Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dining With The AARPers

I was hesitant to write a review of a Carrabba's Italian Grill since this restaurant chain can be found nearly everywhere. I mean, if you've been to one Carrabba's, you've been to them all. Right? Not necessarily. While they all may share the same corporate philosophy and menus, the diner is still at the mercy of local managers, cooks, and wait staff.

Since I now, as my lovely bride points out frequently, am older than dirt and the possessor of an AARP card I decided to explore the possibilities available to members of the vintage people club. I discovered that many Carrabba's offer AARP card carriers a 20% discount on Wednesdays. Well, yesterday was Wednesday, so off we went to the Carrabba's at 700 N. Dale Mabry. After all, a 20% discount is a 20% discount.

We arrived around 5:30, so we beat the crowds that soon after began pouring in. Our server, Ernesto, presented us with menus and water and inquired about our desires for adult beverages. He also pointed out that we had arrived during happy hour, so we chose two glasses of a house Chardonnay.

I wanted to try an appetizer, but the choices were rather uninspiring. After mulling it over a bit, I decided on the ubiquitous steamed mussels. I will have to say that the Cozze In Bianco, Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in white wine, basil and house made lemon butter sauce, was very good. The mussels weren't raw or over cooked and the sauce made a savory broth that was perfect for sopping.

Both my bride and I had the house salad. The lettuce was cold and crisp, but beyond that it was...well, a house salad.

For her main course, my Belle of Ballast Point requested the delightful Conchiglie al Formaggi. This dish consisted of shell pasta tossed in house made Alfredo sauce with mozzarella, fontina, romano, parmesan and goat cheese. With a modest up charge, juicy and flavorful chicken was added. That chicken, pasta, cheeses, and sauce was deemed heaven on the buds of taste.

I decided on the Sirloin Masala with a side of Cavatappi Amatriciana, a dish made famous by Carrabba's Restaurant. It consists of cavatappi, chopped onions, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil, dry white wine, diced tomatoes in juice, freshly grated Romano cheese, pancetta and salt and pepper.

The steak came to the table cooked to a perfect medium rare over a wood grill and topped with mushrooms, prosciutto and house made Lombardo Marsala wine sauce. The steak was excellent, the pasta a little bit less so. There was no real depth of flavor. It tasted as though there was something missing.

Our server, Ernesto, was personable, professional, and provided us with great service. I thought he was a little out of place at Carrabba's. His knowledge and talents would fit in quite well at a more upscale restaurant...maybe Bern's or Donatello. That should be taken as a compliment to him.

The kitchen and bussers need to work on their timing. Salads were served before the appetizer bowl was cleared, and entrees were served before salads were consumed. Other than those two issues, we were pleased with our experience at Carrabba's and our comestibles. We would possibly go back if the menu were more expansive. There just wasn't that much that titillated the taste buds on this visit.

Before our check was presented, I produced my AARP card for the 20% discount. Our bill with the discount was $72.25. Alcohol and taxes are not included in the discount. Our gross total was $81.43 and that is what we based Ernesto's 20% gratuity upon. Discount or no discount, it is always a pleasure to waddle out of a restaurant with bellies full of food and wine, and not drop a hundred or more dollars.

Carrabba's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Carrabba's Italian Grill - South Tampa on Foodio54

The Oracle has not and will not trade reviews of any kind for free food or money. Our discount last night is available to anyone who presents an AARP card.

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