Who Went: Chelsey & Owen
What We Ordered: Antipasti Plate (containing calamari, mozzarella sticks, and bruschetta), Chicken Marsala with Cavatappi Amatriciana and Lentil Sausage Soup, and Chicken & Spinach Cannelloni with Side Caesar Salad
What It Cost: $53.00 (including tip)
What We Thought:
It never ceases to blow my mind that whenever we drive by Olive Garden on University, there is always a huge line out the door! I understand how people could be sucked in once by the appeal of endless breadsticks and salad (I've been there), but Olive Garden is not a good deal people! And it is not good food! All of the food is overly-processed, straight from a package, and flavored with cheap and heavy ingredients. And yet people still flock there like it's the greatest thing on earth, despite the fact that you usually have to wait 45 minutes because they don't allow you to make reservations.
So my outrage with Olive Garden has encouraged me to find a suitable alternative Italian restaurant to recommend to others, and Carrabba's seemed like a good target. Cute trees on the roof, they let you make reservations, and the menu online seemed promising enough (though mysteriously with no prices).
When I first entered the restaurant, I was immediately turned off. The main dining area was just a big open room with all of the tables crammed in on the same level, so it appeared to be more like a giant mess hall rather than an intimate Italian dining experience. Though we were lucky enough to get a booth since we only had two people, there was absolutely no privacy and we could easily observe basically every other person in the restaurant. Which I guess might be a good thing if your date is really boring, but it was a little unsettling for me.
We started out with the antipasti plate, since I love both calamari and bruschetta, and it was cheaper just to get the fried cheesesticks as well, I mean...hand-breaded mozzarella marinara... The calamari definitely was the highlight of my meal - it was perfectly battered and fried, crispy but not too heavy, and wasn't too fishy. Usually calamari is so excessively breaded that you can't even taste the delicious squid inside, but that was not the case here. If I ever went back to Carrabba's, it would definitely be just for the calamari. The bruschetta was nothing memorable, and the mozzarella sticks were, well, fried cheese, which always tastes good no matter what. I didn't really enjoy the marinara sauce it was served with - it had this weird fishy taste and seemed almost more like a shrimp cocktail sauce than marinara.
The Caesar salad was what I expected - nothing too exciting, a good dressing, and two kalamata olives tossed on the side to make it seem more interesting. It was basically just a filler until the rest of my food came.
Owen thought that his lentil soup had pretty good flavor - it was a little greasy and very filling, so by the time our food arrived, he was already pretty stuffed. But the lentils were well-prepared, the consistency was nice, and the meat had a rich enough flavor to make the whole thing taste like sausage. And sausage is good. It's not really the prettiest thing, but in the dim lighting of the restaurant, who can tell anyway?
Then our entrées arrived. First up was Owen's Chicken Marsala with Cavatappi Amatriciana - those fancy words basically just meant curly pasta with red sauce (asking for the side of noodles would probably be easier than trying to pronounce those words...!) I had read lots of great things about the chicken marsala, which was why I was so surprised when I tasted it. Sure it is a huge portion and they give you lots of food, but the whole dish was WAY too salty! We could hardly take a couple bites without having to rinse with water. I'm sure the cream sauce and mushrooms were nice, but you couldn't really taste anything beyond the oversalted chicken. We ended up only eating half of it at the restaurant and cutting up the second chicken breast into small pieces for a salad the next day at home, which was the only way we could balance this super saline dish. And unfortunately, too much salt on a dish really sucks out moisture, so the chicken was pretty dry as well. This is partially masked by the sauce, but was really a disappointment for us.
As if the chicken marsala wasn't disconcerting enough, my stuffed pasta was also sadly too salty and just not that great. The menu described this dish as having fresh herbs, chicken, spinach, with fontina and romano cheese, but all I could taste was too much cream, salt, and butter which completely overpowered any subtle or fresh flavors. The pomodoro sauce tasted identical to that on Owen's side pasta, and I suppose those little green flecks on top of my pasta could potentially qualify as the "fresh herbs" they are talking about, but you couldn't taste them at all.
What You Should Do: Though Carrabba's IS significantly better than the glorified Olive Garden, I still felt like it was overpriced, too heavy, and not very authentic. The layout and seating of the restaurant reminded me of my high school cafeteria, but our server was very nice and helpful, which helped partially make up for the environment. I definitely did enjoy the calamari at the beginning of our meal, but if I'm spending upwards of $50 for two people, I really would expect more out of the main dishes as well. Ostentatious Italian names on the menu won't cut it for me, and my search for Italian food that I actually think is worth the bill shall continue.
Read other reviews here: