The Weekly Eater


Sunday, October 14, 2001

Weekly Eater restaurant photo
Moanikeala Brown rushes a meal to hungry
patrons at Dave & Buster's.

Food, games draw
crowds to palatial
Dave & Buster’s

I figured before stepping into Dave & Buster's that it wouldn't be my kind of place. For one thing, I'm not 21 anymore. I don't need to flirt with cute waiters. I don't need to test my driving, shooting, kayaking or dancing skills on giant monitors or in front of an audience (been there, done that in real life and decided life is the most challenging game of all), I don't need to be plopped into the middle of a crowd to feel like I'm having fun. I don't need no flashing lights to hypnotize. I'm all growed up.

That said, adults may find themselves appreciating the food here more than the kiddies. For one thing, the Gen-Y'ers are most comfortable with the likes of potato skins ($5.95), chicken wings ($7.95) and french fries, all stock, and not necessarily the best stuff on the menu. In fact, I watched a bunch of 20-somethings at the table next to me passing fried goods around the table the best way they knew how, by grabbing fistfuls and going hand to hand, rather than passing plates. No wonder they like the cover of a crowd!

At that age they're likely to have a lot of bills and little money, so I can hear them now, grousing about not getting their money's worth for avocado and shiitake nachos ($5.95): "A, wat kine nachos dis? Only get eight chips!"

Such is the result when chef and customer desires collide. Chefs want to demonstrate their artistry. The masses want massive. I'm, like, the bridge, and I thought the nachos were great, sort of like minipizzas, each chip serving as a little crust loaded with black beans, jalapeños, an avocado relish with red onions, and shiitake mushrooms. Of course, you could barely taste the delicate shiitake in the earthy combination, but I liked the gourmet touch.

But before we get to the food, let's talk about this place. With the recent hit to the economy, I wondered whether people would show up at all. As curious as this community is, though, I figured everyone would take a look before saying "yea" or "nay." So many are showing up that even on a typically slow Tuesday night, waits for tables are running 35 to 40 minutes. One guy said he was waiting two hours, but he must have been disoriented by the games. By the way, the games are upstairs, so diners are spared some of the noise.

Because of the wait, there's no telling how long dinner will take, so until you've discovered a pattern, you can forget about making dinner-and-a-movie plans. You may consider dinner AFTER your movie instead. Dave & Buster's stays open late enough for that.

That's not the point anyway. Owners Dave Corriveau and Buster Corley envisioned an all-in-one entertainment complex to keep people on the premises (and spending) when they opened their first restaurant in 1982. (The partnership grew out of two Little Rock, Ark., businesses in the '70s, Slick Willy's World of Entertainment and Buster's Restaurant.) The place is palatial and glitzy in an '80s sort of way - about $10 million went into its creation - but for those tired of small openings and lack of theater in our newest restaurants, Dave & Buster's injects a much-needed dose of excitement to the scene.

The menu's the same in 33 Dave & Buster's nationwide, and the owners have said that tastes are pretty much the same across the country. What can I say; united we stand. The family-friendly menu does work, and dishes taste much fresher than the norm at family restaurants and bars. The menu's big on Tex-Mex specialties - more of the big '80s! - like chicken tortilla soup ($2.95 cup/$4.95 bowl), three kinds of nachos and quesadillas ($6.95-$7.95) with grilled steak or chicken, blackened chicken or that avocado and shiitake combo.

There's a nod to Asia with tempura mushrooms ($5.95), a big basketful, all light and air crisp with a dash of salt. I didn't care for the mayo-based dipping sauce.

There's a bit of cheating on the honey-mustard spinach salad ($8.50), which actually had mixed greens. I would have liked more spinach, but crunchy, honeyed pecans topping the salad offered some compensation. Jack Daniels BBQ Ribs (half-rack $10.95/full $16.95) were dry inside.

If you want meat, it's the priciest dish on the menu, but the 12-ounce rib eye gets the works: seasoned with garlic, dredged in spices, char-grilled, then topped with a crackly peppercorn sauce and herbed Boursin cheese that's already melted over the creation by the time it arrives at your table. Ummmmmm!

Pepper is also prominent in the rich and creamy Cajun Shrimp Alfredo ($12.95). It's also rather salty, but I liked the dry approach of having just enough sauce to coat the linguine. Pasta floating in liquid is a no-no.

If you're tough enough for desserts, these are heavyweights: triple chocolate cake ($5.95), bananas foster pie ($5.50) and dense chocolate silk pie ($5.25). After this dinner, you'll need to work off the calories.

If it's just pau hana cocktails you're after, check out the rooftop bar with its ocean view.

See some past restaurant reviews in the
Do It Electric!

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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

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