Thursday, March 20, 2008

Review: Outback Steakhouse

I was given a $25 giftcard to Outback Steakhouse to try out their "Bloomin' Birthday Creations," so the family and I went out for dinner earlier this week. Now that in and of itself is an accomplishment, since we rarely eat out - to save money of course, but even more to avoid being stuck waiting for food with two impatient, hungry and restless little boys. But Outback seemed like the perfect venue for a family meal, so off we went.

Marc and I had been to Outback only once before, over five years ago. Our memory was that the food was rather blah, which was the main reason we never went back. So we were pleasantly surprised this time to discover that the food was actually quite good.

We both ordered off the special birthday menu - I got the sirloin, shrimp and scallops mixed grill, and Marc got the fresh tilapia with pure lump crab meat. We ordered off the kids' menu for the boys - macaroni and cheese for Alex, and chicken fingers for Tyler.

I enjoyed my dish quite a bit, although I was disappointed with the wild rice. It was the only part of the dish that didn't taste good, and it should have been the easiest thing to get right. The meal wasn't overly large, but I did take home half of the steak, which served as Tyler's lunch the next day.

Marc enjoyed his tilapia, which again wasn't super-sized. The asparagus was perfectly cooked.

The chicken fingers were a hit with both kids, although Tyler stopped eating it toward the end when I offered him steak. I ordered green beans as the side and they were extremely good.

The mac and cheese was the only disappointment. It was really penne tossed with a light cheese sauce, so it's understandable that Alex utterly rejected it and opted for Tyler's chicken instead. We asked for broccoli to be mixed in, but I'm confident that Alex wouldn't have eaten the pasta even if the broccoli hadn't been there. The dish actually tasted fine, I just felt that it was misleading for the restaurant to call it mac and cheese.

I saw bread being served to other tables, but we didn't get any so I don't know if it's complimentary. I thought about asking for some but didn't want to ruin the kids' appetites or take in empty calories myself.

The atmosphere was nothing particularly special, but perfect for families in the sense that I didn't feel like Alex and Tyler were bothering anyone - except for the older couple and morose man who moved from the booth next to ours to one further down. They seemed like the type who don't like kids in general, and mine weren't doing anything except talking, so they were the kind of people who make me think that perhaps they should consider avoiding family-style restaurants in the early evening, when families are likely to be present. Alex got a kick out of the crocodile on the wall, and had fun coloring with the crayons and activity book provided by the hostess. Perhaps most importantly, the food arrived relatively quickly, reducing the opportunity for the kids to get restless. (Note: we arrived fairly early, at 5:00 p.m. on a weekday.)

The total cost of our meal was $52, not including tip. If it weren't for the giftcard, I would say the meal wasn't worth the cost (though I did take the pasta, half of my steak, and Tyler's green beans home as lunch for Tyler and me the next day). Of course, Marc and I ordered expensive entrees, and I'm sure our meal would have been considerably less if we'd simply ordered some pasta or burgers. And the cost wasn't outrageous, considering it made six meals (the boys pretty much count as full servings now, which I can't believe is already the case).

Final verdict: If you've never been to Outback Steakhouse, I think it's worth a visit. If the dishes that I mentioned appeal to you, you might want to go sooner rather than later, since the birthday menu is a special that I believe is going to be ending in sometime in April. Bon appetit!

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