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Chain Reaction is a column devoted to critiquing America’s sea of chain restaurants, because we want to know how the majority of our fellow citizens enjoy a fancy night out on the town. Unlimited breadsticks at Olive Garden? We’ll be there. Bloomin’ onions at Outback Steakhouse? We’ll be there. And then you can decide if you would like to be there (in Midtown or wherever), too.

Last week, my friends reminded me that for some reason we eat at California Pizza Kitchen on the same day every single year. I’m not really sure why or when this started, I just know that it always sounds like a great idea, and then mostly it isn’t. For those of you unfamiliar with California Pizza Kitchen, it’s kind of like the Cheesecake Factory, only instead of so many cheesecake varieties, they have a million different personal pizzas to choose from. Even though it is called “California” Pizza Kitchen, it’s actually located in many places across the United States of America, including Park Avenue.

Here is what a commercial said was supposed to happen to me if I ate at California Pizza Kitchen:

Here is what really happened to me when I ate at California Pizza Kitchen:

  • While it was pretty much as empty as the commercial made it seem (ample room to find a potential gentleman caller), almost everything else didn’t turn out the same.
  • For instance, I didn’t make sensual eye-contact with any strangers and then fall madly in love, grabbing my pizza to go and throwing caution to the wind (and train tracks) as that YouTube clip might mislead you to believe. Instead, I made eye-contact with some scaffolding outside the window, and also with my friends, who were hungover.
  • Next, no one grabbed any pizzas to go. We got a to-go bag for a friend of ours who was super late to arrive, but it wasn’t pizza, and they didn’t even give her a fork. (But it is a pizza restaurant, so maybe forks are illegal.)
  • Also, even if we had grabbed OUR pizzas to go, there is no way that the apparently crack-laced slices would have lasted us the entire day in various locations; we all finished (with the exception of like one person) the entire pizzas ourselves, and we definitely didn’t share amongst ourselves, let alone strangers / potential love interests.
  • Also, there was some kind of weird garnish on everyone’s pizzas that looked and tasted like grass. (Maybe it was imported from California.)
  • We also ordered some lettuce wraps as a starter, which was confusing, because 1. why are those at a pizza restaurant, and 2. these were not depicted in the commercial.
  • Also not depicted in the commercial is the kicked-in-the-stomach feeling that everyone had as we ambled to our next empty calorie destination, aka the bar. That commercial made it seem like the pizza would give you so much energy to run around abandoned areas and climb on trains and sit on beaches, but it was all a lie.

To make sure it wasn’t just me, I consulted my friend Caroline (who was there) to gauge her thoughts:

Q: What did you think of the ambiance?

A: I thought “Wow! this must be a classy place- so many people have weird chin beards! Also- did they steal these benches from the Max? These Zach Morris 90’s patterns are  amazing!!!”

Q: What did you think of the food?

A: Um…I liked it a little TOO much.

Q: Didn’t you think our server was weird?

A: Yes, she was way weird but it must be sad to come to New York full of dreams only to end up working at a chain restaurant in Murray Hill.

I’m really glad to be writing these notes down, because maybe then I will remember now that it is not a good idea to go to California Pizza Kitchen, even if it’s just once a year. But something tells me I will probably forget, and in just under three hundred and sixty-five days I will be cramming a Hawaiian pizza into my face once again. HOWEVER, my luck might change next time; I could lock eyes with a tall, dark pizza lover, and we COULD get our pizzas to go, and we COULD be filled with power and energy to go explore abandoned buildings or whatever! #ONLYTIMEWILLTELL

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