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Wednesday, February 3, 1999

Fish and tricks

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Waits of two or three hours on weeknights are de rigueur. The company claims the computerized reservation system is accurate within seven minutes. On a recent Monday night, our "safari" of three was told there would be a two hour and 20 minute wait. My co-diners got huffy and went home, leaving me to wander in the new megamall, Great Lakes Crossing.

After an hour, tired and hungry, I hiked back to the Rainforest. There were more than a dozen empty tables. Did anyone apologize? Now I was a woman dining alone.

I thought the tropical fish might keep me company, but the tour guide said, "Those tables are for four." I got a table by the restrooms.

On my previous visit I was overwhelmed by the fried-ness of the food. This time I was determined to eat healthy. Nothing in the appetizer section fit my criterion, so I ordered a salad of baby greens with a balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Make that limp baby greens with an additional wait for the vinaigrette.

My entrée was "Seafood Pasta Galapagos," with shrimp, fish, zucchini, tomatoes and spinach tossed with a pesto sauce. At one point, my friendly waitperson rushed by and said, "You’re waiting much too long." It was another 15 minutes before the food arrived. No matter, I was sitting there typing this review.

Entrées range from hamburgers and pizza to stir-fry and New York strip steak. Waffle-shaped french fries are ubiquitous. They are reasonably priced, but beware of the add-ons. Nothing comes with them. A glass of freshly squeezed juice is $3.75, a salad is $4, a cup of soup is $3, desserts are $5. A large mineral water is a shocking $5. Beer, wine and mixed drinks are served.

On our first outing, I ate through an appetizer assortment in which three of the four items were deep-fried. I sat back and groaned: "This food is not so great."

My 12-year-old said, with uncharacteristic fervor, "I think it’s a five!"

Lyle Berman, CEO of the Rainforest Café, personally OKs every item on the menu. In the company’s promotional literature he says, "My tastes are the same as Middle America." Therein lies the problem.

Of course, it is the show that is a five, if you like that kind of thing. Elephants roar, butterflies flap their wings, and every 20 minutes or so, lightning and thunder interrupt the flow of conversation. Mercifully, it never rains.

Daddies carry toddlers around the dining room to see the animatronic wildlife. The company is proud of educating diners about the rainforest, but it’s education Disney-style. Children of today’s generation might have to be forgiven if they think butterflies are the size of chimpanzees and mushrooms can grow as big as trees.

I asked one dad pursuing a 2-year-old, "Would you be here if you didn’t have children?"

He thought for a moment. "Probably not."

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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