Dateline: Monday Night.
It's The Rod's birthday and we're at the local Macaroni Grill and I don't understand why.
Baltimore's a town that can be hard to find some good ethnic foods, but good Italian food is not one of them. Just a quick shot down I-83 to Little Italy and some of the city's best Italian can be had at places like Boccacio's or La Scala. Even in the hellish suburban enclave of Timonium, in the shopping center behind Jay's Shave Ice, one can find a group of Neopolitans working behind the counter and producing some tasty and authentic Italian cuisine at the oddly-named Pasta Blitz
With such a plethora of great Italian going on I'm continually perplexed as to why suburbia refuses to take a short drive for some excellent food instead of an hour's wait outside a national corporate chain restaurant with a penchant for bland dishes and vacuum bagged sauces and pre-portioned foods. Even more perlexing is why this group of friends are choosing that same national chain over the good stuff when they too know where to find the good stuff.
But I try to be an affable chap and since Macaroni Grill is pretty close to my house, I didn't raise a concern. Perhaps I'll be surprised and head off to meet everyone for our 8pm seating.
It's a Monday night so the dining room is slow. For me, there's no better time to head out into the restaurant scene than during the week. The dining rooms are slow which means that a good kitchen can take more time preparing their dishes properly and you generally receive better service and food. Otherwise, you're going out to eat during the weekend with everyone and their mother, smushed into position on a two-top, surrounded by a gaggle of amateurs who don't know what to order off the menu but want everything NOW. Not the ideal way to enjoy an outing, if you ask me.
Our waitress was nice enough, she took care of things and was generally friendly. Started out with some appetizers that everyone shared. There was the ubiquitous Fried Calamari with a light batter and generally uninspired red dipping sauce. Our uncle had some mussels, which he didn't share but they looked kinda interesting. And I had an order of the minestrone soup. I ordered the "cup" size which came out in a frickin' huge bowl. I was shocked, but grateful that I didn't order the "bowl." The soup could have been quite enjoyable. If it was served hot. Instead it was limp, lifeless and tepid.
For the main course, I ordered the Penne Rustica. Penne pasta with shrimp, sliced chicken and a cream sauce, covered in cheese and crusted under a salamander. Mine came out hot and actually pretty darn tasty. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Finally, something worth eating at Macaroni Grill.
Everyone else ordered some sort of pasta dish and the serving sizes are just ridiculous. Who can eat all that food? It's just dumb. I chowed the shrimp and chicken and left a small pile of penne.
All in all, it wasn't the worst dining experience. The penne made it decent and the company made it a fun outing, which is what really matters because it's lonely to eat fantastic food all by yourself.
Still, I'm harboring desires of dinner at La Scala sometime in the near future.