Monday, May 10, 2010

Review of Carrabba's Italian Grill

This is a sponsored review from BlogHer and Carrabba's.

This contest is now closed. Thanks to all of you who entered!

When I was first contacted about conducting a review for Carrabba's Italian Grill, I jumped at the chance. I mean, really, who doesn't appreciate date night on someone else's dime? I will admit, however, that I was hesitant about dining at Carrabba's. Would it be like any other Italian chain restaurant, with mediocre food, indifferent servers, and a penchant for turning tables faster than McDonald's?

When my husband and I first arrived at Carrabba's in Orem, Utah with our friends, we realized that we unwittingly visited on high school prom night. This had two effects on me - I felt very old and exceedingly underdressed all in one fell swoop. After adjusting my taffeta-less blouse and decidedly uncoiffed hair, and doing my best to raise my head high to smooth out any wrinkles threatening to form on my neck, I was set to enjoy the evening.

Once seated, we were promptly greeted by our server, Steve, who was pleasantly enthusiastic, professional, and attentive throughout the evening. As Steve left to fill our drink orders, the manager of the restaurant presented us with a plate of appetizers, on the house, as an apology for our wait. Now, I do not think this is standard restaurant policy. By this point, the manager realized that I was there to conduct a review and was hoping to make us as comfortable as possible. Regardless, we enjoyed being able to whet our appetites with the items on the plate.

Often, I find that restaurants serve calamari that is covered in a batter so thick that the squid is unrecognizable. Carrabba's calamari, which is available in two sizes, was lightly battered and served with a fantastic marinara sauce. Even though I was trying to save room for the rest of the meal, I had a difficult time not polishing off the tender squid on my own. Alongside the calamari Mozzarella Marinara, Carrabba's version of the popular breaded appetizer. While the breading was tasty with the addition of herbs, we found the pieces of mozzarella to be rather thin, thus being overwhelmed by the crust.

One of the things that impressed me the most about Carrabba's menu was that many of the dishes are available in two sizes, small and regular. Often I find myself ordering an appetizer and salad for dinner because I know that many restaurants serve entree sizes that could feed an army platoon. With the option to order small portions at Carrabba's, you do not have to order more than you can eat or, in these lean economic times, more than you can afford. Many of the entrees, which are served with a choice of soup or salad, start at $12.

To sample as many of the menu items as possible, we each ordered a different dish, sticking with the small portion sizes. Our choices ranged from classic Italian dishes such as Chicken Parmesan and Veal Piccata to wood-burning grill specialties, such as Pollo Rosa Maria and Filet Florentina.

One of our friends ordered the Pollo Rosa Maria, which is a grilled chicken breast stuffed with fontina and prosciutto and topped with mushrooms and a basil lemon butter sauce. Well, you simply can't go wrong with melted cheese and salty prosciutto. Topped with the tangy, smooth sauce, this chicken breast was both luxurious and satisfying.

Our other friend chose the Chicken Bryan, which is another entree prepared on Carrabba's wood burning grill. The grill imparts a pleasant smoky flavor that does not overwhelm the food. Topped with a round of goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and the basil lemon butter sauce, this dish promises great flavor. While the texture of the tomatoes and goat cheese were complimentary to the moist chicken, the acid in the lemon butter sauce was a bit overwhelming when paired with the tang of the goat cheese.

You never know what you are going to get when you order salmon in a restaurant. Will it be dry and dense, or moist and tender? We were impressed by the preparation of the Grilled Norweigan Salmon that my husband ordered. The moist fish was topped with a mint and tomato salsa which, appropriately light-handed with the mint, was a fresh accompaniment. While the salmon was a good dish overall, it could have benefited from an extra dollop of salsa.

For my entree, I decided to go for the gusto and ordered the Filet Marsala. I was presented with a very generous filet, topped with sauteed mushrooms and a marsala wine sauce. In my opinion, there is no point in ordering a good piece of beef if you are going to ask for it to be cooked beyond medium-rare. I went one step further and ordered mine rare. The kitchen did not disappoint. My filet was tender, juicy, and beautifully pink inside. Paired with the rich, flavorful sauce, this dish was my personal favorite of the evening.

At Carrabba's, each entree is served with garlic mashed potatoes, cavatappi, or the vegetable of the day, which was a choice of broccoli or spinach. Two of us chose spinach and the other two chose broccoli. Those who chose spinach definitely came out with the better end of the deal. The spinach, sauteed to perfection with olive oil and slivers of garlic, was a light, fresh side dish. Unfortunately, the broccoli was overdone and lacked the fresh taste of the spinach.

Even though we each ordered the small portion sizes, we left feeling satisfied. In fact, I would even say that we felt relatively guilt-free, both nutritionally and monetarily. Good food, good wine, and good friends all add up to one very pleasant evening.

The generous people at Carrabba's are offering a $100 Carrabba's gift card to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is answer this question.

"What great things come in small packages?"

