Tuesday, July 31, 2012

T-Rex!

Note:  This restaurant was visited on 15 March 2012.  The review was originally written later that afternoon.


Happy birthday to me!  Today is my birthday, and as a present to myself, I'm taking the horde (my mother, Cheryl Butler, my brother, Nathan Butler, and Jared) along on a trip to T-Rex, in the Downtown Disney shopping complex.

T-Rex

Now, technically, T-Rex is not a Disney restaurant at all.  It is a franchise chain owned and operated by Landry's Inc. (along with such other chains as the Rainforest Cafe and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company), legally considered a "licensed third-party partner" with the Walt Disney Company.  But as it is operating on Disney property, and you can get reservations through Disney Dining Reservations, we're going to give it honorary "Disney restaurant" status for the purposes of the tour.

T-Rex is located on the western edge of the Downtown Disney Marketplace, or the eastern edge of Pleasure Island, depending on which way you're coming from, across from the Pollo Campero.  It is close to the parking lots, so my advice is to park in either Lot D or Lot E and hoof it to the curb.  Look for the big green animatronic dinosaur on the parking lot side, and you'll have no trouble finding it.

See?  Big green dinosaur.

The day started out cloudy, and by the time we made the trip from Apopka to Downtown Disney (a 45 minute drive) the clouds had given up holding it and were outright raining.  And not the nice, springtime rains that come in Florida just in time to cool the day off.  No, these were the last-vestige-of-winter rains that make things really, really chilly.  So in the rain, we jogged from the car to the curb.  With the bulk of the restaurant protecting us from the lake-effect weather (Downtown Disney is on Village Lake; its a pretty big lake, as local lakes go, and you get a nice breeze off of it), we not-quite-ran around the corner to the entrance of the restaurant... only to discover that not only was the reservation check-in kiosk outside, but there was a line.

A long line.

Not the best way to start a dining experience.
Yeah... our dining experience today began with us waiting in the cold, windy, awful rain for nearly thirty minutes.  Now, the rain and the wind and the cold were not the fault of the restaurant, so in fairness I cannot blame them for it.  Let's just say that our moods were not as good as they could be going in.

So we eventually checked in and got to go inside.  The restaurant is divided up into two major sections.  The largest, on the left, is the restaurant itself.  On the right is a huge gift shop that includes a Build-a-Bear Workshop that specializes in stuffed dinosaurs and sabre-toothed tigers and mammoths and such.  The gift shop, which we had time to peruse while we were waiting for our table, is actually pretty cool.  Lots and lots of pro-science learning toys, and I am all for anything that promotes science.

There's also a "fossil pit" just outside where the kids can dig for "dinosaur bones".  On the plus side, this is a clever idea, as it gives the potentially fidgety kids some place to blow off steam while they're waiting on their table.  On the minus side, it gets the kids dirty just before they eat.  But weighing the plusses and minuses, I'd say I'm in favor of the idea.

Jared, digging for the bones.

A wider view of the sandpit.  You can actually see the "fossils" from this angle.
The wait for a table only took about eight minutes, so it wasn't all that bad a wait.  It was just long enough for us to get a good look at the gift shop (from which several Christmas presents will be purchased later in the year) and to get really tired of the atmosphere in this place.
And wow, this is a very atmospheric restaurant.  And by "atmospheric", I mean its LOUD and CROWDED!  The acoustics of the place amplifies every little sound, and in addition to the background music (which, if I remember from my trip to the men's room... the only place you can actually hear the music above the roar of the roar... is some kind of Caribbean dance music), you've got the roars of the mammoths and dinosaurs, the rumbles of volcanoes erupting, the shrieking of pterodactyls, the crashing of meteors hitting the ground, and last but not least the sound of 400+ diners, all of whom are trying to talk over the background music,  the roars of the mammoths and dinosaurs, the rumbles of volcanoes erupting, the shrieking of pterodactyls, and the crashing of meteors hitting the ground.

This big guy is right in front of the door, and greets you as you come in.

He was hanging over our table.



 
This little fellow was next to our table.

The room we were in was called the "Fire Room" for a reason.

The Ice Cave Room.

The aquarium under the giant octopus, around the bar.
 
The mammoth at the entrance to the Fire Room.
And all of these audio-animatronic creatures were making noises.  Shrieking and bellowing and roaring and gnashing their teeth and complaining about their car insurance... Wowsers was it loud.  I mean, "make the water in your drinking glass vibrate" loud.  Ear-bleeding loud.

But where was I.

Oh yeah... getting to the table.  The wait for the table was, as I mentioned, less than ten minutes.  We were seated at a pretty good table for four people.  It was large, and wasn't crowded out by the centerpiece.  And once we were at our table, the waiting began.

So we waited...

... and waited...

... and waited...

... and waited...

... and waited...

... and waited.
We sat for more than 15 minutes before our waiter, whose name was Thomas showed up to give us menus and take our drink orders.  Then it took him nearly 10 minutes to bring the drinks to the table and take our meal orders.  We waited close to half an hour for our food to arrive.  Another twenty minute wait after we were done with our entrees for the dessert order to be taken. Then another half hour for the check to arrive.  Then another twenty minutes for Thomas to come back to pick up a credit card.  Then another fifteen minutes to...

We went in on a 12:30 pm reservation, and we left somewhere between ten and twenty minutes past 4:00 pm.  That right there tells the story.

