actually very good, but there was about twice as much of it as there was pork (and that's not even counting the side of slaw that came with the sandwich.) And the pork was riddled with fat: giant pieces the size of a dime. I pulled the sandwich apart and removed the big pieces of fat, which of course made the sandwich even smaller. The pork that was left was outstanding. It wasn't barbecued, it was roasted - although to their credit it says that on the menu - and it was delicious. Unfortunately there just wasn't much of it.
I have to say I don't really see any difference between Grand Lux Cafe and Cheesecake Factory. The service is very good. The choice of menu items is immense. But the quality of the food just isn't in line with the prices or the atmosphere. I am sure at some point in my life I will eat at Cheesecake again, but I don't see any reason that I would ever return to Grand Lux.