Friday, September 25, 2009

Let's Go to the Mall...

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, if you wanted to eat at the Natick Mall, your choices were Brigham’s, The Sandwich Board, a café’ in Sears, or my favorite, The York Steakhouse (Number 4, medium, baked potato with butter). In the early 80s, the mall renovated and added a small “food court” which brought such dining delights as Papa Gino’s pizza, Orange Julius (whoever he was) and some generic Chinese food stand. I’m sure there were a few more, but they were so generic, they just blended right in. Dining at the mall was nothing special.

I avoid the malls like the plague, Celine Dion concerts and Meryl Streep movies, but I found myself wandering the Natick Collection briefly at lunch yesterday, so my mall companion and I decided to stop at the Food Court for lunch.

I don’t know when the trend changed from crap to more exciting and exotic choices, but the new Natick Mall, among others, now features P.F.Changs, the Cheesecake Factory, the Met Bar and Grill, Sel De La Terre, California Pizza Kitchen and Friendly’s. Other malls have some selection of the foregoing, but also Bertucci’s and TGI Friday’s (but when you eat there, you really wish it was Mondays.) Obviously, the array of choices has expanded to suit any palate, but for pedestrian fare, there’s still the food court.

When the mall re-opened in the mid-90s, the new “Food Court” was big news. There were a number of new choices, and there was a lot of puffery about how many people it could seat (more like how many head of cattle it could slaughter…) an how bright and airy it was (remember, even prison dining halls have windows…). There was a soup place (with their “cutting edge” “bread boule), a grill where they could make sandwiches and salads, a Nathan’s hot dog stand, Hagen Daaz, and the usual other suspects.

Now that the mall’s been opened for almost 15 years, things have changed. They have cleared out a lot of the seating, changed the flooring and gotten rid of the H1N1 magnet-the kids play area. Most noticeably, a number of the places have changed or left, leaving only one wall of selections, and frankly, not very good ones at that. After all the fanfare, now that the smoke has cleared, all that’s left is Sbarro, Salad Creations, Master Wok, Cajun Cafe, McD, Gourmet India, D'angelo, and Sarku Japan. A motley crew…

One thing that interests me about the food courts and these places is that now they have someone standing in front of each place offering you a sample. Stop past Master Wok and try a sample of “General Chicken”; go past Cajun Café and try “Bourbon Chicken”; walk past Gourmet India and try “Curry Chicken”; walk past Sarku Japan and try a sample of “Teriyaki Chicken”. After circling the food court 2 or 10 times, I don’t need to order anything anywhere.

Standing alone, the samples aren’t bad, but when did each of these places essentially turn into Chinese buffets? At Master Wok, you can get “General Chicken” with white or fried rice, or lo-mein noodles, mixed vegetables and either a chicken finger or an egg roll. At Cajun Café, try the “Bourbon Chicken” (that tastes suspiciously like “General Chicken”) and get it with white or fried rice, noodles, and some “Cajun vegetables”. At Sarku, get the “Chicken Teriyaki” with white or fried rice or noodles, and steamed vegetables. There is almost not differentiation at any of these places. I don’t think it really matters, since in my mind, there’s just one large kitchen in back making all the food then pushing a little to each place.

If you’re Master Wok, or any other Chinese food court establishment, I embrace you and want you to stick to your strong points, but all others…GMaB!!! I don’t recall any Cajun food really having an egg roll with it, or spicy Cajun wonton soup.

I have so much more to say, for someone that spends such little time at the mall. I’ll leave you with this thought-is that really chicken? I noticed the pigeon population has diminished…

You’ve been great. Enjoy “Tiffany”.


Eric Weinstein said...

Someone reminded me about the Woolworth lunch that's eatin'!

Anonymous said...

Filene's also had a lunch place.