Carrabba’s Italian Grill (Carrabba’s) is a restaurant casual dining chain that operates almost 250 locations. They offer reasonably priced food with table service in a casual atmosphere. Carrabba’s is part of the Bloomin’ Brands consortium whose banners include Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar and Outback Steakhouse.
I was contacted by a marketing firm for Carrabba’s to attend a special event, The World’s Largest Wine Dinner, as their guest. The event, held at all Carrabba’s locations nationwide, boasted a cumulative total of 28,000 dinners, 7,000 guests and 4,000 bottles of wine. I had never dined at a Carrabba’s so why not?
Part of the restaurant was reserved especially for this dinner. Upon entry to the dining area, we were offered a glass of Prosecco, This was a very nice gesture and a great aperitif for the evening’s meal. I would guess there were 40 attendees for the dinner.
We were first treated to one of the secrets of Carrabba’s cuisine, the recipe behind their herb-olive oil recipe. The executive chef of this branch melded together a mixture of basil, garlic, parsley, oregano, rosemary, salt and olive oil for all of us to sample. We were then given a hands on demonstration as how to properly cook pasta. A ratio of 1 oz. salt to a gallon of water was recommended. This is just the cooking base and of course, cooking times vary by pasta type.
Insalata Fiorucci was the first course and was paired with a Chloe Pino Grigio. The salad consisted of greens, red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, Romano cheese, and Italian-themed vinaigrette, grilled eggplant and hazelnut encrusted goat cheese. I wondered what Fiorucci was. Upon researching this, it is an Italian fashion label or a purveyor of Italian specialty meats. The disconnect was apparent in the salad, which was just ok. I love goat cheese, but was disappointed in what was used as that “goat cheese” flavor was just not there.
The second course was a Calabrian Cavatappi, or a region of Italy that may use a helical shaped macaroni in the dish. The pasta was served with spicy peppers, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, basil and olive oil and topped with burrata. Burrata is sort of a cream-infused version of mozzarella. This was paired with a Pieropan Soave.
When a Soave is good, it’s really good, with a refreshing crisp note on the palate reminiscent of Pino Grigio, with no bitterness. Again, the pasta dish fell flat in my mind, too little sauce and the burrata, a star of this course, lacking substance. The Soave paired with this meal was OK, but had a bit of bitterness that some more palatable Soaves avoid.
C’est la guerre, onto the main course.
The main course was a grilled sirloin steak or veal Marsala, both in a mushroom and Marsala sauce and served with broccoli. I thought the steak flavorful but unreasonably tough. Unless cut in small pieces and chewed thoroughly, it was somewhat difficult to eat. The veal was better, much more tender and easier to eat. Both dishes were served with a Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon. I thought this wine the best of the evening, grapey and refreshing compared to more of the serious Cabernet candidates from California.
We finished the meal with a “sogno de cioccolata” or chocolate dream. This was a fudge brownie with mousse, cream and chocolate sauce. The pairing with Joel Gott Zinfindel from California was the best part of the dessert course.
Carrabba’s is an extremely popular restaurant. This location, apart from the wine dinner, was full to capacity for most of the evening. The wine dinner was a very nice promotional gesture on behalf of the restaurant chain but was not cutting edge or innovative cuisine by any means.
At most, in the context of a casual dining chain, it was food and wine bolstered by it’s price point of $40.00 for a four-course food and wine pairing. Happily, I must also mention they were very generous with the wine served, providing guests with second glasses or more of each wine, if requested.
It’s a wrap for another post on Forks.
Carrabba’s Italian Grill
4320 Tamiami Tr. N.
Naples, FL 34103
Open 11 AM to 11 PM Fridays and Saturdays, 11 AM to 9 PM Sundays and 11 AM to 10 PM all other days; All major credit cards accepted; Kid’s meals available