Everyone has to eat sometime. However, as most students know, visiting the Marshall Student Center’s food court for the fourth time in a week can get tiresome. In a new column, The Oracle rates a few USF area restaurants, both chains and small businesses, on criteria including taste, price, service and atmosphere (1 being the worst and 5 being the best). This week’s theme: Italian.
Antonio’s Pasta Grille
11401 N. 56th St.
The allure of small, locally owned restaurants is the expectation that the food served will be a refreshing, authentic experience compared to the more popular chain restaurants. Antonio’s completely disappoints in this regard.
The food, though edible, was wholly not enjoyable. The only redeeming quality of the meal was the complimentary bread served with an oil and parmesan herb dip, a deceitful beginning to a rapidly disappointing meal.
The lasagna ($8.95), a staple dish of all Italian restaurants, absolutely lacked any type of herbs or spices resulting in a bland, unappetizing meal. The chipotle chicken rigatoni ($9.75) was also a disaster. The dish was severely under-seasoned and not even drowning it in black pepper and Parmesan could
salvage it. Additionally, the chicken was slightly burnt.
Disappointingly, their tiramisu turned out to be as wholeheartedly underwhelming as the rest of the meal. The coffee flavor was diluted, allowing the sweetness of the dish to overpower all other tastes. The most offending part of the dessert was that the classic ladyfinger component was replaced by a dry, yellow cake, robbing the dish of its appeal. This unauthentic imitation further convinced us that this restaurant turns eating out from a treat into a chore, and the only drive to finish the meal you regrettably had to pay for is to leave.
Verdict: Not going back
5104 E. Fowler Ave.
CDB’s food is plain mediocre. The main allure of the dark, bar-style restaurant is its proximity to campus and
low-cost lunch specials – $7.99 without the additional 10 percent USF discount.
The special begins with toasted garlic bread and your choice of soup – minestrone, a fine option due to its hearty taste after the addition of some much-needed pepper – or salad. Their Caesar salad, though composed of fresh ingredients, tastes nothing like the original because it lacks the classic dressing that gives the salad its distinctive flavor.
Their ricotta- and Parmesan-stuffed shells, accompanied by a meatball, also disappointed. The two generously stuffed shells were lost in a sea of marinara and melted cheese, but this did not disguise their partially uncooked state, evident because of the hard and papery appearance of the pasta. CDB’s Chicken Parmigiana was served over a bed of baked ziti and topped with melted cheese. The chicken was well-seasoned and enjoyable, albeit a little rubbery. The ziti, however, did not seem to share any of the chicken’s flavor and was decidedly lackluster. Overall, the food lacked any originality or home-cooked feel, and was instead reminiscent of mess hall dining merged with a microwaveable meal.
Verdict: Not going back, unless really broke
2801 E. Busch Blvd.
We started our meal with a calamari appetizer ($8.95). The mark of good calamari is its crispiness. Unfortunately, this calamari lacked any crunchiness and instead had a rubbery texture that was difficult to ignore. The entres, on the other hand, were more skillfully prepared.
The grilled chicken Florentine ($8.95), is a simple lunch option that is bursting with flavor. The sun-dried tomato spread flawlessly complemented the Asiago and Parmesan cheeses and enhanced the taste of the perfectly grilled chicken. This dish is rounded out by the choice of a signature soup or a fresh salad.
A more traditional Italian dish is the Lasagna Classico ($9.75). The lasagna features layers of pasta with a balanced blend of meat sauce and various cheeses that delight the palate. A more modern version of the previous classic is the Lasagna Rollata al Forno ($9.95). The rich lasagna rolls are stuffed with five cheeses, baked in a marinara sauce and topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, adding a kick of flavor.
The real highlight of Olive Garden is the wide variety of scrumptious desserts that not only look, but also taste authentic. The Triple Chocolate Strata ($6.35) is a decadent chocolate cake with creamy chocolate mousse separating each layer. It’s drizzled in a dark chocolate ganache and decorated with chocolate shavings, a delight for any chocolate lover. For those looking for a sweeter, more substantial alternative to Starbucks espresso, the tiramisu ($5.95) is the most promising choice. This classic Italian dessert comprises smooth custard that covers a layer of espresso-soaked ladyfingers.
Verdict: Would go back,
14904 N. Dale Mabry
The food at Macaroni Grill is delicious. The Calamari Fritti ($9), battered and fried squid with spicy marinara and basil aioli sauce, is perfectly crisp and makes for an amazing appetizer to share on any occasion. The Lasagna Bolognese ($12) is impeccably balanced, so none of the ingredients overshadows the other, yet has plenty of meat and cheese to ensure a satisfying meal. Even as a leftover, the lasagna retains its original tastiness.
Carmela’s Chicken ($12) is a well-seasoned dish comprising rigatoni, chicken and caramelized onions. The onions’ distinctive flavor enhances the other components of the dish. The meal ended with the homemade chocolate cake. Presented in a miniature ceramic pot and still warm from the oven, the chocolate Ghirardelli cake comes with a side of freshly made whipped cream and is garnished with chocolate toffee. A warm chocolate ganache is provided in a smaller cup, allowing you to determine the intensity of the chocolate flavor.
Verdict: Would go back, but not too often because of travel and price