In fairness to Thomas the waiter, he was (for the longest time) the only waiter in our entire section.  And by "section" I mean the entire Fire Room (the room we were in).  We're talking maybe eleven or twelve tables, all of whom were full of people.  Seriously, our party, with only four people, was the second smallest (there was a party of three in the corner), and the largest party in the Fire Room was fourteen or fifteen people.

Thomas the Waiter.
I have to give him credit for trying real hard, but there were far too many people for just one guy to cover.
Bless his heart, he tried his best to keep up with everything, but there was no way only one guy could cover the entire room in any sort of efficient manner.  Another couple of servers showed up about 3/4 of the way through our meal, but by then the room was even more crowded and it turned into a situation where it was too little, too late.

Thinking about it, the whole experience would have been survivable had the food been better.

Nathan and I both ordered the Supersaurus Sampler (normally an appetizer) as entrees.

Level One of the tacky tower that was the Supersaurus Sampler:  the bruschetta and crustini.  The stuff in the center is guacamole and sour cream.

Level Two:  onion rings and quesadillas.

Level Three.  Queso and tortilla chips.

Barbecue ribs.  These are an optional add-on for the Supersaurus Sampler.
The Supersaurus Sampler was this tackily arranged tower on three levels.  The top level contained bruschetta with crustini; the middle level had quesadillas and onion rings; the bottom level was tortilla chips and a cheddar-based queso for dipping.  There was an option to add a plate of barbecue spare ribs, and both Nathan and I took it.

The whole thing looked nouvelle cuisine and ridiculous.

The ribs were fantastic, the quesadillas were superb and the bruschetta was amazing.  So amazing, in fact, that when I got home I searched around online, found the bruschetta recipe, and immediately replaced my own (a recipe I've been using for ten years or so) with the recipe from T-Rex.  The onion rings, on the other hand, tasted okay, but it was clear that they had been utterly not seasoned before they were cooked.  And in my book, there's very little that's worse than a bland onion ring.

Except, of course, for the the queso and chips.  Those were horrible.  Horrible to the point that right now I really, really want to use a series of vulgar words and phrases to describe it.  Words that rhyme with "cod hammed ducking snit", as a matter of fact.

The chips were just chips.  They could have been poured out of any Tostitos bag.  Absolutely nothing special about them at all.  And the cheese.  It was obviously not real cheese, because it had turned to inedible plastic sludge before it even hit our table.  Seriously, when I called the manager over to point out how awful the cheese was, I turned the bowl over in my hand and held it upside down over the tabletop and none of the cheese fell out..

I'd like to repeat that, because it sounds vaguely important: 
I turned the bowl over in my hand and held it upside down over the tabletop and NONE OF THE CHEESE FELL OUT.

Needless to say, she gave us a break on the Supersaurus Samplers.

Nathan summed up the Supersaurus Sampler as "Very well done mediocrity", a sentiment I could not disagree with.  The good stuff (the brushetta, the ribs, and the quesadillas) was very, very good.  The bad stuff (the queso and chips) was very, very bad.  So on average, this was a bleh meal.

Mom started with a bowl of French onion soup and continued with the fish and chips.

French onion soup.

Fish and chips, with tartar sauce and cole slaw.
The French onion soup was the highlight of the day.  It was very well done... better done than a lot of French onion soup served at much better restaurants.  It was very tasty, and Mom really enjoyed it.  Her fish and chips were, like the onion rings, unseasoned and on the bland side, but at least they had a good basic flavor, being made from fine cuts of cod.

Lastly, Jared ordered a kid's pizza.
Jared's pizza.

This was another disappointment.  While he said he liked it, and that it was tasty (I tried a bite, and it wasn't that bad, given what it was), the truth is that this pizza was just half-a-step above the frozen pizzas one could get at a Publix supermarket.  Heck, some of the frozen pizzas you can get at a Publix supermarket are better than this pizza by a fair climb.  But at least Jared liked it.

And finally it came time for the dessert.  This was a mountain of deliciousness called the "Chocolate Extinction".  Four slabs of fudge brownie covered in fudge sauce with vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with ground up butterfinger candy bars.  In the center of this mass of chocolatey goodness was a martini shaker filled with water and dry ice, making it all smokey and cool-looking.

This dessert made up for a lot, to the point that it effectively turned things around completely.   And of course Mom made sure to let them know it was my birthday, so I got to suffer the public humiliation of having the serving staff came out and sing and clap at me.
  I just wish I'd remembered to take a picture before we devoured the thing.


And when it was all said and done, Thomas the waiter got the bill wrong.

Yeah.

When it was all straightened out, the damage came to just under $75 for three adults (two of whom had appetizers) and a child.

So... did we have fun?  Did we have a positive dining experience?

Yeah, much to our surprise we actually did have a good time.  Despite all the waiting and the bad food and the waiting and the crowds and the waiting, the whole thing added up to a fun time.  Especially for Jared, who ate up the entire dinosaur theme with a spoon.

Would I recommend this restaurant to anyone?  Well, maybe if they had small children who were into dinosaurs.  But would I recommend it to anything else?

Absolutely not.  No chance in hell.

Overall I can't give this restaurant more than two stars out of five.

Next stop:  Teppan Edo, at the Japan Pavillion in Epcot.

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