I like to find little independent restaurants and I don't mind driving a ways to find them. My wife likes good old reliable chains and prefers to stay within a 5 mile radius of home. Luckily, we are patient with one another's restaurant quirks. Friday night, J gave me the go-ahead to pick any place that wasn't outrageously far from home. We poked our heads in the Ironwood Cafe in Bay Village, but decided that it looked a little sketchy & the menu didn't look outstanding. J thought it smelled bad, too. So, we walked on down to Arrabiata's, which I had heard good buzz about. We were surprised to be able to get a seat so quickly on a Friday night. The house was full, so we apparently just got lucky. Everyone in our particular dining room was in a very convivial mood. The high spirits seemed to be reflected in the wait staff, as well. The restaurant was attractively decorated, with big windows looking out on the rainy streets. The lighting was dim enough to be pleasant, but not so dim that presentation wasn't an issue. I like to be able to see my food.
I started with a Brandy Alexander, since I had never tried one before. It was like a swanky milkshake, quite delicious but certainly not something to order every day. Or even every month. Our waitress brought a loaf of fragrant, hot bread and a dollop of what I think was sundried tomato butter. For an appetizer, we had the artichokes d'agnese, which were very good, although I probably wouldn't bread them if I made them at home. They were breaded & fried artichoke hearts in a luscious lemon butter sauce. I would eat the sauce on anything and I am in luck because they offer both a chicken and a veal agnese. I know what I'm having next time. For my main course, I had the chicken parm, which was unlike most versions I've had. The chicken breasts had been left as is rather than pounded thin, yielding a very juicy dish. The linguine with marinara sauce on the side was cooked just right and the sauce was very flavorful. But, when I bit J's veal romano, I was instantly jealous. Our waitress had recommended it & she was absolutely on target. J was very pleased with it, particularly the gorgeous fat mushrooms. It was in a white wine butter sauce with a smidgy bit of cream, but not enough to make it heavy. There were bits of salty prosciutto, peas and a nice solid onion flavor. Despite my qualms about veal, I found it superbly delicious. Since we had Harry & David cheesecake waiting at home, we skipped dessert but I have a suspicion that the tiramisu is great.
Saturday night, with private reluctance, I gave J free rein on dinner. She suggested TGI Friday's and I grumpily complied. I was thrilled when they were slammed, with nary a parking space. She was very hungry and cranky with me for being grumpy about going to a chain. She snapped that "some people would be really grateful if they got to have dinner at Friday's." I thought, but did not say, "But every third night, dear?" I exaggerate. I suggested we try the local Applebee's and we were able to get a seat immediately. We were both so hungry that we got two appetizers. J had broiled shimp with 3 dipping sauces (the avocado one was pretty decent, actually) and I had their boneless wings, which are reliably good if predictable. I should have stopped there, but I ordered a steak, too. It was so thoroughly doused with Liquid Smoke (or something of that ilk) as to be extremely unappetizing and I did not finish. Nor was I impressed with my mashed potatoes or steamed veggies (read squash). J was happy with her steak, although she later admitted to me that it had a certain chemical smoke flavor, as well. Someone overdid the marinating, I expect. It will be a very, very long time before I have another steak there. Yuck! However, dessert made the whole thing, even the gratingly abrupt service, worth it. We had the white chocolate walnut blondie (or whatever they are calling it these days) with extra sauce and it was fantastic!
Overall, I'd say the indie won hands down. J thought Arrabiata's was great, too. For more info, www.arrabiatas.com.