Chew on This: Chain Restaurants

After a recent letdown, our food editor asks: “Can you ever get a good meal at a chain place?”

I’m always happy to give a chain a chance. They can have some good attributes (consistency, quality), and in the last decade or so they’ve come a long way. But last weekend, I had a disappointing, what-you’d-expect experience at Blue2O, a new seafood spot (and the second in a fledgling chain concept) in Cherry Hill.

The ambiance was pretty generic, although tasteful, but overall it lacked charm or a cool factor. The fish-focused menu is printed daily, which would lead one to believe that fresh catches were the standout. Sadly, the grouper I ordered, hailing from Florida’s Gulf Coast, had the texture of a fish that was previously frozen and was overcooked. It’s a cardinal sin in a fish restaurant, and I couldn’t finish it. Seafood restaurants have to live by the same rule that steakhouses do: If you only do one thing right, cook your star protein well.

My dining mate faired slightly better with an order from the bartender-recommended Seafood Specialties. But once again his $25.50 oak-grilled scallops were overcooked, and the mushrooms in the mushroom and baby spinach accompaniment tasted thrown in at the last minute, instead of reaching the slow sauté that makes the veggie shine.

Despite this letdown, I know it is possible to have a good meal at a chain. Some of my faves? P.F. Chang’s, Redstone American Grill, and CPK all make the moving parts — food, service, vibe — work in harmony (although my all-time favorite is Houston’s, which shamefully doesn’t have a Philly-area location). What are your favorite chain spots? Let me know in the comment section below.

Blue2O, 1706 Route 70 West, Cherry Hill; 856-662-0297.