The Cincinnati Premium Outlets is sort of like an outdoor mall that wears its fanciness like a badge of honor. Only a few years old now I've always had a bit of a grudge with it personally. See, the owners original presence in this area was buying one of my all-time favorite places on Earth the Forest Fair Mall while it was on its deathbed and gave it life again in 2004 as Cincinnati Mills. After a couple years it deteriorated and lost most of its tenants and instead of trying to keep it afloat they sold it off (to a group that's now sold it yet again, but I digress) and started from scratch building this brand new shopping enterprise in Monroe, OH. I had only been here once before and it was cold and windy so not an ideal time to shop at an outdoor destination but I did recall seeing a quaint food court that caught my eye and knew one day I'd be back. That leads us to this review!
The food court is tiny, there's the eateries above and maybe 2-3 more tops. But given its newness it is very clean, bright, and as such accommodating. Now, before I get into my review proper I need to say I made a mistake. I should have ate at Steak It Out. Now, that's not a knock per se on where I did dine, by any means, but I'm a sucker for a Philly cheesesteak, as well as eating at spots that are new to me, so that would have been a win-win and a bit more off the beaten path which I welcome. But, I'd had a fairly heavy dinner late the night prior, with fries and all, and felt a change of style would be welcomed and opted for Chinese.
Now, "food court Chinese" is a term my wife and I coined and it's not a positive one. We go to a lot of malls and we dubbed this term as you often order the stuff then regret it. They yell at you to try a sample, you get pulled in, find it hard to escape, get the food, then many times feel remorseful. Not always the case but in the realm of Chinese dining (takeout, buffets, sit-down, etc.) food courts easily ranks last. China Max struck me similar to Max Orient which I reviewed back in 2005 (!) and not just in name. Max Orient at Kenwood Towne Center mall is probably the leader of the pack when it comes to "food court Chinese" so I adjusted my expectations accordingly.
This is my daughter Yukari and I right as I made my decision where to get my grub on.
Here's my spread! I did the pick three entrée plate with fried rice. I went with Orange Chicken, I believe they called the middle one BBQ Chicken, and then General Tso's to add a little spice to my life.
A meeting of the minds! My son Owen and I post-lunch.
The food was pretty good and I'd safely put it in the B range. It wasn't extraordinary or surprising enough to get up to an A but I wouldn't really expect "food court Chinese" to. Given my somewhat reserved expectations it was satisfying. The chicken entrees were all hot and fresh (we were there fairly early so I likely got this out of the first batch of the day -- eat there at say 7:45PM and it might be a different story). The rice was a bit deceptive as it looked better than the norm up at the counter almost as if it was cooked just a little long developing some crust and character but it actually was a bit dry and bland and given my son's love of noodles I definitely regretted not going with the lo mein to share. I had my customary water to drink and finished the whole plate happily.
A predictable but enjoyable lunch and now I have a reason to return so I can try out Steak It Out! I still have mixed feelings on the Outlets. Seems more like a place to be seen then to shop or hang. I like traditional malls because if you desire you can blend in finding nooks and crannies to just chill. Given the high-end retailers and outdoors element it seemed many here were just excited at the first warm Ohio day post-Winter and wanted to see or be seen. I did score a large fresh-made lemonade at a stand which is refillable for the season at $5 and $2 on return trips so I'll be sure to get some use out of that this Summer. They've also got a Disney Store and on this visit they had a lot of close-out specials and we got a few things including something I'll be writing about down the road.
Overall Grade: B