The Mrs. received a Christmas gift card for Romano's Macaroni Grill, so we decided to try them for lunch on Sunday. You've all seen these corporate places before- Olive Garden, TGIF, Chili's, etc etc. The refreshing difference about Macaroni Grill's interior was the lack of doo-dads on the wall.
Although the place looked full, we were seated after only a few minutes. The server attempted to seat us at a table, but the Mrs. headed for an open booth while chatting up the server. Worked like charm! Then we were given a show by the server when she introduced herself and wrote her name upside down on the paper covering the table. (This is a Macaroni Grill trademark, you're thinking to yourself. But give me a break! This was my first time!).
The server then made a production out of explaining the use of olive oil with bread. Pouring the olive oil onto the plate, she explained it's "Italian butter". This was news to me and my Italian bride. Gosh! You really dip the bread into the olive oil? Wow! Now I really feel like I'm in Italy!
Just kidding. We were actually amused by the server's demonstration. This German/English blogger boy married into an Italian family. From Calabria. At our house, we go through a lot of olive oil. For more than cooking. For example, when the kids were young and they had hamsters, a drop of olive oil kept those hamster wheels silent for weeks.
Back to the restaurant: The menu was varied, and I had a hard time deciding what to choose. I eventually picked some sort of shrimp pasta dish, and the Mrs. ordered Eggplant Parmesan. So far, so good. Quick and friendly service. I got the Mrs. to laugh when I asked her when the male servers would be coming over to lick her face (We watched SNL's best of Dana Carvey last night- bellissima!). Drinks and water promptly delivered. Good, good.
Our meals were served fairly quickly. Hmm. It actually looked good. Taste? Ok. Pretty good. For chain restaurant food. We both enjoyed our meals. But the server disappeared for a while. No water refill. No asking if we wanted more beer/wine. No "How's your food?". Fascinating. But we enjoyed the food and each other's company.
When we were finished with our meal, the server magically returned and asked if we'd like dessert. Fortunately, I noticed the dessert tray on the way to our table, and I wasn't impressed with what I saw. No thanks, ma'am!
We paid for our meal, which was basically only a $5 tip (that's right, servers! We're good tippers!) after deducting the gift card.
I made a visit to the men's room before we left. Oh yes, the Italian lessons in the restroom were a nice touch. So THIS is where the folks on Saturday Night Live learned to speak Italian! Bellissima!
While still in the restroom washing my hands, a male server came in with a stack full of what appeared to be guest checks. Instead of using the facilities, he appeared to be looking for something on the checks. Did I detect a shallow but quick breathing pattern (dare I say panic-stricken) as I observed him, via the the mirror, pawing through his fistful of guest checks? I believe I did! He left the restroom before me, and I didn't see him again. I wonder what his story was!
Final thoughts? Although the "ambiance", the food, and the service were better than average, the Mrs. and I both agreed we probably wouldn't spend our own money to come back to Macaroni Grill. The food wasn't terrible -it was better than average for a corporate place. The prices were reasonable. But the Portland area is blessed with so many excellent LOCAL Italian restaurants, each of them unique in interior design, service, menu, and "ambiance".
We prefer to patronize local restaurants. Some our local favorites include Amalfi's, Caro Amico, and Giuseppe's.
Of course, The Mrs. makes the best Italian food on the planet. Especially her lasagna, her meatballs, and her sauces! Delizioso!