In an overt attempt to share in the midpriced, Americanized Italian dining bounty created by the neighboring Olive Gardens, Romano's Macaroni Grill recently opened two local additions to its nationwide organization.
The Salt Lake spot borders Fashion Place Mall and finds the location extremely convenient to borrow patrons from its crowded competitor. And the location tucked on the edge of the new, upscale Riverwoods shopping complex in Provo at least allows breathing space from the University Parkway Garden site.If you consider imitation as the purest form of flattery, Macaroni Grill wins the prize.
Though the decor, a wide open, almost barnlike room stuffed with linen, then paper-wrapped tables, stone facade and beamed ceilings, differs from the Olive Garden, there are similar freshly scrubbed, smiling young folks offering attentive service.
According to the servers, lunch and dinner lines accumulate at both sites and often become a 30-minute wait, a delay that doesn't seem to discourage many folks.
At least the wait may allow time to peruse the exhaustive menu, a lengthy list of selections that make it difficult to select representative items on an initial visit. We ordered six items from various parts of the menu and found about a 50/50 success rate.
Consider, for example, the Portobelo mushrooms ($7.29), a rich and earthy fungi grilled with red onions and garlic. The mushroom combo boasts a light garlic dusting, but the unannounced charbroiled polenta underpinning brings an unpleasant grilled flavor.
A crispy, thin crust pizza margherita ($7.29) baked in a wood-burning oven, comes up slightly short on cheese but claims an inviting tomato and basil flavor. A crisp and crunchy compliment to the pizza, insalata mista ($3.29), consists of a generous blend of mixed greens and vegetables with roasted garlic, lemon vinaigrette and garlic-flavored croutons.
Entrees include a broad selection of chicken, beef, fish and pasta combinations. The ravioli pomodoro ($9.99) left us wondering how such a list of inviting ingredients -- ricotta, spinach, zucchini, parmesan, mushrooms, garlic and capers -- miss the mark with pasty raviolis and a virtually bland sauce.
Not to worry, I say again. Newcomers take a bit of time to adjust to the neighborhood and patrons, too, require several visits before they explore the menu efficiently and land on favored items.
With so many entree choices available, as well as live, in-house opera presentaions and a tantalizing dessert list, the Macaroni Grill should continue to borrow from the success of its neighbors and establish its own territory locally.
Macaroni Grill, 102 E. Winchester St. (6200 South), 293-9003; 4801 N. University Ave, Provo, 801-765-1688. Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays & Saturdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; open Sundays in Provo. Payment: All major credit cards and checks ***