The Hungry Man Eats

Monthly Archives: December 2014

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Chili’s: Mostly Good, But I Have a Beef With Them


     I recently had the good fortune to have a dinner out at Chili’s, the last time I had a chance to go to a Chili’s was over 10 years ago, so they are not in my rotation of places to go out to eat, chain or otherwise. I could not even remember what I had the last time I went there, and my only recollection of it was that it took forever to get seated, the service was slow and the food unmemorable. That said, the outing to that aforementioned Chili’s was on only its second Friday night it had even been open, so we were just asking for complications to a smooth dining experience. We went to the same location, for me it had been nearly 11 years since the last time I was there or to any Chili’s, so I safely assumed that any growing pains it had from being a recent addition to the local dining scene were long past.
      It was a rather meh start to the meal as the server was rather slow to get to our table, we had arrived at an awkward time as it was still a bit before 5:00 late Sunday afternoon.
If you have had a chance to get to a Chili’s in the past year and a half or so you have likely noticed something called a Ziosk. What is this thing on your table? According to Chili’s: “Ziosk tablets enable guests to see menu items, play games, view news, order food and beverages and ‘pay on demand;’ giving guests control over their dining experience. Ziosk is fully integrated to the restaurant’s point-of-sale system, which enables guests to easily order desserts and drinks and also pay their check when they choose.”
      I fiddled around with it a bit while we were waiting for our server to appear, as we were approaching the 10 minute mark, I decided to click the call server button to see if that was what we needed to do to get any kind of service. Apparently not. About two to three minutes later most likely of his own volition and no slave to a lowly machine, our server appeared. Now if it was me running a restaurant or Chili’s where I had something newfangled and unique for a customer to interact with (and possibly spend more money while doing so), the first thing I would instruct my servers to do would be to first welcome you and then say something like “Would you like to tell you about our Ziosk’s?” while pointing said machine out on the table. Get a yes or no answer and proceed accordingly.

      Now when you, the customer, do something on the Ziosk that requires the server’s attention, it starts flashing a red light at the top of the device. I have no idea what a server may do to make it stop blinking, but our server did none of those things. Through a good portion of our meal, the light just kept blinking, perhaps as a warning light to the machines to not meddle to deeply in the affairs of man, or perhaps it was doing its best imitation of a lighthouse blinking a notice to passing ships in the distance that our table was near and to stay safely out to sea, at least that worked, throughout our meal our table stayed shipwreck free. It shut off automatically after an hour, the only true symbolism being that our server was lazy/oblivious. Score: Humans 1, Ziosk 0.
      Now, about the food, whenever an opportunity comes along to have fresh guacamole made tableside, the answer is almost always yes. The server whipped up a fresh batch of guacamole right there for us, the only thing he did not do was slice open an avocado or two right there in front of us. I only mention that because I have been to other restarants that do that, and you know exactly how fresh your avocado is. That said, it looked really fresh and was a truly appetizing shade of green. It was a standard preparation, I just wish it had a few more jalapenos as I prefer my guacamole with some kick. There was also a red salsa that accompanied the chips for the guacamole. The salsa was a smooth pureed blend that had a pleasingly mild flavor, doesn’t sound very exciting but most mild, non-chunky salsas I have come across in restaurants have less flavor than this one. The chips came out warm, they were fresh tasting but also rather thin and fragile, they were fine with the salsa, but the guacamole was too much of a match for them. I broke so many chips while trying to scoop ever shrinking reasonably sized quantities of guacamole that every other scoop was sending a rescue chip in after the broken piece left behind from the last aborted scoop. Score: Guacamole 1, Chips 0.

       On to the main dish… Whenever I dine at a Tex-Mex or Mexican restaurant, I generally choose the beef or steak option over chicken, when done right, it can be a better experience then even the most perfectly prepared chicken. Also, chicken is a very standard, at home kind of protein to eat, but good quality beef or steak prepared over a grill like you can often get in a restaurant is more special, especially with how expensive it is getting these days. That logic is why I selected the Top Shelf Beef Short Rib Enchiladas for my main dish, not just to choose beef over chicken, but also because I wanted a bit better of a beef than the seasoned ground beef which would have come with the plain old beef enchiladas. Unfortunately, the beef in this dish was some of the most disappointing beef I have ever had in a Tex-Mex dish or any dish for that matter. I should have taken a picture of one of the more unpleasant looking morsels, but given the high picture resolution of today’s screens on electronic devices, I refuse to be held responsible for dropped coffee mugs and shattered monocles when people see and react to a larger than life piece of such unpleasantness staring them in the face. Three words will have to suffice: Gray, fatty, flavorless. The only positive thing I can say about the beef was that it was tender. That said, everything else about the dish was actually pretty good. The green chile sauce was tangy and flavorful, the three cheese blend was everything you could expect from multiple cheeses playing together nicely, they were not particularly generous with either the corn and black bean salsa or the pico de gallo, but what I tasted was also flavorful. The black beans and rice that came with the dish were also better than what you may sometimes get from places like this, the rice was not dry and the beans were not watery, both were necessary to fill out the meal as the enchiladas themselves were on the small side. It cost $11.89 for this dish at the Chili’s I went to, but I would pay that much again right here and now to remove the memory from my mind of biting in to the fatty beef and the resulting mouth feel. Score: Everything else about my dish 1, Beef 0
      After all that I split an order of their Skillet Toffee Fudge Brownie, this was a fine dessert with a rich chocolate flavor and the toffee added a crunch and flavor that complimented the chocolate well. It cost $7.39 which seems a bit pricy, especially compared to the entrée, but seems that inexpensive desserts even at chain restaurants are a rarity these days. Score: The dessert itself 1, its price 0.
       My overall impression of Chili’s, aside from the beef fiasco, is tentatively positive, I came away from the beef fiasco thinking not that the food quality was poor, but instead that I simply selected poorly and that I would have likely enjoyed almost any other dish that I would have selected. They also have some delicious looking hamburgers that I would want to try out the next time I go. The food there, other than their desserts is a good value, eyeballing their menu I spotted no meal pricier than $18.99 and a good portion of their dishes were actually under $12.00. The jury is still out on Chili’s for me, but I have a feeling that once I find a main dish better than what I had this time that I will have better things to say…
Hungry Man Eats Score: 66/100

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