I've long since been a fan of Romano's Macaroni Grill. It was always a highlight when I was afforded the opportunity to indulge. Hell, I even wanted to work there under the delusion that it would be a fantastic job whilst I worked my way through school.
Oh, the folly of youth!
I did wind up and work there–for about three months. Any illusions I had about the joys of working there were shattered into a million pieces.
But I've always thought that the product they offered was a good product, even if it was over-priced. And hell, let's face it, you go to fancy restaurants not because you're hungry, but for the atmosphere. And if you can write it off as a business expense? BONUS!
One day, a long time ago, I blogged about Macaroni Grill. ehowton
made the comment that he would never eat there again because he thought that the food was all frozen and simply brought up to temp at the restaurant. Having worked for Macaroni Grill, I knew that wasn't the case, but he assured me that it was and the times had changed since my employment.
One day, a Carrabba's moved into town. I continued going exclusively to Macaroni Grill. My visits became less frequent as I was navigating my own credit crunch, but I was loyal. For over five years, I never went to Carrabbas.
See, over the years, I've watched Macaroni Grill go downhill. It used to be the case that when one ordered a Create Your Own Pasta, you could get arrabbiata sauce as a base for your pasta bowl. This is a spicy sauce that was made in-house. I know, because I got to be chummy with one of the cooks and she continued to make it for me even after it was officially dropped from the menu. But she left for greener pastures and my beloved arrabbiata sauce went with her.
You also used to be able to get black olives in your pasta, but alas, these too have disappeared from the menu. And whereas in the past I would have killed for their tiramisu, the last few times I've ordered it, I've gotten a much smaller piece than I remember them giving and it tasted like the recipe had changed. Again, I know that desert used to be made in-house because I've watched it be made with my own eyes and can confirm that the same coffee served to patrons after it brewed through the coffee maker was the same coffee used in the dish.
I've since switched to the Mamma's Trio, but the last time I was there, they took the lasagna off the fire way too soon. Whether this was delivered to the store frozen or was simply re-warmed from a previous day, I don't know. But what I do know is that over time, the quality of the product and service has went down at my local installation.
So today, being in need of nourishment that leveraged my money against someone else's time, I decided I would finally try Carrabba's.
There were two things that immediately stood out to me. The first was that while the prices were in range of Macaroni Grill, they were definitely on the upper end of that price scale. Additionally, their lunch menu did not seem to me to have the same range of choice as did Macaroni Grill's.
I wound up just getting a salad and spaghetti with meatballs and Italian sausage, with the house's White Ziff do dring. (I recently tried a White Ziff and I'm on a White Ziff kick now.) The Tiramisu to compare is much like Macaroni Grill's with the exception of a more-than-generous helping of chocolate shavings on top. At $7/a slice, it's not something that I would indulge in regularly, but at least the portion is the "correct" size, which is to say that it's larger than the last several pieces I've gotten from Macaroni Grill.
I doubt that I'll be back. I wasn't wowed. There is no wifi. Macaroni Grill is also absent this amenity, so no point either way. The lighting was dark to create mood, but fortunately my booth was under a light so I didn't have to strain to see anything. Honestly, Carraba's feels like a place that belongs in an airport: a "convenience" that has what they pass off as edible food at an outrageous price, attempting to make you feel good about parting with your coin by creating atmosphere through lighting, or the lack thereof.
This means I'll retain my loyalty to Macaroni Grill, but it also means that I'll be consuming Italian food a lot less, which is quite a statement considering that I haven't been to Macaroni Grill in months. (I think I've been twice this year. I think.) Stated another way, I need to find the dishes I like elsewhere, preferably at half the price.