The Mrs. was burned out from a rough day at the office the other day and I had received a cancellation for a business dinner I was going to host, so I called the Mrs. at her office in lovely downtown Glendale and told her to hot tail it back to Chino, I was taking her to the new Italian restaurant in town. An hour and a half later the Mrs. arrived at the old homestead, greeted her Binky-poo (the cat who owns our house) with some endearing baby talk, fixed her make-up and we (the Mrs. and I, without The Binkster) headed down the road in Herman.
As we approached the pseudo-rustico-Italiano-farmhouse-looking establishment, named Johnny Carinos Country Italian, which was apparently designed by a moonlighting Industry art director, and then plopped down on Grand Avenue at the Chino Spectrum South shopping center, my ever hopeful heart, squelched the Chain alert!, Chain alert!, Chain alert! message that was accompanied by the sound of a submarine ahooga claxon that my brain was broadcasting. After all this is The Dining Wilderness That Is The Inland Empire, and those of us who are denizens of the Empire and consequently very repressed hounds, are always and ever hopeful of finding dining salvation. Yeah, right, dream on sucker.
We arrived at the podium of this establishment at 8:45 (on a weeknight), the house was packed, we gave our name and were given an estimate of a 20-30 minute wait for our table. We also noted Chain Gang hint #1, absolutely none of the staff spoke with an Italian accent, as a matter of fact, the entire staff had the appearance of being recent veterans of the Chino High School Future Farmers of America program.
Chain Gang hint #2 (as so eloquently elucidated in recent postings on these boards courtesy of Mr. Grub), we were handed a pager.
So while we waited the approximately 20 minutes in the dimly lighted vestibule, I removed my distance glasses from my face and squinted with my aging Boomer eyes at a condensed (in size) version (for taking home to use when you want to call in a take out order) of Johnnys (is there really a Johnny Carino, or is Johnny Carino really a manifestation for public consumption of a corporate entitys theme dining experience?) I was starting to sense the appearance of Chain Gang hint #3 (un-inspired menu), so I stopped trying to read in the film noir-ish light and told myself things would look better in the dining room.
Johnny Carinos failed my Italian restaurant test, they did not have any permutation, what-so-ever, of antipasto on the menu. This was discerned after we were ushered in to an alcove off of the bar, nicely decorated with a fireplace in the corner, that thank Heavens was not lit, with what appeared to be concrete fire logs (ah, the authentic Italian country experience). Apparently also, the decorating budget must have been exhausted on the ceilings and walls, because the floor was just bare, painted concrete. Either that or it is an efficiency measure, you know, after the last customer has left, just hose down the floor, no carpet to keep clean, no tiles to keep clean, no wax to buff.
I really could not find very much on the menu that piqued my interest, and I ended up ordering Chicken Marsala and for about $1.99 more a Caesar Salad. The Mrs. ordered some sort of salad with broiled (I believe) chicken.
I guess one of Johnnys signature gestures is the waitress poured some olive oil from a bottle on the table in to a saucer and left us with a small loaf of warm Italian bread in a paper sack. The bread was OK, far from being the tastiest Italian bread I have had, but we were hungry, so it was OK. Forget about the olive oil, that is not our shtick, we asked for and received a nice, cold sphere of butter, which helped make the break OK.
My Chicken Marsala was fairly tasty. It was three medallions of chicken breast that had been lightly breaded and sautéed, together with some very small, very thin, slices of fresh mushrooms that had been sautéed a bit, and a nice brown sauce, that had very little taste of Marsala. This was accompanied by some plain spaghettini. The pasta was helped by the sauce, there just was not enough sauce for both the pasta and the chicken.
The Mrs. salad was nice, had some nice assorted greens, some fresh tomato, and some chunks of chicken julienne with some sort of house dressing that escapes me.
We almost did not order dessert. The waitress brought around the standard dessert tray, with the standard plastic molded replicas of dessert food. Only they must have bought their plastic replicas at the swap meet, because they really looked like plastic, sloppy plastic. We did however decide to test the water and split a chocolate cake item. When it arrived it was two pie shaped slices of a warm chocolate cake, with maybe a hint of chocolate chips on the top of each slice, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The ice cream definitely was not a premium brand, but the warm chocolaty cake and the ice cream did hit the spot.
Two dinners, one add on salad, one dessert and two beverages (iced tea and hot tea) came to $38.37 including tax and a 15% tip.
The dining experience at this establishment is very similar to the experience at The Olive Garden. We may return, but not because we want Italian food per se, because we will just be hungry and un-inspired by all of the other local establishments and too lazy to drive out of town.
The new In-N-Out in the same shopping center should be open in about two weeks, I think I can hold out that long.
Johnny Carinos Country Italian
Chino Spectrum Shopping Center
Grand Avenue (Between the 71 Freeway & Pipeline)
(This place was so un-inspiring that I lost the take home menu with their information, and they are not to be found on switchboard.com, so no specific address and phone number.)