Stacked + Courtney B. = Personalized Preparation

When I first read about Stacked in the Union Tribune, I questioned it.  I don’t like buffets for many reasons, but one of the most significant is that I don’t want to do any work when I go out to eat.  I don’t want to get up and down or fill my own drink at a “sit down” restaurant, but others like that they can choose what

Meet Courtney. We've been great friends for some time, and she is an incredibly accomplished, smart, and sophisticated woman. Taller than half the men I've dated, but never afraid to rock super sexy stilettos, Court likes traveling, sparkles, purple, magenta, and blue, and she will destroy you at Trivial Pursuit.

they want, how much, and eat until that stage of near-explosion.  Stacked also gives options to the customer, but unlike buffets, you don’t have to get up.  I think this might work…

Located in Fashion Valley, where the old Uno’s was, Stacked offers completely customizable meals with a wide variety of options at fairly reasonable prices.  It is open from 11 am to 10 pm everyday.  Any San Diegan knows that Fashion Valley is a little pretentious.  I mean, the food court is called the Café Terrace, and there are far too many princess pups roaming about with Swarovski crystal studded collars, but we all still go there because it’s right in the middle of the county, and when Bloomingdale’s has a shoe sale, they have a shoe sale, and sometimes we just want to be able to park our cars without any hassle, so the “where should we eat” discussion ends with a trip to the Cheesecake Factory, with inevitable shopping missions to follow to “work of the calories.”  Decorated with slick and deep-toned wood, modern elements, and with an iPad at each table, Stacked fits right in…and I love it!

I’ve been here a few times now, and it’s picked up in popularity pretty quickly.  One Friday night my girlfriend, Courtney, and I were going to have to wait a bit, so we selected to sit at the bar, wait-free.  Other than that, we have always been able to walk right in, but we’ve seen some larger parties have to wait.  A hostess greats and seats you, giving you a paper menu, which may seem pointless since all the options are also on the iPad, but I appreciate being able to see everything at once before I put my meal together.  Once you’ve been seated, you don’t need much from your waiter.  If you know how to touch a screen, you can do this.

Step 1.  Swipe a credit card to get things going.  You will not necessarily be charged on this card.  It just opens the iPad to the main menu.

Step 2. Order drinks.  You can choose from water, soda, tea, juice, milk, coffee, beer, and wine.  I tend toward water to keep my costs down.  Once you have selected what you want, send it to the kitchen.  This way, someone can bring you your drinks while you   process the rest of your order.

Step 3. If you want an appetizer, order that.  Courtney is a french fry fanatic, so we went the fry route.  The fries are fries. They were fine.  Nothing spectacular; although, they were hot (but they have not been every time).  The joy of ordering fries here really comes in the variety of sauces.  The ketchup lover (here) ordered ketchup, and we also tried the chipotle mayo and creamy BBQ sauce.  The ketchup was from the bottle.  The chipotle mayo was tasty, and we finished it off.  The BBQ sauce was neither great nor terrible.  Since then, I have also tried the garlic aioli, which I typically love, but it did nothing for me here, the Sriracha mayo, which definitely had a strong Sriracha flavor, which is good, and the butternut squash aioli, which was mediocre.  Aiolis here: eh.  Just order a couple extra chipotle mayos.  Incidentally, ketchup is free (as it should be).  Everything else is $.50.  I have also had the homemade potato chips since, and they were not crispy – major flaw.  The onion strings are, though, and have that beautiful meld of sweet and savory.

Step 4. Time for your main course.  Being a vegetarian here is no problem at all.  You want pizza?  You can make it without meat and still have a very complete and perfectly suited pizza, even if your preferences are bizarre.  No one will judge you here for mixing Kalamata olives and Fresno chilies, except your friends, but we all know at least 25% of a friendship lies in the teasing privileges, so that is expected.  I cannot speak for the pizzas, as I have not tried them.  The veggie burger, however, is pretty good.  The second time I had it, it was better than the first.  It reminds me of a weaker version of the Burger Lounge’s delicious quinoa-based burger.

Tonight, I had my version of a close-to-killer salad: spring lettuce mix, avocado, cucumber, grape tomatoes, pepperoncinis, jicama, sweet dried corn (I would prefer fresh, but that’s not an option, and these do add a nice crunch), cilantro, black olives, toasted almonds, black beans, and Point Reyes bleu cheese.  I topped it with honey mustard dressing.  The balsamic vinaigrette also punches some good flavor.  Dressing can be ordered on the side.  This came in just under over $10 (the cheese and avocado threw me over the top).  Stacked did meet my expectation for fresh ingredients, and the portion sizes are substantial.  You will not be hungry, but you will also not feel like you are going to pass out into a food coma.  This time, you shop to reward yourself for eating a salad.  There’s always a valid reason.

Step 5. Dessert!  Okay, hold off on shopping to reward yourself just yet.  Desserts include ice cream, milk shakes, and ice cream cookie sandwiches.  Of course, I make most of my food decisions based on how I can get the most for the least in some kind of socially acceptable manner.  Two cookies and ice cream?  Yep, that’s for me.  I went for a chocolate chocolate chip cookie, mint and chip ice cream, and topped it with a chocolate chip cookie.  Heaven.  Court went for two chocolate chip cookies and fudge swirl ice cream.  When I was in New York a couple years ago, Nicole took me to Jacques Torres for the most scrumptious cookie ice cream sandwich of all time.  Did this rival that?  Umm, no, not even close, but it was really good (it’s difficult to mess up), and reminded me of that awesomely food-filled trip to NY.  Stacked…getting me all memory-laneish.  Who knew?  Back to shopping to work off calories.

Step 6. Pay.  You let the iPad know you want to checkout, and then you can split the bill according to item or amount.  The ease of the shared payment process may be my favorite Stacked feature.  Such a beautiful thing.

Overall assessment: the food at Stacked is good, and it is exactly what you want.  The experience is fun and kind of exciting.  Are we not all six-year-old picky eaters who just want things our own way?  Stacked realized this, and gave us a toy to be able to do it.  Brilliant.

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