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May 23, 2011 08:54 AM


My siblings and I had a rendezvous at a Macaroni Grill, chosen because it was the best halfway point for all of us and everyone loves Italian and it needed to be between 2 and 3 on a Sunday. Anyway, the service was fine, the server was friendly (though we could have skipped the speech about joining their email club) and the menu looked good. We started with calamari & grilled veg--both fine--and stuffed mushrooms--watery.

We all ordered pasta and everyone one of them was amazingly bland--even the Sausage dish my husband ordered where he was warned that it was "very spicy." The ingredients seemed fine but we think the pasta water may not have been salted and from there it was no flavor--though my shrimp were well cooked.

Is it us or is bland the normal approach?

We never go to chains, so really don't need recommendations of better ones, but just wondered if our experience was typical. Nothing was bad, just blah.

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  1. Maybe this has always been the case with Macaroni Grill, or maybe my palate simply changed, but about 6-7 years ago it seemed to me that they went from being a somewhat better than the rest chain option to "just as bland as the rest".

    2 Replies
    1. re: RB Hound

      I have to agree...the first time we tried MG, maybe 15 years ago, I had a veal saltimbocca that was very good. Fast forward to the last couple of years, and it's nothing but oversalted one-step-above-Olive-Garden red sauce Italian and no saltimbocca to be found.

      Sadly, my sister in law thinks it's great so in the interest of not making waves, we end up there sometimes.

      1. re: RB Hound

        I agree, it has changed a LOT since they first started expanding. I actually worked at one of the first ones in my state and was really impressed with the detailed level of training we got as FOH staff, including being required to know EVERYTHING that went into a dish, including the sauces. The sauces had actual recipes and people cooked them in huge batches each day from scratch. The soups were made in-house as was the bread, and the food was actually really good for a chain. Over the years, they dumbed down and dumbed down and dumbed down until they became a clone of the Olive Garden. They took more and more shortcuts with the food, got more and more products in pre-prepared, heat and eat and the quality nose-dived. It's really too bad. When I started there, they prided themselves on having colavita olive oil on the table, actual regianno parm to hand-grate over people's pasta (not with the stupid wheel thingy, but an actual grating plane and big chunks of cheese in a basket), and that they were NOT a "spaghetti and meatballs" restaurant, which they now have on the menu. All the menu items were in Italian and you had to learn how to say them in Italian and what the English translation was. It was really a step above the rest and I was proud to have my family in for preview night. It's just awful now. The food is just horrible. Pre-cooked chicken, bland pasta, bagged sauces, frozen bread, it's basically the OG x2. So disappointing.

      2. The name tells you how much thought and effort is put into the food:

        Macaroni Grill...what does one have to do with the other? I've never been to this place but what is that name supposed to mean?

        4 Replies
        1. re: ttoommyy

          So, if you've never been there, how much thought and effort did you put into garnering an actual opinion?

          As RB Hound said, they have gone downhill the last few years. They, at their best, were not as good as Carraba's.

          1. re: Fibber McGee

            "So, if you've never been there, how much thought and effort did you put into garnering an actual opinion?

            True. I didn't. But what does the name mean???

            1. re: ttoommyy

              They do pasta and they also do a number of grilled items...our grilled eggplant, zucchini and peppers were very good.

        2. Thank you RB and Fibber. We had gone there about 5 years ago for the same get together and the food was pretty good. We blamed it on our palates aging, but thanks for an alternative explanation. PS Next sibling get together will not be there.

          2 Replies
          1. re: escondido123

            If your name is representative of your locale, then we probably are talking about the very same Macaroni Grill location.

            1. re: RB Hound

              It was one in Orange County the midway point for a group of 8.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. It's interesting to me to see so much consensus that the chain has gone downhill in recent years.

              I haven't lived near one since I dined several times at the one in Ann Arbor, MI, over ten years ago. At the time, it was the only chain Italian restaurant I'd ever regarded as genuinely solid.

              Now I'll think twice before going, or at least be ready for the worst. What a shame.