Romano's Macaroni Grill: 'Fixer' working wonders to improve eatery
BY SCOTT CHERRY World Restaurant Critic
Thursday, November 15, 2012
3/28/13 at 7:58 AM
How often does a restaurant on its last leg rebound to enjoy newfound success? Probably about as often as our folks in Congress gather around a "Kumbaya" campfire for the common good.
I had heard rumors that Romano's Macaroni Grill was on the edge of collapse, but a local restaurateur suggested I check it out. He said he recently had one of the best meals there, both food and service, he ever had in Tulsa.
He said he learned the parent corporation sent in a "fixer" to manage the restaurant, and he and his team had done wonders. It was enough just to have a restaurant owner suggest I visit another restaurant to be worth the trip.
As the saying goes, though, timing is everything.
We met a few other people, including one with two boys under 6 years old, there for an after-church dinner.
First, a sign on the door said the computer was not working, and it would have to be cash or check to pay. Luckily, we were OK in that department, so we settled in for a nice Sunday afternoon meal.
And we settled and settled and settled. It was 20 minutes before anyone showed at our table with water, and another 10 before bread arrived, about the same time a server, Cary, noticed we weren't being helped and jumped in to take our orders.
Our salads came quickly, and 30 minutes later, while we were still waiting for entrees, a server brought out a new round of salads, which we declined.
All in all, we had been seated an hour and 15 minutes before the entrees arrived. Meantime, we scouted the room ourselves for the children's menus so the boys would have something to draw on with their crayons - provided when we entered - besides a white tablecloth.
Apparently, near the end of our meal, to her credit, the new kitchen manager, Angel Ramirez, noticed our situation, apologized profusely and comped our ticket. Because the people we were with deserved a free meal, and because I didn't want to make a scene demanding to pay, it was a rare time I accepted a complimentary meal. We did compensate Cary for her effort.
When the food arrived, it was steaming hot and had some high points. The lobster cream sauce in the lobster ravioli ($18) was delicious, and there was plenty of lobster, though it was quite chewy.
Carbonera ($13) featured a bowl of spaghetti alla chitarra with pancetta and Parmesan with a poached egg on the side. I still immediately broke the yolk and mixed it around as much as possible in the spaghetti. Chitarra refers to a machine that looks like guitar strings that the dough is pressed through to make the spaghetti.
Penne rustica ($13) is a staple. It included penne pasta with roasted chicken, shrimp and prosciutto in a rosemary cream sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan. A chicken Caesar salad ($10) with romaine, Parmesan and garlic croutons was huge and fresh.
After talking with new general manager Tim Mason, who said he previously had turned around seven underperforming Johnny Carino's restaurants in west Texas, I feel confident our experience was just a bump in the road in getting things right at Macaroni Grill.
"We came in June and had some critical challenges to address," Mason said. "We had health department issues, employee issues and food issues. It usually takes about a year to fully revive a restaurant, and I think we are on track.
"The employees we kept have become the core of our new team, and I was fortunate to be able to bring in Angel, who has an incredible work ethic and is so intelligent. Also, I had not worked at a Macaroni Grill before, and I had no idea what an elevated level the food is here when done correctly. We just want people to give us a chance."
ROMANO’S MACARONI GRILL
6603 S. Memorial Drive
(on a scale of 0 to 4 stars)
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. all week;
accepts all major credit
Original Print Headline: Second chances
Scott Cherry 918-581-8463
The chicken Milanese at Romano's Macaroni Grill features a breaded chicken breast with lemon butter and balsamic glaze. Here it is served with arugula salad and rosemary potatoes. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World