Carrabba's Italian Grill – Germantown, MD
By Sharon Ribas | August 10, 2013
Carrabba's Italian Grill is a well-established chain with restaurants in 32 states. The company's website takes you through time by sharing with you the family history that inspired the business. And it takes you through space by transporting you to the old country where colorful descriptions of Italy's regional foods can be accessed via image links embedded in a European marketplace.
But to experience the taste and texture of Carrabba's food, you must get a seat at the table. In Germantown on a balmy weekend evening, getting a table—inside or out on the covered veranda—was the goal of many locals.
Despite the perfect weather, we chose to sit inside where soft jazz and swing music were easily heard over the efficient hustle and bustle of the wait staff.
Coming to Carrabba's is a little like coming home, or so the staff would like you to think. Cheerful young ladies are stationed at the front entrance to greet diners with smiles and warm welcomes. And, despite a line, the wait wasn't long. As we were seated, others were leaving, many carrying leftovers in foam containers for the next day.
The recently renovated restaurant manages to convey a family atmosphere even as it can conjure a romantic atmosphere for two or a lively place to socialize at the newly redesigned bar. Although lights are dimmed, a warm glow from lamps and the brighter lights from the open kitchen in the far back corner, emit a feeling of comfort and friendliness. Low separations rather than walls serve as dividers to break up the large space of family-style seating in the main area of the restaurant. In the center of that a charming service table, dressed with colorful arrangements of fruits and vegetables, serves as the capuccino station.
At the very back is a space made more private by wide entrances bracketing open shelves displaying assorted wines. Clearly, its purpose is to provide a dedicated area for groups or private parties.
In the far corner and side is the open kitchen with wood-burning oven where the staff works efficiently. Seating is available so that food preparation serves as a form of entertainment for diners.
Within minutes a bright, engaging waitress appeared at our table to welcome us and take our beverage orders.
I chose a margarita (Skinny Rita) over my first impulse for the Pomegranate Martini but only because of the calorie count. While my margarita tasted on the sweet side as margaritas go, I was pleased that it was half the calories of my first choice. Personally, I appreciated the calorie count for items as it allowed me to decide when to splurge and when to "be good"!
Upon our waitress's return, she pointed out with enthusiasm the new menu, and described to us the features and specials. As we examined our potential choices, the colorful insert describing the seasonal menu got our intention as it's intended to do.
From that, I chose the Trio d'Italia, from which I could choose three of nine items for $15.50 ($12.00 on Mondays)—I selected the grilled salmon, :asagne, and Fettuccine Alfredo—and which included a soup or salad (zuppe e insalata). Because I had already ordered a minestrone soup, I chose the salad. And I ordered a house Cabernet Sauvignon. My dinner companion chose the sirloin marsala (wood-grilled, with mushrooms, proscuitto and housemade Lombardo Marsala wine sauce).
The meal began with fresh warm bread made on the premises served with a drizzle of warmed olive oil sprinkled with rosemary, parsley, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper on the side.
The minestrone was thick and chunky and not too salty, as I have found some minestrone soups to be. The sirloin was excellent and prepared medium as ordered. The Trio, composed of generous portions, was also well done. The fettucini was cooked al dente and bathed in a rich cream sauce. The salmon was just right—moist, slightly charred on the edges and enhanced with a light basil tomato vinagrette. The lasagne with the Bolognese meat sauce layered with romano, ricotta, and mozzarella was a bit chewy but otherwise flavorful.
A frothy cappucino and a rich bodied expresso rounded out a nearly perfect dessert that melted on the tongue with every spoonful. We chose the panna cotta, a Madagascar vanilla bean custard, served chilled in a single-serving-sized open mason jar—a charming homey touch—layered with fresh raspberries and topped with a sprig of mint.
By early evening, the restaurant was at nearly full capacity, yet there was no hectic rushing by staff nor impatient customers in evidence.
The Germantown Carraba's has all the signs of desiring to attract and keep satisfied customers. Its new look and new menu shows it not only means "buon appetito", it also shows it means business.