I don't normally blog about chain restaurants because the food usually isn't that good, and the base ingredients are usually bland industrial food service products. But, today I am blogging about Carrabba's for 2 reasons: 1. it is one of the only large chain restaurant I like eating at, and 2. Carrabba's offered me a complimentary dinner for two for this spring. Since I actually like this chain, and my household always says that this chain's food is just better than it needs to be, I took the offer and off we went to Carrabba's in Green Hills. We got there on a Friday at 8 pm, and it happened to coincide with the Friday before the Marathon on Saturday. The place was hopping with marathon runners looking for a decent carbo-loading meal. I am assuming the runners eating here probably thought similarly to me. That is to say that pasta at other chain restaurant aren't that good, but Carrabba's is, so Carrabba's for carbo-loading it is. It was really crowded, more crowded than normal (20,000 runners + families looking for food), over an hour wait, so we decided to sit at open seating at the chef's bar.
Knowing that there was a huge pre-marathon crowd, we seemed to be served well despite how hectic it was. We ordered our favorite starters, the sausage lentil soup and the calamari Ricardo. The sausage lentil soup is really good, and it is a soup of the day, so they don't serve it all the time. I wish they would because it is really good. We were lucky to be there on the day that the lentil soup was being served. The squid doesn't look like much, but really it is tasty and good. The spicy and lemony dipping sauce is always good, and the batter on the squid is seasoned very well. I gotta say this, for fried calamari, I prefer Carrabba's calamari over most other restaurants. For example in contrast, I recently was a Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger and ordered his famed Cooking Under Fire fried calamari with Thai dipping sauce which costs 50% more than Carrabba's. Tsai was actually there overseeing his kitchen, so I am not sure why this dish was so bad. Tsai's batter was not seasoned and tasted like raw flour, it was under cooked, and the Thai sauce was like a liquid salt-lick without any of the subtle notes of a good fish sauce, without citrus for brightness, and without any pepper for a little heat that Thai food is known for. I am still miffed that I paid to eat 3 bites of that dish, but I digress. Carrabba's calamari Ricardo wins, and for years now, I actually like the calamari Ricardo better than others.
For entrees, Matt got a "Carrabba's Classic" of chicken parmesan and lasagna, and I got the lobster ravioli. Luckily this lobster ravioli happened before my food tour of Boston because they were only ok, and I had fabulous lobster and seafood meals in Boston, and I would have been let down if I had these on the backside of the Boston trip. I was hoping that the daily menu would have the mushroom ravioli that I really like, but I was out of luck. I did not want pasta with red sauce, or a ton of meat, I wanted Carrabba's mushroom ravioli. I think the mushroom ravioli should be a standard item on the menu, not just a special. Anyway, the lobster ravioli were over salty, and did not seem to have a real lobster flavor to them. Next time, I am calling ahead to see of the mushroom ravioli is on board. Matt's dish is the one that is currently being showcased on the Carrabba's website as the "Carrabba's Classic". I just wanted to contrast the photos from the website and the same plate that was served in real life. I think that plating and presentation falls short at most chain restaurants, and most plating looks like someone just plopped food on the plate. Presentation is one factor that sets apart careful chef owned plates , and plates piled by a wage-grade hired hand. Despite how the lasagna was plated with only the top half of the square, and then plopped on the plate flat making for a questionable presentation, it tasted good. In general, everything at Carrabba's tastes better than you would expect. I also gave this evening's staff a little slack too for being slammed with marathon runners.
When were getting ready to leave, Eric Martino, location owner, came by to see how our dinner was, and we let him know. The reality is that the staff did quite well for being slammed with so many patrons. They seems to time our apps, salad and soup and entrees well. They got every part of our order correct. The staff was friendly even in the food frenzy of feeding hungry runners. Actually, I think the service was nearly just as good as if they weren't slammed by carbo-loading marathoners. I was going to say that next year I am going to stay home the night before the marathon, but I don't have to worry about such a thing at Carrabba's because the staff did such a great job and they were hitting on all cylinders.