Making the best of Rustic Kitchen
Took out my aunt and uncle last night. They wanted casual Italian, but didn't want to venture too far from Park Square, so I chose Rustic Kitchen over Maggiano's (an easy choice IMHO, even if it is the lesser of two evils). Fortunately, I have enough Rustic Kitchen experience to be able to have an enjoyable meal at the place.
First course: calamari. Rustic Kitchen makes consistently good calamari. Not the lightest batter you'll find (for great light calamari, go to B&G), but still good. Crunchy without any chewyness. Served with large, raw jalapenos slices and drizzled with aioli (too much IMHO; if you're sensitive, you might want to order it on the side).
Second course: pizza. Rustic Kitchen makes excellent pizzas. My favorite is the sausage, which includes slices of sweet Italian sausage and sweet red pepper. I have them add slices of the jalapenos they serve with the calamari; the combination works really well.
Beverages: they offer a decent wines-by-the-glass list and a decent (not great, but decent) beer selection, both on tap and in bottles.
I don't have a lot of experience with the rest of the menu, but the other things I've tried have not been nearly as successful. But two people could share the calamari, a pizza, perhaps a salad, and have a really nice, moderately priced meal.
Just curious why it was an easy choice for you over Maggiano's? I have never been to the Kitchen but always wanted to try it. However I have been to Maggiano's countless times and while it's not the greatest meal of my life I have never come away disappointed either. I will mention that I went there on the night I got engaged so that adds some nice memories. But I would go there just for that incredible slab of fried mozzarella. If anyone can point me to some fried cheese like that at a place that does better Italian then I am all for it!
I chose it yesterday over Maggiano's because Mag uses tarragon in their bolognese and I dislike tarragon so decided on RK. however although they use no tarragon in their bolognese they do use nutmeg in it. I ordered it/tasted first bite and thought nope. very pale beige sauce, very creamy which I have no problem with but very little tomato flavor and an off background note. I instead got the baked rigatoni which was phenom...
I think Rustic Kitchen and Maggiano's are really two different kettes of fish. At it's price point and family style ambience, I agree with scubahood10 that Maggiano's is surprisingly good and it fills a niche. Rustic kitchen is a step up in price and the food is food distinctive. Another Park Square option is Davio's. I've not been to this location but other Davio's have been good and fit the OP's request for casual Italian but the cooking is a bit better than rustic kitchen IMHO.
These days I'd choose Mag over RK.
I used to be a Mag hater, but dragged along 'cause my work friends liked the veal parm.
In the past 2 years the food has drastically improved. To the point that we used them to cater some lunches to pretty good reviews
Have no explanation for this.
RK has never done it for me.