The first time I went to Macaroni Grill I was in Las Vegas having dinner with my parents. It had just opened up and I was hoping it would be better than Olive Garden (which has improved slightly). All my mom remembers is that our server wrote his name on the paper tablecloth and they had an okay house wine. I’m not sure I was old enough to drink at the time. If you asked me what we ate that night, I honestly couldn’t tell you I remember anything except the tiramisu (good, but mine’s better).
When they started building the one by North County Fair, I got excited for reasons I don’t even know. Maybe because I’d never seen one outside of Vegas? When they opened, I went in for lunch by myself after shopping and told them how happy I was that they had finally opened. I was told that a lot of people felt the same way. That time, I remember I sat at the bar and ate spaghetti with meat sauce and half the loaf of rosemary bread dipped in olive oil. It was so good. After that, I had trouble ordering anything but the spaghetti with meat sauce.
T and I had a mostly-first date at Macaroni Grill. Shrimp portofino and some pan-fried fish over orzo that isn’t on the menu anymore. We took home most of the food. And then, because he had to go out of town for work the next morning, I also got to finish the leftovers. I don’t think we’ve ever turned down a visit to Macaroni Grill if it comes up. We find it hard to branch out from our regular dishes, sometimes the specials aren’t that great, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad meal. Not like the one time I got undercooked pasta at Olive Garden.
So, after a monstrous shopping excursion through the mall (okay, I went through the mall, but in the same amount of time T spent in Macy’s), I was exhausted and hungry. Given the choice between food court or Macaroni Grill, well, it wasn’t much of a choice. We reduced our carbon footprint by walking from Macy’s to Macaroni Grill instead of driving (aren’t you proud?), were seated, and wolfed down some rosemary bread and blackberry iced tea (and a raspberry lemonade). The tough part about being starving is that you order more food than you need. This is how we started out with the crab stuffed mushrooms smothered in garlic butter. It wasn’t pretty, how we attacked the garlic butter with bread, so I just tried to take a picture of a mushroom arranged on grilled bread:
It was much much tastier than it looks, I promise. I think pouring on garlic butter made it look funny in the picture. It sure was good, though. How can garlic butter do anything but enhance a crab stuffed mushroom?
I ordered the Marsala Chicken ravioli. Can you see the ravioli here? No! Because it’s covered in mounds of mushrooms, asparagus, and prosciutto! The ravioli was filled with pieces of chicken and cheese… it was okay, but it could have been filled with anything and I would have loved it as long as the mushrooms and prosciutto came with it. And the marsala cream sauce – yum. Oddly, it wasn’t too heavy or greasy when I ate it there, but when I reheated the leftovers the next day, the oil just pooled out and made a puddle on the plate. I mean, it just gave me something to dip the bread into, but it was still a little disconcerting.
T ordered the Shrimp Scampi, which comes sizzling right to your table and is then poured over the pasta with some sliced green and red peppers. Boy, that dish is very non-photogenic! I think the peppers were only there for color, too. The sauce was kind of lemony, kind of garlicky, but maybe not as garlic buttery as a scampi sauce should be (to me). The shrimp were apparently very good and we just took home the pasta for later. Which turned out to be later that night for dinner, at which point I think the flavor got better. Maybe that was the fresh garlic T threw into the pan.
I don’t claim that Macaroni Grill is “authentic” Italian, but they have consistently good food for good prices. They don’t change my favorites, and they rotate in some new dishes occasionally to give you new options. The bread is always warm and soft and I like that the house wine is per glass, on your honor (as to how many glasses you pour).
While we’re admitting our love for non-authentic food, I also like PF Chang’s, although I don’t enjoy the long wait, even with a reservations. Do get the sweet and sour soup, do give in and admit that you like the lettuce wraps, don’t get the mango chicken (if it’s even still on the menu), and absolutely ask for the flourless chocolate cake that isn’t on the menu but is served warm and smooth and chocolatey.