Blog of an aspiring foodie

Reasonable prices? Fertitta? You must be joking.

Posted by beer_chris on 30-December-2005

Was asked to join some friends at Fertitta's Rainforest Cafe restaurant in Galveston yesterday. I was mildly aware that Tilman Fertitta's Landry's Restaurants had opened one of these theme-chain restaurants in Galveston, but didn't quite know where exactly it was. I was also aware that Fertitta has some big plans for the Galveston seawall area, in line with the major changes made to Kemah's boardwalk, but simply hadn't seen any of the work that has been done.

Rainforest Cafe is right behind the original Landry's on seawall, and smack between the gleaming new Galveston convention center and the venerable San Luis hotel. An article in last year's Press details much of the dealings Fertitta has had or plans to have in this area, and some of the politics behind it.

In general, I find the place a bit overwhelming, which limits the enjoyment I get from the, um, environment. The place is undeniably kitschy – but in fairness it doesn't pretend not to be. You enter into the waiting area which is a giant gift shop. It is flanked by towering saltwater fish tanks (the highlight of the place, in my opinion), and speakers everywhere – porting in recorded screeches and parrot calls, not infrequently interrupted by the oh-so-authentic voice of the hostess, instructing the 'Smith party of 9 to approach the rock, your adventure is about to begin'. Each group on the waitlist is called in this way. Eventually, this becomes part of the background drone, like any of the other recorded sounds. Like some bizarre offshoot of the Disney Store, this waiting area is stuffed full (read – no place to sit) with racks and racks of seemingly any type of consumer good – all branded with 'RFC' tags (RainForest Cafe). Heck, I could have bought a RFC leather jacket along with my RFC oversized coffee mug (on sale – 4 for $9.99). Our group (9) approached the 'rock' – a raised hostess stand, covered in fake boulders and some type of 'adventures begin here' sign (I don't quite remember the wording) – and told the busy looking hostess we were ready to eat.

We arrived about 6 PM. High tea, so to say. The wait was an unsurprising one hour – unsurprising because I had heard about it before, and also because of the huge throng of people “waiting” in the gift shop. Families, couples, somewhat groups like ours (9), fake parrots, a talking tree – how could the wait be any shorter? As we milled about, or rather, were slowly shuffled around the gift shop to stay out of the way of busily shopping patrons, we noticed that the place had a river ride, built into the facility. It was called 'jungle adventure' or somesuch. A quick look revealed a charge – $5.50 per person. So much for that.

Luckily the bar area was relatively empty, and had cold beer on tap. The throng of good little consumers were too busy buying customized RFC license plates to notice the surprisingly good drink menu – not unexpectedly, a list of expensive frozen drinks (no restaurant investor worth his salt would ever pony up cash for a theme restaurant without seeing the list of overpriced, themed frozen drinks up front), but although the usuals were there – fancy sounding drinks that were simple frozen margaritas and daquiris, there were some real winners. Electric Lemonade, for one, a kick your butt vodka concoction I never see on bar menus anywhere, as well as a really good sounding banana split chocolately thing. They were served in a glass with flashing LEDs in the bottom (available for purchase in the waiting area, er, gift shop, of course).

As much as I would have liked to live in the moment with a flashing mug of my own, someone else was picking up the tab so I couldn't bring myself to order a $8 drink. I had a tall Bud and sat back for a long wait in the relative quiet of the bar.

Then the thunderstorm hit. Apparently, about every 15 minutes a 'thunderstorm' rolls into the restaurant. The dining area is filled with mechanical elephants and monkeys, and the ceiling is covered with a thick jungle-ish fakeness. The edges of the eating area have little drip fountains coming from the ceiling. During the 'thunderstorm', the lights dim, the drip fountains really get going, the 'animals' go a little nutsy, and strobes, I mean, lightning, fire off above the canofake. Thunder-ish sounds pour from the speakers (errr) heavens to really scare the kiddies.

It was a bit surprising, but as I settled back into my chair, I was dragged off by an excited friend to ride the jungle ride. We waited about 10 minutes, loaded up and were treated to Thunder River-light, with some canafake to boot. None of us were taking it seriously, of course, although I can see how little kids might be frightened. The quality of the ride was about what you would see at one of the theme rides at the various Epcot World restaurants. Good enough for a theme restaurant. Not sure if $5.50 is all that reasonable though. That would have been another beer 🙂 The best part, though, was when one of our party answered his cell during the ride, and was genuinely scared when a rubber spider hit him on the head.

That made it all worthwhile.

Coincidentally, when we left the ride our 'adventure was about to begin'. Our 'guide' took us to our table, mumbling something about the jungle and how dangerous it is. I couldn't really hear him. The menu was as expected. Extremely toned down central american food (that's the midwest, not Guatemala). My usual metric for menu prices – the hamburger. At RFC, 8.99. Yikes. We were in for it.

The prices were high, no doubt. I had a crab cake sandwich (11 bucks) – mainly because the sandwich was 8 bucks cheaper then the platter of 2 cakes. The crab cakes were OK. They were not made with lump meat, as advertised, but with cheaper claw meat (thin and stringy, not a lot of crab flavor), and the tangy sauce tasted like someone had put an onion through a juicer. Jaime had the best of the lot, a half rack of baby back ribs I assumed would be terrible – they were fall off the bone tender and full of flavor in the slightly spicy, not too sweet BBQ sauce. However, for 18.99 one can do a lot better at a BBQ shack. Others had a sirloin steak with shrimp (21 bucks), a redfish fillet crusted in macadamias (22 bucks) and a chicken breast mixed grill (19 whopping dollars).

We saved space for dessert, and so of course got a couple of 'the volcano', three scoops of vanilla ice cream surrounded by leaning slices of chocolate brownie, topped with whipped cream and a sparkler ($12). The server brings it out while yelling 'volcano!', which was whimsical if not annoying.

The food took at least 20-30 minutes to arrive, but between the fish tanks (we were right under them), the frequent 'thunderstorms' and the entertainment of my friend's 9 month old son, I didn't really notice.

The bill was picked up by my friend's dad. A generous gesture, as the damage came out to about $160 bucks (not including drinks, which were an additional $20 or so), and much of the food was on split plates. If we had all ordered our own entrees, the total would have easily topped $300.

That's eat-ertainment!

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