By: Bennett Fuson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It’s been an issue I’ve seen on a fairly frequent basis this year, an issue that has gotten me in a fair amount of trouble for commenting on: identity confusion. When restaurants cannot decide what sort of restaurant they want to be, a culinary version of playing dress-up ensues. Although it has on a few instances worked in favor of the restaurant, the majority of confused cuisines enter a world of mediocrity, or worse.
Attend the tale of Stir Crazy, for instance. In theory and on paper, Stir Crazy seems like a really good idea: Take the fun and flavor of BD’s Mongolian Barbecue, then add the classy elements of P.F. Chang’s, and POW! a new fun restaurant (possibly BD Chang’s Mongolian Bistro). This idea was further entertained with the announced re-development of Castleton Square Mall, adding the restaurant to a number of new stores and restaurants for the area. Yet in reality, the theories were met not with enthusiasm but with apathy or disdain, thus creating an atmospheric as well as culinary conundrum.
First things first, and skeptics of my work, read this sentence: Stir Crazy is pretty good. In comparison, it is possible to eat worse food, especially along the lines of Asian cuisine. (For those of you familiar with #1 China Buffet’s kabobs, you know what I mean.) Yet at the same time, it is possible to eat better, which I highly suggest. It’s not even that the food is bad; the pure mediocrity, however, is enough to repulse even a hungry, rather husky teen male who is willing, if not ready, to eat whatever is placed in front of him.
The most glaring offense to the restaurant was its glaring “imitation” (read: theft) of the idea of BD’s Mongolian Barbecue, a fairly well-known establishment in the community because of its a) willingness to help with various organizations at this school and b) rather brilliant concept of “create your own meal in every aspect,” coupled with the showmanship of cooking a satisfying meal on a large, circular grill. Anyone who has visited BD’s at least once before visiting Stir Crazy will notice a few of the following differences:
1. Lack of amusement: There was no entertaining circular grill to be found at Stir Crazy, only a few large pots over their respective burners. Granted, the burners themselves were something of wonder: large kerosene flames shooting from a burner like a small yet angry dragon was stuck under each pot. Yet the chefs who manned them did not use large knives to prepare the food or engage in any sort of emotion that could convey enjoyment of their jobs.
2. Lack of variety: Unlike BD’s, which hosts a large bar of various meats, vegetables and sauces, Stir Crazy’s Market Bar was disappointingly scarce on the offerings. Although it did offer bamboo shoots (a delicacy I had to try, with modestly positive results), Stir Crazy neglected one of the essential factors of a “create your own meal:” the opportunity to create what one really desires. The vegetables were the only ingredients offered in variety: the meats were only modest, the rice and noodles were shockingly low (plus, for loyal BD’s customers, only one choice of rice or noodles was given per dish!), and the sauces, one of BD’s most extensive offerings, was limited to eight. While eight may seem like a large number, consider this: BD’s doubles the sauce count with sauces ranging from the mundane (Asian Ginger) to the extreme (Buffalo or Kung Pao), spanning a range of culinary cultures not just limited to Asian fare.
3. Lack of flair: In a taste test, it would be hard to differentiate Stir Crazy’s stir fry with any other similar dish. No aspect of the meal (apart from the bamboo shoots) could honestly pull the weight of the dish. It almost seemed as though the chefs were simply going through the motions to prepare the food, without really putting any effort into ensuring a somewhat-enjoyable dish out of one’s choice of ingredients. My own chicken stir fry with green and red peppers and onions was simply decent: it felt like I was only eating for nourishment, a dreadful feeling for those who really enjoy their food.
As if these offenses weren’t enough, Stir Crazy also pirates its interior design style from another well known restaurant, P.F. Chang’s. Chang’s, known for its haute style and fancy feasts, can pull off the look of a gourmet restaurant; Stir Crazy cannot. Stir Crazy certainly put its best foot forward, because the design is not bad. It just feels recycled, as though P.F. Chang’s had tossed the style aside when it was bored. The fact that Stir Crazy is a casual eatery doesn’t help, since the chic attitude is contrasted by the jeans and sweatshirts of the customers.
Stir Crazy doesn’t really have anything wrong with it, when viewing it from the outside without any experience of its predecessors. Yet its lack of things right within it make the restaurant sink in mediocrity, thus earning itself a spot in the land of misfit, confused restaurants.