Live Love EatAfter my late afternoon coffee siesta on Friday a few weeks back, Holly showed up to hook up for dinner. Originally we were thinking about going to a little Greek cafe that was nearby, but as we sat there in dimming sun, relaxed and content, we noticed that there was a new restaurant right across the way. It was a Wolfgang Puck Express.

I had eaten at one a month or so ago in the Chicago O’ Hare airport and found it to be quite good, so with that recommendation Holly and I decided to at least go look at the menu. A few glances at the menu and it was clear that we were going to eat dinner there. There were simply too many good dishes to pass up.

The part of town that Wolfgang Puck Express is located is fairly trendy and we expected the look and feel of the restaurant to be in that same vein. It was, but as soon as we stepped into the restaurant it was like stepping into a funky little wrinkle in time. I instantly felt off center and I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until we were sitting down, waiting for our food, that I started to piece it together. Wolfgang Puck has combined a wide array of dining “experiences” into one experience and then cranked up the speed.

For starters, when you walk in, you have the “McDonalds experience” of walking up to a counter and placing your order. Although instead of low quality hamburgers, you’re ordering 3 Cheese Ravioli with a Butternut Squash Sauce and instead of a coke, you can get a nice Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.

Once you place your order, you are then given a vibrating coaster like the one’s that you get at Outback Steakhouse when you’re waiting for a table. When your food is ready, the little vibrating disc goes off and lights up. You’ve just had your “Outback Experience.”

With disc in hand you walk up to a counter near the kitchen where you pick up your order. There you are greeted by someone to assist you. You hand him the disc and then he hands you your food on a tray. I had more than one tray, so he walked with me back to my table. Except for the assistance, I just had the “Cafeteria Experience

Once Holly and I were sitting down enjoying our delicious meal, I made the comment about the different “experiences” I was having and she agreed. She said that she too was a little off center by the whole feel of the restaurant. We sat there for awhile trying to pin down exactly what this restaurant was most like. Holly came up with “corporate commissary” which was really on the nose. I then added, “Its corporate commissary meets Walt Disney World Epcot Food Court.” Holly shouted “Bingo! That’s it.”

The overall layout of the restaurant was definitely like a corporate commissary, but with the 42″ plasma screen in the middle of the menu over the registers and the style of the chairs and tables were very “high style.” You definitely get the feeling that you’ve entered a themed food court at Epcot. “Welcome to the wonderful land of “corporate efficiency!”

And I guess that’s the rub of it all. It’s the fact that you can see the efficiency that is in place. You can see how the staff wears different colored shirts depending upon their station and that each tends to their station in order to provide you with a high quality quick meal. It’s all just a little too Gattica for me.

Yeah, but how about the food?

The food was fantastic. Both the dishes that we ordered were prepared well and tasted great. Holly’s Three Cheese Ravioli and my Spinach Gorgonzola and Mushroom Pizza tasted as if they came from a 4 star restaurant, each bursting with flavor. Our appetizer of Tortilla Soup didn’t have a smidgen left in the bowl. It was a top notch meal, no doubt about it. The meal was great, but the whole express part just put me off slightly.

Normally when enjoying a meal of this caliber, you savor it and enjoy it in a relaxed atmosphere. With Wolfgang Puck Express, you never take more than a pregnant pause to enjoy your meal. Now this could simply be my guilty conscious riding roughshod over the experience, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

If we are so busy that a fine dining experience needs to be sped up in order for us to partake, what does that say about our society? The thing is, I identify with the mission of the restaurant. I am often too busy and opt for fast food because of the speed of it. So this restaurant fills a gap in my life, but I’m not proud of it and I don’t like being reminded of it.

To sum it all up, I feel conflicted with Wolfgang Puck Express. On one hand, it’s a little too efficient and too sterile. On the other hand, it has great food and good wine. It’s haute cuisine in the fast lane. Which hand wins in the end? Well, slap my bottom and call me Susan, but I have no doubt I’ll be eating there again soon. 😛