Lunch today at J. Carino’s Italian Grill, an Italian-American casual dining sort of place with a $7.99 small plates lunch menu from which I didn’t order, because I was tempted away by eggplant parmesan (which I could fully justify, as I’m certainly going to burn it off tonight!).
Decent bread and seasoned olive oil arrived immediately, and I chose to start off with a Caesar salad, which was quite good in spite of the usual Midwestern lack of anchovies. The dressing still carried those nice umami-salty notes one hopes for from a good Caesar. The croutons, alas, did not live up to the salad; they weren’t terrible, but rather roundly mediocre. I added fresh ground pepper from a pepper mill at table.
My entree was quite good – crisp, tender, and flavorful; the fruit well-chosen to avoid the bitterness that sometimes characterizes the flavor of larger specimens (which, to whit, I don’t mind, but many dislike). A sound but-not-excessive coat of cheese and a layer of spinach between the eggplant slices (a welcome innovation, to my palate) rounded things out.
An enormous pile of spaghetti (cooked slightly less al dente than I prefer, but quite acceptable) and a very serviceable marinara — willing to take the back seat, but far from flavorless, and not suffering from the unfortunate sweetness that often plagues Midwestern marinara – topped it off.
I saved half of my eggplant and most of the pasta for supper; it’s true that dancing is hungry work, but I didn’t want to explode!
I finished up with a nicely-portioned mini chocolate cake (a lemon cream cake looked tempting, but wasn’t available in the manageable miniature size). Plenty of bitter cocoa flavor here, which offset a slightly-too-sweet chocolate frosting. A tiny scoop of quite nice vanilla ice cream dusted with cocoa powder played very well.
Overall, quite a bit better than I had expected for an Italian-American joint in a the orbit of a shopping mall in Lexington, KY. Service was also good — attentive without being invasive. I would have liked a little more time with my salad, but I eat very, very slowly, so most will probably find the timing quite acceptable.
I will definitely keep Carino’s Italian Grill in my roster of lunch places in this area.
Total came to $19.36 before tip. I tipped generously for excellent service that took me seriously even though I showed up wearing my octopus swim trunks and a deep-v t-shirt (and probably looking like some broke kid who might not tip well) 😉