Sunday, January 25, 2009

Carrabas restaurant review

Here we are at a great Italian chain restaurant, Carraba's. The wait is about 90 minutes. I can tell you this is the max you can get people to wait for a table. It was the same last night, but we chose not to. However, tonight we are determined. Recession my ass.

How is it that there are so many poised to drop about $25 per person for dinner, when we are suffering the same kind of horrible deep economic depression that was last seen in the 30s? And about those retailers. We are in a. city with malls, so have done a little shopping. Thought we could buy a new wardrobe for a few dollars. After all, the sales signs proclaim amazing discounts. We are always drawn to the racks with the hodgepodge of clothing and "Clearance- more than 50% Off" signs. We perused them to find that the resulting prices were indeed reduced, to merely expensive. Now you must realize, we live in the sticks and don't shop for recreation. We missed the rise of retail pricing into the stratosphere. Didn't know a cheap leather jacket was able to sell at over $400. Or a cheap sport coat was in the $300 range. So the retailers have not succeeded in motivating us yet. Back to TJ Maxx.
And back to the review.

I have used Carrabas as an example when teaching restaurant owners about developing a great concept. It is well thought out in every detail. Not in a slick, "Let's make it appealing to financial analysts so we can go public." sort of way.

The food is creative Italian, with a higher spice level than traditionalists would like. You see, the founders are from Texas, so whadaya want?

Service is good, servers well trained and good sales builders. The decor is surprisingly plain, with a minimum of "Remember! This is an ITALIAN restaurant!!!". That is not to say they don't play The Chairman's songs, they do. And some of the design cues are classily Italian. Oh, and what makes it a great example is the way they take care of the details. Nothing, really, nothing you experience here is by accident. Even the soap in the bathroom is specifically chosen by the owners. It all adds up.

The food? Most dishes is delicious, cooked properly, tasty, hot and fresh. The pizza is thin, a bit over cooked last night, and a bit over topped. That has been the only disappointment. The salads are crisp, balanced and imaginative. The pasta is balanced, tomato sauce bright and tasty. The meats are a bit over cooked. Last night's salmon was pretty bad. The kind of flavor that gives salmon a bad name. The nice seasoning was lost on a dish that was not enjoyable. The potatoes that came with it were tasty, but old and over portioned.

These issues were in no way attributable to the kitchen being in the weeds. In fact the speed of service was just right. This is a management issue. It hurts.

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