Feel like a 10 step meeting confession... After the young niece's stellar performance at South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa, the family wanted to go out to dinner - somewhere reasonable with 3 kids & 4 adults. Tried to push for Memphis or Z'Tejas, but got out-voted. We were going to the Macaroni Grill - and I was scared, very scared.
Pulled up & it has a very cheesy exterior. Upon entering, made a beeline through the bar to the loo - and noticed the wines proferred by the glass - yuck. All the Californians were truly terrible & I was positive this was a sign of things to come. We were seated promptly by a lovely waitress who proceeded to totally spoil us - not in a white glove sort of way, but was just great & friendly & dashed to take care of any of our teeniest whims. Looked at the wine list again & decided on the 2nd Pinot Grigio - it was fine. Looked at the menu & started getting very confused - some of it actually sounded good...
Fabulous bread - with seasoned olive oil & if you wanted it average-grade, but not bad, balsamic vinegar. 4 loaves later... I think it's ciabatta - with oil brushed over & warm from the oven - heaven!
Sister got the mahi mahi in a citrus pine nut arugula sauce that went together much better than it sounded. Fish was moist & delicious - think this was about $11.99. Mahi Mahi came with an oversalted asparagus risotto, but the fish was so good, we ignored the risotto. She also got their house salad, which did not involve any iceberg & actually looked good and tasted better. Mom & I ordered the same thing - very wierd as we are a family who firmly believes in sharing tastes & no one is EVER allowed to get the same thing - we got the Veal Saltimbocca @ $12.99!!! Where do you get veal for $12.99? Well, mom's arrived & wasn't exactly the classic version, but had fontina melted over & proscuitto frizzles - looked good & moist. Was served over fresh spinach & not a slightly friseed sage leaf in sight (darn - I kept looking.) Mine looked like it had been breaded & fried forever & it tasted the same. After a quick word with the waitress, she not only offered to replace it with anything, she asked if I would like her to leave the plate to nibble the angel hair on til she returned with a more acceptable dish. I've never had any server do this, and although it sounds tacky, it sure was nice to sit & not have to watch everyone else dining while you starve, drool, hope for bites and wait. Returned with 4 lovely slices of veal - juicy, with a light touch of cheese & the frizzled proscuitto again. Oh, had a Caesar first (for $1.29!) that was tasty - the slightest bit limp, but nothing you could get testy about. Dad had spaghetti & meatballs (his opinion does not count - he will eat anything, but it looked good) & the kids had general variations of penne with butter/marinara, etc, salads, AND hot fudge sundaes. Dad pretended to have his feelings hurt & got one too.
Overall - charming atmosphere - definitely better than most chains decor-wise (ie Il Fornaio), very inexpensive, yet tasy & very filling food & incredible service. Bill came to $110 for 7 of us with 5 glasses of wine (don't tell anyone...)& side salads for all. Gave her a huge tip for her bowls of shredded parmesan, quick change of my 1st meal, extra free sundae for grandpa, extra pitcher of iced tea for sister, immediate replacement of empty pinot grigio glass in front of me & much more. Hate to admit it & tried to hate it, but it wasn't bad at all for a reasonable family meal in somewhat upscale surroundings.