Please, no duplicate comments.
You may receive an additional entry by linking on twitter and leaving a link in the comments.
You may receive an additional entry by blogging about this contest and leaving a link in the comments.
This giveaway is open to US Residents aged 18 and older
Winners will be selected via random draw, and will notified by e-mail, so please be sure that you leave an email address.
You have 48 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

This giveaway runs from May 10 - June 10, 2010.

Please see the official rules for this giveaway here: Official Rules

To read the other bloggers' reviews of Carrabba's and for 9 more chances to win, please check out the BlogHer review/giveaway round-up page. special offers page

For more information on the menu or to find the location near you, please visit Carrabba's site.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Adding Flavor to Your Life (Plus a Visa Gift Card Giveaway)

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and Coffee-mate.

This contest is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Congratulations to Mari, winner of the $100 Visa gift card! Thanks to Coffee-mate and BlogHer for sponsoring this giveaway. I hope all of you continue to add flavor to your lives in as many varied ways as you wrote in the comments.

At least one time per day, I am beckoned by one of my two boys to admire their growing bicep muscles, or their "pythons" as they like to call them. This morning, my husband and I described to them how the process of building muscles works. When you exercise, tiny tears occur in your muscles. As these tears repair themselves, your muscles become larger and stronger. As my boys ran off to start their daily regiment of shooting hoops and swinging like monkeys on our outdoor playset, I began to think about the process that our bodies go through each time we step out the door to exercise, and how it relates to life and experience in a more general sense. We are faced with hundreds of choices each day, some more mundane than others. These choices can range from, "Should I make a sandwich or a salad for lunch?" to "Should I move my family to a new city to take that job offer?"

Taking risks can be terrifying, but when the risks pan out, the rewards can be plentiful. Perhaps we can liken our minds and hearts to our muscles - when we take risks, we break ourselves down with anxiety, but the changes ultimately make us stronger. There have been many instances in my life where I have chosen to walk close to the proverbial cliff edge and, most of the time, have been reinforced for taking the gamble. While the decision to walk away from the safe side is not always easy, this is one way in which I add flavor to my life. My attitude has always been that if I think things through logically, have confidence in my common sense, and lay a little faith in the great unknown, things tend to turn out okay.

Well, maybe my common sense wasn't on full power as I stood 350 feet above the Zambezi River that separates Zimbabwe and Zambia, on the side of a bridge, with nothing but a large elastic band attached to my ankles. However, as my companions called "3...2...1...Bungee!" and I hurled myself out into nothingness, I knew this was a sensation that would be locked in my mind forever.

At the age of 21, when I headed off on a solo backpacking adventure through Europe, with all of the belongings I would need for the next 6 months strapped to my back, I felt deeply that I was about to embark on a trip that would shape my life. If I could make my way through nine countries by train and on foot, find the youth hostels hidden amongst the curving streets and directed by signs written in unfamiliar languages, and manage to keep myself safe and fed, then I could handle most situations that I would encounter later in life.

As I moved into my thirties, got married, and brought kids into this world, my risks changed in nature. My penchant for cooking led to experimentation with unfamiliar ingredients and techniques, adding flavor to my life in a literal way. These experimentations eventually led to a cooking blog, which became an important part of my life. When my husband, a talented athlete, took up marathon running, I decided it was time to put aside the trepidation I always felt when faced with a run longer than a couple of blocks. This change of heart led to the completion of several half-marathons (at a snail's pace, mind you) and a strong feeling of self-accomplishment.

Of course, there have been many instances when the risks did not pay off and even led to great disappointment or heartbreak. After wallowing in the wake of failure for awhile, I would slowly pick myself up, dust myself off, and head off down a different road. While the results were not what I hoped for, I could always say that I learned something from the experience.

As our children grown older, my husband and I hope to instill a sense of self-confidence and adventure them. We try to teach them that unexpected blessings can come from stepping outside of their comfort zones. The benefits may not always be obvious or earth-shattering, but the process of taking risks can be incredibly gratifying and always provide valuable learning experiences. In the meantime, we will continue to ooo and ahh over their "pythons" and hope that life will kindly provide them with opportunities to take risks and learn from their successes and failures.

For a chance to win a Visa gift card in the amount of $100, please answer the following question in the comment section:

"How do you add flavor to your life?"

Please, no duplicate comments.
You may receive an additional entry by linking on twitter and leaving a link in the comments.
You may receive an additional entry by blogging about this contest and leaving a link in the comments.
This giveaway is open to US Residents aged 18 and older
Winners will be selected via random draw, and will notified by e-mail, so please be sure that you leave an email address.
You have 48 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

Head to the BlogHer round-up page for a chance to win $500, plus 9 other chances to win $100.

Please see the official rules for this giveaway here: Official rules

Coffee is like life - it's better when you add your flavor. With a wide variety of over 25 flavors, Coffee-mate is the delicious way to personalize every cup. Head over to to find over 25 ways to add your flavor. Discover what your newest favorite could be!
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