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Friday, May 6, 2011

The Great American Grill at Hilton Garden Inn AND Harlequin Gourmet Chocolat

<big sigh>

I just hate writing this review.  Of course, about 3 hours ago, I was disgusted and ready with both guns drawn (in a metaphorical sense) and ready to blow away The Great American Grill.  My experience was anything BUT great.  I have, however, calmed down.

I don't get it.  They won first place for their delicious and beautifully plated shrimp at the Shrimp Festival; people I know raved about it and, in fact, Jenny at Venus Nails and Spa sent me off from my pedicure telling me "try Hilton Garden Inn" because we'd been talking about Mother's Day Brunch.

So, with that thought in my head as I drove away from Venus, I headed north on Padre Blvd and went to see if they had anything special going on for Mother's Day at the Hilton Garden Inn.  I saw a sign that touted their daily breakfast buffet - 6am to 10am - $9.95 per person plus tax - drinks not included (which is not what Jenny said but that's okay - just seeking info).  The sign also said lunch specials starting at $6.95 so I though, it's Friday, it's lunchtime, and I'm hungry.  So, I swung my car into the driveway.

I arrived shortly after noon and there was one other person in the restaurant and they were finishing up.  I was seated promptly and perused the menu which included a small coupon-sized flyer stating the Daily Specials.  They included Chicken Parmesan with Fettuchini (their spelling not mine) Alfredo, General Tso Chicken w Fried Rice and Egg Roll, Fried Tilapia with Mushroom Cream Sauce, Great American Chicken Sandwich w/ Fries or Chips, Fried Shrimp Basket, and Blackened Tilapia Veracruz.

I ordered a glass of iced tea from my very sweet waitress and asked her if she knew if they were having a special brunch for Mother's Day or if their regular week-end breakfast buffet were the same hours on the week-end?  She did not know but went to find out.  She approached a short Hispanic gentleman who was talking to someone else (not a customer) and asked him and was apparently shooed away.  She told me he was the manager and would come over when he was finished talking to the other person and he could answer my questions as she just didn't know - and had not heard anything and apologized for not knowing.  I said that was fine - no problem.  The only problem I had was he disappeared and never came to my table and no one was ever able to respond to my question.  Hmmmm.

I told her I had decided I would try the General Tso's Chicken for lunch.  At my first and only other visit, I tried a bowl of the Broccoli Cheese Soup and a glass of iced tea because it was a chilly day last November.   It wasn't bad, but it wasn't memorable either.  The tea, so far, is the best thing I've had at this restaurant.  That said, both times I visited, the waitstaff were excellent in care and attention.  I've only eaten there at lunch - never breakfast or dinner.

My meal appeared in a fairly rapid amount of time.  I was, by this time, at 12:20 p.m., the only patron sitting in the restaurant.  My first thought was "wow, that's a big plate of food".  It looked good at first glance, but upon second inspection the sauce didn't glisten as usually is the case when I eat General Tso's chicken at other restaurants.  I am accustomed to a sweetly spicy glistening sauce covering a tempura-style battered chicken.  Today's chicken appeared to be southern fried chicken pieces (likely frozen and then fried) with some kind of thick sauce that burned with the taste of Louisiana Hot Sauce - which I hate.  None of the sweet and spicy combination which is the trademark of Genral Tso's Chicken.  The fried rice was so heavily soy sauced I couldn't eat it without fear of my blood pressure spiking - and it had soggy broccoli in it too???   Egg rolls were obviously of the frozen variety - but that's okay - I've eaten some good frozen egg rolls in my time and so I took a bite.  Ehh, okay.  I asked for some sweet and sour sauce or something to dip the egg rolls in and she returned with a bowl of the fairly awful sauce they had coated the chicken nuggets in.  I told her no thank you, and she apologized again and offered ranch dressing, which I declined....and tried to take a few more bites.

I ate one more bite of everything and I just couldn't stomach it and signaled for my waitress - who had disappeared into the back and asked for my check.  She brought it and asked if I didn't like the food.  She was so sweet I apologetically told her "it was just awful".  She offered to get me another plate, but by that point I was bordering on nausea and just wanted to get the hell out of there.  I had $11 in my hand and the check was just under $9 so I handed it to her and scurried away.

I hightailed it to the nearest Dolce Roma gelato shop hoping to get a lemon gelato to cleanse my palette of the awful aftertaste of the sauce.  I shook my fist at the sky when I encountered locked doors.  My bad mood intensified.

I headed for the bridge and like a glowing treasure my brain envisioned the (now closed) Harlequin Gourmet Chocolat Shop.  I rolled right up to their door and skipped up the stairs into a healing oasis filled with the heavenly scent of chocolate.
Hard to get a clear photo with shiny gold ink :-)

I told the proprietor I needed something to wipe a bad taste out of my mouth and I ordered four huge pieces of candy.  She smiled and said I had come to the right place.  I told her I would have one of the pieces in my mouth before hitting the bridge.  We laughed and I told her what had happened.  I had the Texas Pecan Brag in my hand with a bite out of it before the light on the corner turned green - instantly peace was upon me.

<another big sigh - of the happier kind>

There are two pieces left.  I ate one of the coconut creams while I wrote this, and I must say I'm in a much better mood. 

To end, I can't remember the last time I walked away from a huge plate of food like I did today.  Oh, wait, yes I do.  It was at The Big Donkey. (now called Senor Donkey - but same owners)

I asked another friend what she thought of our Hilton's restaurant.  Her quote "we weren't overly impressed".  So, there you have it.  It isn't just me.

Now, I'll probably give it another try.  One of my FB friends reports they have an awesome breakfast buffet....I might be willing to give that a try.  I doubt I'll return for lunch though.  Twice burned twice shy!  I welcome any locals that will tell me what they ate that was good.  I'm willing to give it another go.  Maybe the cheap lunch special is not what I should judge a restaurant on, albeit they should not serve cheap lunch specials if they can't do them well!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!

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