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Game Over

Friends told me I'd love Dave & Buster's. It's like Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups, they said, a restaurant with Skee-Ball. Others darkly warned that I'd love it so much that I'd need deprogramming. Unfortunately, both camps were wrong.

D&B describes itself as "53,000 square feet of food and fun under one roof." (In fact, it's the first restaurant I've ever seen that requires a map, or, as they call it, "navigational guide.") And fun is obviously the top priority. There are some really beautiful mahogany pool tables. Two huge bars. A really cool, old-fashioned belt-driven fan system. The centerpiece of the place is the million-dollar midway. Electronic simulators: car, motorcycle and snowboard. Star Wars games. Virtual batting cages. Virtual reality games. I have to admit, though, that my heart belongs to old-fashioned Skee-Ball. There, I won enough prize tickets for a lovely D&B whoopee cushion.

And speaking of whoopee cushions, I guess I do need to discuss the food, which was, to put it delicately, as bad as any I've ever had, anywhere, anytime. I know, I know: You can't expect a place with game tokens to be a shrine to fine dining. D&B is all about regression to childish thrills, and not about grown-up refinement. But if that's the case, shouldn't D&B's lowbrow food be a guilty pleasure?

You'd think a place like this would do a good plate of buffalo wings ($5.95), but you'd be wrong. Soggy rather than crispy, smothered with hot sauce with no other flavor, the wings weren't bad, just not particularly good. The accompanying blue cheese dressing (and I use the term loosely) was an embarrassment. The flavorless white goop contained only a little, teeny, tiny bit of bland blue cheese. Perhaps it had fallen in by mistake.

The very presence of pot stickers ($5.95) showed some ambition, an attempt to incorporate Asian influences. But the further you reach, the further you can fall, and these pot stickers ranked below even the buffalo wings. Alarmingly thick dumpling skins, strangely dusted with what appeared to be bread crumbs, surrounded a large pocket filled half with air, half with tough, gristly ground pork and vegetables. The advertised "Oriental spices" were nowhere in evidence. And there was nothing special about the "special dipping sauce."

Nothing, however, prepared me for the horror of the Hawaiian barbecue chicken pizza ($7.95). Barbecued chicken, a sweet Hawaiian barbecue sauce, purple onion rings, Gouda cheese and cilantro -- who comes up with ideas like this? I'd never before seen Gouda on a pizza, and there's a reason for that. The combination of the sweet sauce with the buttery molten cheese was revolting. The one saving grace was that the cilantro was flavorless and so added nothing extra to the proceedings. The state of Hawaii might consider suing for defamation.

Onward to the entrees. I had to try the Philly cheese steak sandwich ($7.50); after all, the menu boasts that the steak and bread are imported directly from South Philly. You wouldn't think you'd need to go that far afield to import dry meat and soft mushy bread. One added note: I asked for extra grilled onions and was rewarded with four slivers of onion for the entire sandwich. What would I have gotten without the extra?

The D&B's classic barbecue ribs are considered the specialty of the house ($8.95 rack, $14.95 full rack). If you enjoy pork jerky on a bone, these are the ribs for you. The accompanying mashed potatoes couldn't possibly be for anyone. Pasty and tasteless, they had to be pried from the plate. It was the first time I'd ever had mashed potatoes that stuck to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter.

The banana/mango smoothie was not smooth at all, but loaded with ice crystals. But, to give credit where it's due, I did sort of enjoy the D&B Double Chocolate Brownie Sundae ($4.50). Two fudge brownies, vanilla ice cream, raspberry sauce and bananas with hot chocolate fudge and whipped cream -- how bad can it be? (Okay, so the brownies were dry.)

That's about it. If you must go, play the games. Win some prizes. Have a drink; the bars do offer a good selection of beers. But for God's sake, do not order any food. It will only encourage them.

Dave & Buster's, 6010 Richmond, (713)952-2233.

 
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