The Buzz: Macaroni Grill serves authentic cuisine

Though rather ordinary looking on the outside, the interior of Romano's Macaroni Grill hosts a delightful combination of authentic Italian food and a comfortable atmosphere. With opera-singing food servers and crayons on every table, the restaurant is the perfect place for a nice family dinner or a casual date. / photo by Amy Borer
Though rather ordinary looking on the outside, the interior of Romano’s Macaroni Grill hosts a delightful combination of authentic Italian food and a comfortable atmosphere. With opera-singing food servers and crayons on every table, the restaurant is the perfect place for a nice family dinner or a casual date. / photo by Amy Borer

by Amy Borer

Housed in a new, nondescript storefront situated on a busy stretch of Foothill Boulevard in Rancho Cucamonga, Romano’s Macaroni Grill looks anything but authentic Italian. But upon entering the restaurant, be prepared to be transported from a shopping center in Southern California to a bustling indoor café in Northern Italy.

Opening last month in the Terra Vista Town Center, near Haven Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, Romano’s Macaroni Grill stands out in the sea of casual dining chains like Applebees and Chilis that are popping up all over the Inland Empire. Far from serving foods which taste mass produced, the restaurant prides itself on preparing authentic fare based on an Italian family’s long tradition.

According to the story on the menu, the Romano’s Macaroni Grill chain was started by a first generation Italian and follows the ways of his heritage and of his grandfather’s kitchen.

Since most Italians do not have dining rooms in their homes, meals are served in the kitchen. Following suit, the inside of the restaurant is built to look like an Italian kitchen.

The interior walls of the spacious, open room look like they are made of stone. A large kitchen is visible at one corner of the establishment, and the opposing wall is covered with shelves holding gallon jugs of wine. Instead of traditional restaurant lighting, strands of dim, 25 watt light bulbs are strung across the ceiling. The rich smells of spices such as garlic and oregano permeate the air, giving the final touch to the Italian feeling.

As in Romano’s home, the tables are covered in white tablecloths and set with a gallon jug of wine so patrons can help themselves. Payment for the wine is based on the number of glasses poured and relies on the honor system.

The homey atmosphere is completed with an extensive staff of friendly and attentive servers, some of whom showcase their talents for operatic singing in between waiting tables.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill has two menus; one for winter dining, featuring hearty meals like roasted meats and spicier fish and pasta dishes, and the other for summer, with lighter meals such as more fish, chicken and green vegetables. Currently, the restaurant is serving its winter menu.

The menu offers a large selection of appetizers, salads, pizza, pasta, fish, chicken, veal and beef. The prices of the main courses range from $6.50 for pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, oregano and basil, to $16.95 for a 22-once marinated and grilled Porterhouse steak. The majority of the dishes are within the $10 and $11 range.

On a visit to Romano’s Macaroni Grill, dinner began with the Bruschette Miste, an appetizer consisting of three slices of fresh bread toasted with garlic; one topped with eggplant, smoked scamorza (a type of pear-shaped cheese similar to mozzarella) and sun-dried tomatoes (a favorite of the three bread slices), the second topped with fresh tomato and basil, and the last topped with mushrooms, roasted garlic and parmesan cheese. Also on the table was a jug the house Chianti wine and complementary focaccia bread and olive oil for dipping.

Other appetizers include such ordinary delights such as mozzarella sticks to the extraordinary, like a huge mound of Italian nachos.

After a careful reading of the extensive menu and much deliberation, my dining partner and I both decided on pasta dishes. I had the Farfalle ai Mari e Monti, a wonderful and somewhat spicy bowtie pasta dish with shrimp, mushrooms, prosciutto (Italian ham), peas, tomatoes, cream, garlic, parsley, basil and parmesan. My companion chose the Linguine alla Pescatora, a thin, flat pasta with shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, basil, garlic and parsley in a zesty tomato sauce. Both dishes were extremely fresh and served in satisfying quantities (both of us left with take home containers).

After the meal, our server brought around the dessert tray, including Tiramisu, which we could not pass up. A traditional rich, Italian dessert, Tiramisu is made from Lady Fingers soaked in a liqueur (such as Amaretto, Kahlua, dark rum or others, depending on the recipe), and a cream filling flavored with coffee or cocoa.

Though Romano’s Tiramisu was not as smooth and rich as the authentic Tiramisu of Italy, the serving was large and a nice follow-up to the meal.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill is an experience in fine, but definitely not stuffy, dining. Though large and somewhat crowded, patrons can enjoy the ambiance of the setting, but retain an intimate dining experience. With it’s friendly, family atmosphere combined with elegant fare, the restaurant offers a much needed option for those wanting authentic Italian cuisine in the Inland Empire.

What makes the restaurant stand out from other Italian eateries in the area is its authenticity. Instead of tasting processed or “Americanized,” like the Olive Garden and others do, the food almost tastes like it came straight out of the oven of an Italian home.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill is located at 10742 Foothill Blvd. in Rancho Cucamonga. Opening at 11 a.m. everyday, the restaurant serves both lunch and dinner. Although reservations are not accepted, a call-ahead seating system is offered. For more information, call (909) 484-3200.

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