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Next day, we decided to check out a feature called "Curbside To Go." It works like do-it-yourself Waiter On Wheels. You call in your order 30 minutes ahead and go to pick it up, using one of the parking spots designated for the function. They bring the food out to you, with almost no waiting, then you pay and take it home (or gobble it in some other part of the parking lot if you're starving.) It's the food equivalent of Netflix DVD rentals, replacing the social experience of restaurant eating with a private meal, while replacing the experience of a home-cooked meal with a mass-produced hot dinner. Like the cell phone, it's a development that allows people to absent themselves from the outer world. But in this case, it also allows you to have a meal without having to hear a reprise of "Return to Sorrento."

We noticed that the takeout menu had a number of items marked with a little red chef's toque, meaning, "Chef's Choice" -- specialties of the house. Most of these looked more creative than the non-toqued choices. We tried a couple of them. The lobster ravioli had deep-green tarragon-flavored pasta filled with lobster meat, topped with shrimp, chopped asparagus, diced fresh tomatoes, and lemon butter. The pasta is on the thick side, but less so than the average San Diego raviolum. The overall effect is likable, with tender shrimp and coherent flavors. Another possibility in this vein is Shrimp Portofino, with shrimp, mushrooms, pine nuts, and spinach in lemon-butter sauce, served with pasta.

Our other choice was a sampler called "Mama's Trio," featuring chicken cannelloni, lasagna, and chicken Parmigiano. The chicken Parmigiano tasted like it came frozen and ready to heat from a central commissary. The "twice baked" lasagna wasn't bad. It also wasn't good, since it follows the same pattern as the meatballs, more Red State all-American than Italian-American. The cannelloni, putatively filled with roast chicken, plus spinach and cheese, mainly contained melted cheese. I did like its tangy Asiago cream sauce.

Romano's isn't great, but it's serviceable for the demographic it's aimed toward. Ten years from now, today's 28-year-olds will still be eating there, saying "Remember our first date?" and "Remember Tammee's third birthday party?" Long-running, wide-reaching restaurant chains aren't born, they're created -- by their devoted patrons, and by the people who've read those patrons' wants and needs.

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