Monday, March 17, 2014

O'Charley's

190 Gravois Bluff Cir.
Fenton, Mo.
On the web

Angel saw an ad, or a commercial, for O'Charley's; A Prime Rib Special. So we went.
The Place:
On the hill known as Gravois Bluffs. Gravois, pronounced, at least by me, 'Gravy', and by everyone else as gra-VOY, refers to nearby Gravois Avenue. The word is of course French and is derived from that awful language's words for 'gravelly creek'. Because there's a gravelly creek nearby. The Bluffs consist of a huge shopping area, anchored by stores like Target, JC Penny and H.H Gregg,  and a whole row of restaurants. O' Charley's is one of them.  There's an Olive Garden, and IHOP, and several others. This O'Charley's  is one of 230 in that franchise, which originated in 1969 in Nashville Tn.
We went there last a couple of years ago and liked it just fine. I didn't know that I wanted prime rib, my last couple of experiences with that meat left me wanting something else.
It's kind of like Applebee's, Ruby Tuesdays, etc. in size, layout, menu style and ambiance. There's a bar and several wall mounted TV's tuned to sports. On a curved wall above the dining area the was a mural centered by the word 'Fenton', painted in script, and surrounded by a large guitar, a guy playing a drum, a corn flower and a smiling, long haired, blonde hippie of some kind. I didn't understand it, but then, I'm not from around here.
We were seated in a booth immediately, even though the place was starting to fill up.
We were greeted by a sharp, handsome young man named Zubair. I don't think he's from around here either. He asked about drinks and handed us menus. Tea, tea without ice and Pepsi.

He came back soon, with drinks and a basket of rolls.
The Food:
These rolls, I remembered. They are light, very, very light. They almost collapse under their own meager weight. You can barely avoid crushing them just by picking them up. Tearing one open to rub in some butter flattens them. They taste very good, but they are so fragile that they are almost a delicate nuisance.
We each studied the menu carefully. I had come in with an open mind, no plan or particular craving. I liked the steak+shrimp, until Angel said she liked that idea as well. So I looked at other offerings.  Then I cracked. Catfish. No, I thought, never order catfish from a place that does not boast about it. Some places are actually proud of their catfish and will say so, stating that it is fresh caught, sustain-ably farmed, whatever. I've never heard O'Charley's boast about their catfish, it is really just another alternative item to their actual specialties. So I quashed that temptation completely, better to stick with what they claim to do best.
Until we ordered. Angel indeed went with the prime rib, I opened my mouth, uttered the words steak and shrimp, but pronounced it 'catfish'. I realized it immediately, but could not make myself correct it. The fact was, I really wanted catfish.
Adam chose the chipotle chicken tenders, sided with fries and a bowl of cheesy potato soup. The catfish plate came with hush puppies, fries and slaw, no need to change that. Angel went for a baked potato and a broccoli (blech!) cheese casserole as sides.


I was concerned at first, Zubair asked about our order but did not have an order pad in his hand. I was worried that he was going to try to place the order from memory, an unnecessary  trick that is impressive if done correctly, but so rarely is. To my relief he pulled out a pad and did some scribbling. It may just have been doodles or obscenities, but it did make me feel better.
He seemed sure of himself though and in the end, my concerns were for naught, the meals were served exactly as ordered.
Adam's soup came first. It looked thick and very cheesy. In fact it looked like overly-creamed mashed potatoes. Which is not in itself a bad thing. Adam pushed it around and took a sip, then another and for a while did not make any comment, one way or another, about it. Angel and I toyed with our electronic devices, neither of us had ordered a soup or salad.
Chipotle Chicken Tenders
About one third of the way through the soup, Adam pushed it away. "More cheese and salt than potato." He said. Too bad, it looked good.
The main courses arrived en masse.
It all looked very pretty. Neat, clean presentations. Adam's tenders looked just like sesame chicken, that sweet Chinese restaurant standard that I occasionally crave. The thing about it though is that it is indeed sickeningly sweet after the first few nuggets. That's what his plate reminded me of though.
Prime Rib
Angel's prime rib looked like ham. Pink and moist. I noticed that it fell apart at the touch, "Very tender." she said. She took a chunk and scooped it onto the corner of my plate.
My fish actually looked very good. Toasty golden brown. Though it was filet style rather than nugget, I could excuse this, if it was cooked right.
And it was. I snapped off a crisp corner, steamy hot and flaky inside. I would have to eat it by hand, not a problem, because a fork would have shattered it, it was that crisp and flaky.
I dunked the corner into the 'Louisiana tartar sauce'. Uh oh, that's not right. There was something wrong with the fish, or the tarter sauce, an unexpected, off-putting flavor or spice. I tried a chunk of the fish without the tartar. Not the fish, it was just fine by itself, near perfect. I tasted the sauce again. Yup, that was it. Whatever the 'Louisiana' was in the tartar sauce, it was wrong, just wrong. I'm assuming Tabasco of some kind, there were also dill seeds apparent. Why, WHY screw with a simple, basic thing?  I dipped sparingly after that. Like I said, the fish itself was pretty good.The slaw was good too, not creamy, not too vinegar-y. The hush puppies were overcooked, dry and pointlessly seasoned with 'sweet and spicy bacon sugar.' Hush puppies are cornbread, isn't that good enough? 
Catfish (sigh)
The fries, mine and Adam's, were made from real potatoes, that, I could tell. They however, were not crispy or even firm. They were, for lack of a better word, flaccid. They tasted fine, but had no 'tooth' to them. Neither Adam nor I finished our fries, and we both love us some fries. At least the ketchup in the bottle hadn't been dinked with, just ketchup. I munched away, a little disappointed, unsatisfied with my poor choice.
Angel was struggling with the prime rib. It wasn't necessarily the texture, it was, as she said, very tender. I had sampled it but struggled with an appraisal, as I didn't really discern much of a taste, good or bad. It seemed to me to be more like deli department ham, moist, tender but low in actual flavor.  She said about the same thing. It lacked taste.
She'd dumped the entire ramekin of au jus on it, and said that this made it a little better. Adam delighted himself by getting her to say 'au jus' several times and each time offering a 'gesundheit'  in return. This always cracks us up.
None of us finished our meals.
Adam said his tenders were too sweet after a while. Hmm. "The potato was good." Angel said, trying to be more positive.
Summary:
This is tough.
When I polled the family, I got a surprise. Adam actually said more words than he normally does, and they were not exactly nice ones. "Boring and manufactured." Is what he said. We were aghast. He certainly has opinions, he just doesn't verbalize them often. That he did articulate them about this meal was very telling.
Angel was disappointed, completely, with the prime rib, both in taste (or lack thereof) and the texture. "It was like flavorless ham."
I liked my fish, but not the modified tartar sauce, the slaw was quite good, but the fries were limp and a bit doughy. The tea? Well, it looked good, but it too was prettier than it was tasty. A minus two, at best.
The bill came in at a reasonable forty eight dollars and change, less than we usually spend at Ruby T's or other similar places. But for that lower price we got a significantly more disappointing meal. I probably should have gone with the steak and shrimp.
As for the service, Zubair was exceptional. He refilled our drinks frequently and our orders were delivered exactly as requested. He was both polite and professional. The fact that we did not like the food so much is not at all a reflection of the young man's efforts.
We've had good meals at O'Charley's before, when we stuck to the basics. It's mainly on us for going off the beaten path. We'll not do that again.






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