Middling Fare at Romano's Macaroni Grill
Dinner at Romano’s Macaroni Grill may be the end all of my fascination with chain dining. There’s certainly no farm-to-table Italian mantra in evidence. And staying local means in this case buying off the supply truck that’s pulled up to the restaurant’s loading dock. But that’s what chain restaurants are all about: they plot a standardized taste and look that plays with cuisine and décor like a child might with his pacifier. At Macaroni it’s a blend of Rococo schlock meets the Sopranos sitting at a table crushing garlic.
As for the dining experience, it wasn’t a disaster but rather a very dull ride through a prairie of flavors and textures that had little to do with more exalted culinary experiences elsewhere. That and the overwhelming use of garlic tainted everything we ate. It might be days before my palate regains its equanimity.
I chose this place over so many others of the genre because I was intrigued by the TV commercials that I’d seen recently showing a stellar looking dining room commandeered by a maitre d’ conjured up from central casting’s idea of the suave swain swathed in Armani tailored duds looking like he was doing his rounds at a private dining club.
The commercial is hardly a credible mise en scene depicting Maine restaurants in general or this one in particular. Located in one of the Maine Mall strips this is shopping center dining to the hilt. The dining room, by chain restaurant standards, is inviting enough if you don’t lean too hard against solid surfaces, which could crumble at a glance. There’s an open kitchen lauding over the room and well mannered, decently dressed diners at tables and booths. Perhaps Macaroni is a step above the rest of its mall neighbors.
The menu covers the gamut. There are lots of pasta dishes, grilled meats and fish, plenty of nibbles from antipasti and other appetizers. And it’s all moderately priced.
The list starts off with Italian Tapas—little bites like artichoke potato cakes, meatballs, mac and cheese bites, crostini, goat cheese “peppedew” peppers and baked prosciutto and mozzarella. We chose the peppers and prosciutto.
The peppers, which are pickled and stuffed, were delicious and the likely culprit that started my odyssey into the world of garlic infusion.
The baked prosciutto, however, was a huge portion that could have easily been a meal itself. The mozzarella, however, was like eating string cheese--only a machete could cut it loose from the plate.
For a main course I urged my dinner mate to order the meatballs and spaghetti because it’s a good indicator of an Italian kitchen’s capabilities. It’s listed on the menu as Mom’s Ricotta Meatballs. When la mama actually devised this culinary number is anyone’s guess. I was surprised by how few meatballs were in the dish and the lack of red sauce. My friend enjoyed the dish well enough. My sampling led me to chewing on a hard, staunch meatball that would fling Italian motherhood into oblivion.
I chose Chicken Under a Brick as my main course. I half expected the dish to come with the brick still on the chicken.
This method flattens the chicken nicely as it’s grilled over a robust fire. The dish was served with grilled asparagus , roasted potato quarters and diavolo sauce, which our waitress pronounced dio-vo-lo when I inquired what the little cup of sauce contained.
Something didn’t look right with the presentation, though. There were indeed two pieces of chicken, which I assumed were a thigh and a breast. It wasn’t until I cut into one or the other that I could discern which was breast or dark meat. It wasn’t a bad rendition and the roasted potatoes were wonderful.
We ordered a dessert to share, a very nice square wedge of lemon cream cake.
I’m told by those in the know that Olive Garden is a better choice of the genre. Maybe one of these days I’ll find out. Otherwise, ciao Macaroni Grill.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org