Every few months, Carrabba's comes out with a new menu and they have "tasting" preview for members of the "Amici" club. This is my 3rd time at a tasting, and I really wonder why they do it. The Amici club isn't really a VIP club; anyone can join with an email. My experience with the people at the tastings is that they're not very familiar with Carrabba's; everyone is always surprised to find out that they're owned by the same company as the Outback.
At 5pm on a Tuesday the place is pretty empty, but for some reason they had 6 tables pushed together; I don't know why they make us sit elbow to elbow in a 3/4 empty restaurant.
Carrabbas Plantation Inside
I understand the communal dining concept; but it can be done without assuring that everyone has less room than they need to be comfortable.
In Pompano, we waited 45 minutes for them to start the service; here they started shortly after 5pm. Before I could lemon up my iced tea, 2 arancini balls were dropped in front of me.
I'm not a big fan of fried, breaded balls (think fritters), but sometimes arancini balls can be pretty good, particularly when they're stuffed with spicy ham and oozing with cheese. These were't like that; the breading dominated and the rice was barely detectable, which isn't a good thing.
The "house made" marinara wasn't very good either; too runny and not sweet enough. Marinara needs to be thicker and less chunky than this. Marinara should gets its flavor from garlic and onions; this stuff is just thrown together.
Next was the "Pollo La Scala", which is sauteed chicken with a red pepper sauce, mascarpone and white whine.
Carrabba's Chicken La Scala
The sauce was surprisingly benign; it didn't have much in the way of flavor. I needed to salt this to bring out some flavor; good chicken but it could have been in any sauce with the same effect. One of the diners thought that this was the mahi; but I digress.
Mahi was next on the list, "Mahi Wulfe" is described as lightly breaded in a lemon butter sauce with sundried tomatoes and artichokes.
Carrabba's Mahi Wulfe
I assume the menu portion is larger; this fish stick wasn't bad after adding some salt; the sauce wasn't very lemony but as Mahi goes it was a good preparation. The artichoke is no more than a garnish; just about everyone left the artichoke on the plate.
The next dish, Rigitoni Martino, was presented family style is bowls on the table. Better than the 2 noodle portions doled out at the Fort Lauderdale location as the last tasting I'd attended.
Carrabba's Rigatoni Martino
The rigatoni includes mushrooms, chicken, scallions, sundried tomatoes, cheese and is tossed in a tomato cream sauce.
Carrabbas Rigatoni Martino
The pasta wasn't seasoned properly; the don't seem to salt the water here, which of course ruins it. The consensus was that there were too many ingredients, and they didn't come together in a way that worked.
Next was a prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin. I'm not a big fan of pork tenderloin; it tastes too much like chicken but it's easier to botch, which many restaurants do. This was wood fired and topped with a "red wine fig sauce".
Carrabba's Pork Tenderloin
This dish was good; but it didn't taste much different than their wood-grilled chicken with EVOO and herbs, which I would order instead.
Next was Conchiglie Al Formaggi, which is a fancy name for shells alfredo.
Carrabba's Conchiglie Al Formaggi
This dish was a total loser; again, the pasta wasn't cooked in salted water, and the sauce was similar to plain milk. A loser from head to toe.
What better way to end a meal (or a tasting) than a cannoli? The mini cannoli is just big enough for the calorie conscious.
Carrabba's Mini Cannoli
Unfortunately, it didn't remind me of a cannoli in any way. Classic cannolis are very sweet with vanilla or a nut liquor; these weren't very sweet and the pastry wasn't light or crisp enough. Most at the table liked it; but to me this wasn't worth the calories.
Overall, I think they did a pretty good job here. They brought out extras for most items if you wanted more; most people had 2 cannolis. They didn't ID anyone; so aside from them cramming us together in a largely empty dining room, I'd have to say the tasting was well-done.
My view on Carrabba's remains the same; too many forced recipes and not enough solid Italian favorites. It's just like sister restaurant Bonefish Grill; I think they'd be better off if they just stuck to basics, and added some salt to the pasta water.
Carrabba's is an "Italian" Fast food restaurant owned by the people who brought you Outback. The food here can be surprisingly good, given the chain restaurant roots. However don't expect to get great Italian food here if you're expectations are much higher than Olive Garden. They do have excellent wines by the glass. and good bread with fruity Italian oil dip. We had the PE mussels in wine and they were plentiful and very tender; in fact some of the best I've had in recent memory. The house salad is a loser; try the ceaser instead. A special of Sirloin and Chicken marsala served with perfectly crisp cooked vegetables featured overdone chicken but a sirloin that was tender and delicious. Another sirlioin order arrived medium rare (and perfect for my taste, however it was ordered well-done. Regular entries include a salad and choice of sides, such as any type of pasta with any type of sauce. The sirloin snafu resulted in some free dessert, and the tiramisu and espresso "bacino" are mini servings of delectable treats. Ask them to bring out the choices and for $2.25 you get the perfect sweet finish to your meal.
One of their new items, the Sirloin and "Speidino", features a nice 8oz sirloin and 2 shrimp and 2 scallops. The seafood is junk; overcooked and low quality. Just get the Sirloin and you'll be ok. Or better yet, just order a glass of wine and some bread.