Hillstone/Houston's -- excellent service
Nor is it true of many other chains, mid or high range.
Just to name one...Hillstone/Houston's food and service is better than most privately run restaurants.
I completely agree about Houstons. I have nothing but praise about their location in Addison, TX, where I dined quite a few times and I recommend it.
I ate at Houston's many times for lunch when I lived in Chicago. It was across the street from my office. Lots of good choices. I know any decent place can do a good salad, but theirs were great. It took me a few years to replicate their spinach/artichoke dip but I got pretty close and make it a few times a year.
I think Houston's is expensive for what you get, but the food is always good and the service is always impeccable. Their veggie burger is delicious, and I prefer it to a lot of actual meat hamburgers at a lot of places. Their buttermilk garlic salad dressing is awesome too, but my favorite thing there is their braised red cabbage with goat cheese. I've tried replicating it at home several times, to no avail.
re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou
it's very true about the menu prices at Houston's. I can't speak for other locations, but here in NJ...
Thai Steak salad ....21
1/2 Rotisserie Chicken....24
Last night @ Houston's with my son and nephew....luckily we had a reservation @ 8PM, sat down at 8:15. There was a 2 hour and 15 minute wait.
2 Smoked Salmon
3 Traditional Salads
New York Strip Steak, Baked Potato and Cole Slaw
Black Eye Peas....
$275 all in
It is definitely expensive.
We live in southern CA and have 4 Hillstone restaurants within a 15 minute drive (Houston's, Bandera, Gulfstream, R + D Kitchen). We eat at one of them at least once a week, and don't think we've ever had a bad meal. The food is generally excellent, the service is impeccable, the drinks and wine pours are very good and the food is very consistent. It is expensive...and unfortunately because they allow their chef's very little flexibility, it can become very boring. I so wish that with all the wonderful ingredients they have in-house that they'd allow their chefs to create one special every night!
Actually, each Hillstone restaurant has a trained chef as their head guy in the kitchen. I've spoke to several of them, and many would love to have the freedom to create one special per night or even one per week. It would cost the company very little to do so (they have amazing ingredients in-house), and who knows, they might come up with some big hits that would make it onto their menu. Sure it's possible for a chain to do this, but I understand your point. Their formula is obviously working, they are packed every night, the demographic they serve can afford their rather high prices, and they don't want to mess with success. My point is that the chain can be boring for regulars, and many of their chefs would enjoy having the opportunity to be a bit more creative. (Actually we've noticed that they have gradually pared down their menu choices. The Gulfstream restaurants used to have at least 3-4 different fresh fish on the menu every night, and now is generally 2. And other choices have become more limited)…but obviously you can't argue with success, and there's a wait at all of their restaurants pretty much every night.
We went to the Houston's in Century City (before they left in a dispute over the cost of the new lease that the mall owner was asking for) at least 175 to 200 times over the years they were there. We also go to the Bandera up at Barrington and Wilshire and the R+D Kitchen on Montana. One of the nice things about the little mini 2 person "booths" at R+D is how private they are by comparison to the typical banquet style 2 tops you find at most places these days. I love the prime rib dip and their service, as others have noted here, is always top notch.
I have always enjoyed my meals at Hillstone in San Francisco. Sometimes waitstaff will make a mistake but they've ALWAYS had a good attitude so I can easily overlook it.
Food is pricey but at least the portion is generous. Whenever they have the key lime pie, I order it. I was very surprised to learn they make the desserts at each location! And, they said they use real key limes, not the bottled juice.