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Aug 19, 2002 08:25 PM

Foraging In The Wilderness - Johnny Carino's

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The Mrs. was burned out from a rough day at the office the other day and I had received a cancellation for a business dinner I was going to host, so I called the Mrs. at her office in lovely downtown Glendale and told her to hot tail it back to Chino, I was taking her to the new Italian restaurant in town. An hour and a half later the Mrs. arrived at the old homestead, greeted her Binky-poo (the cat who owns our house) with some endearing baby talk, fixed her make-up and we (the Mrs. and I, without The Binkster) headed down the road in Herman.

As we approached the pseudo-rustico-Italiano-farmhouse-looking establishment, named “Johnny Carino’s Country Italian”, which was apparently designed by a moonlighting “Industry” art director, and then plopped down on Grand Avenue at the Chino Spectrum South shopping center, my ever hopeful heart, squelched the “Chain alert!, Chain alert!, Chain alert!” message that was accompanied by the sound of a submarine “ahooga” claxon that my brain was broadcasting. After all this is The Dining Wilderness That Is The Inland Empire, and those of us who are denizens of the Empire and consequently very repressed ‘hounds, are always and ever hopeful of finding dining salvation. –Yeah, right, dream on sucker.

We arrived at the podium of this establishment at 8:45 (on a weeknight), the house was packed, we gave our name and were given an estimate of a 20-30 minute wait for our table. We also noted “Chain Gang” hint #1, absolutely none of the staff spoke with an Italian accent, as a matter of fact, the entire staff had the appearance of being recent veterans of the Chino High School Future Farmers of America program.

“Chain Gang” hint #2 (as so eloquently elucidated in recent postings on these boards courtesy of Mr. Grub), we were handed a pager.

So while we waited the approximately 20 minutes in the dimly lighted vestibule, I removed my “distance” glasses from my face and squinted with my aging Boomer eyes at a condensed (in size) version (for taking home to use when you want to call in a take out order) of “Johnny’s” (is there really a “Johnny Carino”, or is “Johnny Carino” really a manifestation for public consumption of a corporate entity’s “theme dining experience”?) I was starting to sense the appearance of “Chain Gang” hint #3 (un-inspired menu), so I stopped trying to read in the film noir-ish light and told myself things would look better in the dining room.

They didn’t.

Johnny Carino’s failed my Italian restaurant test, they did not have any permutation, what-so-ever, of antipasto on the menu. This was discerned after we were ushered in to an alcove off of the bar, nicely decorated with a fireplace in the corner, that thank Heavens was not lit, with what appeared to be concrete “fire logs” (ah, the authentic Italian country experience). Apparently also, the decorating budget must have been exhausted on the ceilings and walls, because the floor was just bare, painted concrete. Either that or it is an efficiency measure, you know, after the last customer has left, just hose down the floor, no carpet to keep clean, no tiles to keep clean, no wax to buff.

I really could not find very much on the menu that piqued my interest, and I ended up ordering Chicken Marsala and for about $1.99 more a Caesar Salad. The Mrs. ordered some sort of salad with broiled (I believe) chicken.

I guess one of “Johnny’s” signature gestures is the waitress poured some olive oil from a bottle on the table in to a saucer and left us with a small loaf of warm “Italian” bread in a paper sack. The bread was OK, far from being the tastiest Italian bread I have had, but we were hungry, so it was OK. Forget about the olive oil, that is not our shtick, we asked for and received a nice, cold sphere of butter, which helped make the break OK.

My Chicken Marsala was fairly tasty. It was three medallions of chicken breast that had been lightly breaded and sautéed, together with some very small, very thin, slices of fresh mushrooms that had been sautéed a bit, and a nice brown sauce, that had very little taste of Marsala. This was accompanied by some plain spaghettini. The pasta was helped by the sauce, there just was not enough sauce for both the pasta and the chicken.

The Mrs’. salad was nice, had some nice assorted greens, some fresh tomato, and some chunks of chicken julienne with some sort of house dressing that escapes me.

We almost did not order dessert. The waitress brought around the standard dessert tray, with the standard plastic molded replicas of dessert food. Only they must have bought their plastic replicas at the swap meet, because they really looked like plastic, sloppy plastic. We did however decide to “test the water” and split a chocolate cake item. When it arrived it was two pie shaped slices of a warm chocolate cake, with maybe a hint of chocolate chips on the “top” of each slice, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The ice cream definitely was not a premium brand, but the warm chocolaty cake and the ice cream did hit the spot.

Two dinners, one add on salad, one dessert and two beverages (iced tea and hot tea) came to $38.37 including tax and a 15% tip.

