Not exactly sure what we were thinking, but we decided to give Rocco's a try, during the taping of the new Mark Burnett Productions reality show. I think we figured it could be fun, and besides, there was a 30% discount during days of filming.
Reservations were for 8:15, and after signing a lengthy release form, we were seated promptly. The restaurant is a little too well-lit for my tastes, but that was probably due to the needs of the cameras. Place seemed about 80% capacity at 8:30 on a Monday evening. Film crews with cameras and boom mics swooped about the restaurant, pausing to catch little snippets of conversations at different tables, then moving on. Slightly distracting, to be sure, but we knew what we were in for when we signed up, so... can't complain about that.
After both having well-made grey goose martinis to start, we were presented the menu, which seemed to be relatively traditional Italian-American fare (although I'm by no means an expert). We started with an order of calamari, fried and served on top of a spicey red sauce. It was prepared well, in the exact manner you'd expect. We also ordered a tasty, properly-seasoned mozzarella caprese salad, which was served with grape tomatoes and a basil chiffonaude.
It was about this point we started to realize that the service was somewhat lacking. No one bothered to ask us how our apps were. The wait between courses was definitely too long. Then our waiter (number two of three waiters during our meal) arrived with our caraffe of wine, and promptly poured it all over the table. After mopping up the mess, he disappeared with the caraffe, which I assumed he was refilling. I then realized he was only pointing out to another waiter that the caraffes have deceptive spouts, after which he returned the now partially empty caraffe to our table.
We had decided on sharing two mains... the 'spaghetti and meatballs' ($15) and the 'red shrimp' ($31) (a la carte) with a side of spinach sauteed in garlic ($5). Spaghetti was very well cooked, in a nice red sauce, with really nicely seasoned meatballs. No one offered parmesan or any other sort of cheese, but it wasn't particularly missed. Shrimp were very nice, with more natural flavor than any other shrimp I've tried before. Only four reasonably sized (as opposed to BIG) shrimp in the $31 order, however. Spinach with garlic was well prepared. Again, no one asked us how our meal was. Staff seemed to be paying more attention to the cameras than to the customers. I definitely felt like an afterthought.
Apparently we were quite hungry, as we both decided on desserts. We chose the caramel gelato (made on premises) w. a shot of rum, which was very nice - the rum sufficiently cut the richness of the gelato. We also tried the polenta strawberry shortcake, which was also quite good.
Our bill came to about $120, which turned into about $90 after the 30% discount (nice that they included alcohol in that). We remarked to staff on the way out that the service had been pretty sub-standard, which thankfully they were interested in hearing details about, and very apologetic for. The food was quite good across the board, but without the 30% discount, and unless I hear that service has markedly improved, I can't imagine I'll be paying Rocco's a return-visit anytime soon...