Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pronto Cucinino - fast, mediocre, overpriced

"In 1948, Richard and Maurice McDonald shrank their menu to only those items that could be eaten without silverware, converted their kitchen to a food-assembly line that required almost no skill from employees and dropped teenager-attracting female carhops in favor of a setup that required patrons to help themselves. This Speedee Service System allowed McDonald's to lower its prices — drawing a clientele made up largely of families."

-Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, The New York Times Book Review, January 21, 2001

Pronto Cucinino is a fast food Italian restaurant on Montrose, apparently operated by the family who run two nicer restaurants -- Nino's and Vincent's.

The food at Pronto Cucinino was a disappointment. The menu only has a small handful of choices, and they all sounded dull. The execution was worse.

We started with a few small square slices of pizza. The crust was greasy and had an odd texture -- more like pastry crust than pizza crust. This pizza bore no relation to the wonderfully authentic Italian pizza at Vincent's. My wife also ordered a cesar salad. It was not as good as some other fast food cesars, like La Madeleine. I ordered a plate of Italian sausage with bell peppers and tomato sauce. It was the best dish we ordered, but the sausage was dry and warmed over. The sausage plate tastes far better at Alfredo's European Grill, just down Montrose.

An even bigger disappointment was the price. For a kids plate, Pronto Cucinino sold my daughter a 1 cup portion of penne pasta with butter for $4. The ingredients certainly cost no more than $0.25. Similarly, they sold a glass of Ravenswood Zinfandel Vintner's Blend for about $7 -- almost as much as a whole bottle of the same wine at Specs. I calculate their markup on that wine must be at least four times cost, which is twice as much as most Houston restaurants. They also sell tiny portions of pre-made desserts in plastic containers for $4.75.

Pronto Cucinino even has the nerve to charge for breadsticks, which are free at other fast food restaurants like Cafe Express.

The total bill for a mediocre, fast-food meal for two adults and a child was over $40. That is a lot of money for fast food.

Pronto Cucinino is very fast. We had our food within five minutes. Food served that fast makes me suspicious. Is it heated in a microwave, kept warm by a steam table, or prepared by an assembly line of indifferent and unskilled teenagers? I suspect that the technique that makes this food so fast may be the same reason it does not taste so good.

The best comparison for Pronto Cucinino is a big chain like Olive Garden. Pronto Cucinino is faster. The quality is about the same. But Olive Garden is a far better deal.


Huan said...

Nice blog.

I've found that at any of the Nino/Vincent/Pronto restaurants, your best bet is to order the most simple pasta you can find on the menu. Or, you can order the rotisserie. What kind of attorney are you?

anonymouseater said...

Thanks. I like almost everything at Nino's and Vincent's. That is why I was so surprised by Pronto.

I am an appellate attorney. You?