The dining experience at this establishment is very similar to the experience at The Olive Garden. We may return, but not because we want Italian food per se, because we will just be hungry and un-inspired by all of the other local establishments and too lazy to drive out of town.

The new In-N-Out in the same shopping center should be open in about two weeks, I think I can hold out that long.

Johnny Carino’s Country Italian
Chino Spectrum Shopping Center
Grand Avenue (Between the 71 Freeway & Pipeline)

(This place was so un-inspiring that I lost the take home menu with their information, and they are not to be found on, so no specific address and phone number.)

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  1. What sacrifices you have made in quest for decent chow, Mr. Chino Wayne. I looked up info on Carino's on the web and it is indeed a chain/franchise. Even worse, it's yet another one that was born and bred in Texas a la Chili's and Romano's Macaroni Grill (why can't these evil Texans leave Italian food alone and focus on something they know, like trying to clone Kreuz, Stubb's or even Sonny Bryan's barbecue?). According to their website, they already have established restaurants in "Texas, Colorado, Idaho, Arkansas, and internationally in the Middle East" (?!) - perhaps this is Bush's covert plan to kill Saddam Hussein. Looks like Chino is a "beach head" for their westward expansion. Kill 'em before their evil bastardization of Italian food does us all in! They deserve to be run out of town on a rail just for naming one of their dishes a "skilletini" - a bad Texasism if there ever was one.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Chris G.

      Want to have a good laugh, fellow hunds? Look at the below link to Johnny Carino's.


      1. re: Willi Rossli

        Oh my, it's worse than I thought, "Johnny Carino's" was originally "Spageddies", what restaurant concept was that, pasta for the pre-school set?

        1. re: Chino Wayne

          Nice to read that one of their key values is profitability (can't slight them for honesty). Looks like they're catering "traditional" cuisine to the desiring populace in many well-established meccas of Italian food - "Texas,Idaho, Arkansas, and internationally in the Middle East." And the progenitors of all this, formerly known as the Kona Group- now that's truly Italian!!! [Primal scream]

          1. re: local

            This is exactly the kind of mentality that Josiah Citrin of Cafe Melisse is combating up in Valencia... what a brave soul!

            1. re: dotrat

              hmmm...apples and oranges...Josiah Citrin's epicurean history, skill and menu offerings speak for themselves(and, for that matter, per chinowayne and other c-hounds, so does Johnny Carino's).

              1. re: dotrat

                Why can't there be more chefs like the one in "Big Night," trying to educate customers about the wonders of real, authentic Italian food? These days we get MBAs trying to serve food that is influenced more by marketing surveys. I mean, what real chef in his or her right mind would describe food like this: "Country Italian dishes with high flavor profiles."

                1. re: Chris G.

                  thank you...'nough said.

                  1. re: Chris G.

                    Not to stray too off topic (this has probably been discussed to death on the General Topics board), but I thought Big Night explained it quite nicely in the "does it come with spaghetti?" scene. Some people have very rigid expectations about certain kinds of food and if they don't get it, they will pitch a fit. I've seen this syndrome many times and I guess it's not likely to change anytime soon.

        2. I can't agree more- the Carinos near Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga is no better. It was dismally appointed, more of a "mafiosi" theme that "Italian country Inn" theme they seek to put over. The food was dismal and I have not been back. Try Antoninos in Rancho for some good Italian, or Rosa's in Ontario or go out to Loma Linda to Napoli- now THERE's some good eats.

          1. Because of this dish,I will never go there:

            "Italian Nachos
            Crispy pasta chips baked with ground Italian sausage and/or sliced grilled chicken, pepperoncini peppers, black olives, roma tomatoes and jalapenos. Topped with creamy alfredo sauce, melted mozzarella and parmesan cheese."

            Oh, gross!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Diana

              the Italian nachos are really quite delicious. They are probably the most popular appetizer that Carino's has. The chicken is cooked really well and the Alfredo sauce adds an unusual twist. Anyone I bring in there that tries it absolutely loves it, and when I recommend them to guests they are always pleased. Perhaps the description in the menu isn't the most tantalizing but I wouldn't pass up the restaurant based solely on bad marketing.

            2. I've been there.
              I went to the one that opened in West Covina, about 3 years ago and it was so disappointing, but it's true this place just yells restaurant chain from miles away. Still I decided to give it a try and was so unimpressed--I thought my mom could have prepared far better food, at less cost(and her cooking is only so-so, sorry mom). The pasta was overcooked, and all the dishes were heavy in oil all of them wheter it was ham or chicken it was all drenched in oil, I'm not sure if it even was olive oil, it was a disgusting mess of fat and bland mess of fat at that. I ate there once and said never again, I would even venture to say the Olive Garden is better in quality, if you can say that.

              1. The original comment has been removed