It’s not what you or I like,” said my friend Andrew Cherng, shortly after he opened his 1,000th Panda Express. “It’s what the customers like.” If that isn’t a corollary for the restaurant business, it should be.
And so with that in mind, I visited the Grand Guignol of sucrose, the Sugar Factory, the Strip’s newest and gaudiest palace of sweets. I’m not a fan of the Cheesecake Factory, for the record, or any place else that serves desserts big enough to choke a thoroughbred. Everyone I spoke to was having a good time, though, so I calmed my inner curmudgeon and joined the fray.
The essential questions of life swirled in my head like the colors in the ribbon candy crowning my $36 goblet aptly called the Lollipop Passion. Laden with dry ice to make it smoke like a Hawaiian volcano, the drink had the greenish-yellow tinge of an overly chlorinated pool, and flavors of melon, coconut and pineapple to mask a distinct lack of alcohol.
The patio is, of course, the best place to sit. It hangs over the Strip like its sister Paris Las Vegas tenant, Mon Ami Gabi, so close to the trottoir you can intrude on countless tourist conversations as they go by, their mouths agape at the sight of your Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Pizza.
But to get out there, you have to run a designer gauntlet of rooms: the Chocolate Lounge, where you can have a fondue at the bar after 5 p.m.; the main dining room, a Belle Époque cafeteria the size of an airplane hangar decorated with ornate crystal chandeliers and alabaster white marble tabletops; and the eponymous candy shop stocked with giant floor-to-ceiling cylinders filled with your favorite candy. How about those malted milk balls! Plentiful doesn’t quite capture it.
My first visit was on a quiet Sunday morning at breakfast, where I sat next to a lady wrestler gorging herself on a red velvet pancake and a s’mores muffin. I nibbled cursorily on an anemic steak, some desultory potato cubes the encyclopedic menu calls “home fries,” thick slices of tasty rye toast, and two eggs, cooked perfectly, sunny side up. My one mistake was asking for the sauce Béarnaise, which the waiter forgot to bring. The moment I tasted it, I knew it had had a long-term relationship with the walk-in freezer.
The Sugar Factory has its own bakeshop downstairs, but I’m informed by a server that the croissants, which are excellent, come from a Paris Las Vegas kitchen. Hey, if you can’t get a decent croissant in Paris, I’ll give it up right here.
Then, I returned for dinner, where I ate a serviceable ham and cheese crepe, a flavorless roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil linguine that the server insisted I try, a patty melt with Gruyère, sautéed onions and that same good house rye bread, and an OK seared tuna Niçoise salad. The fries that accompanied the patty melt were the highlight, I have to say.
I didn’t mind the chocolate lava cake at all for dessert, and since I’m not a cheesecake lover, I’ll have to take my wife’s word for it that they make a perfectly good New York-style cheesecake.
As regards that triple chocolate pizza, it had chunks of milk, white and dark chocolate on it, as well as chocolate custard, and maybe three different chocolate-based sauces. To call it sweet is like calling Warren Buffett rich. Does it make me a curmudgeon if I point out that for many of our illustrious visitors, this place is what Vegas is all about? Nothing exceeds, as they say, like excess. Of course, I live here, so I’m trying to think of an excuse to return.