Is This Really a “Lobster Dinner”?

Buitoni Riserva Complete Meal for Two

Buitoni Riserva Complete Meal for Two

I Paid: $8.99 to $9.99 per frozen meal (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4 stars

Marketing: 3 stars

Let’s get one point of contention out of the way immediately: The Buitoni Riserva Complete Meal for Two is a long way from being a “complete” meal. It is, in fact, only “complete” in the sense that the pasta comes with sauce. This may be a personal bias, but when I think of a complete Italian meal, I think of garlic bread, a plate of antipasti, pasta and sauce, some kind of meat or fish dish, a pistachio-dusted cannoli, and strong coffee in a small cup.

Nitpicking aside, there’s a lot to like about Buitoni Riserva’s Complete Meal for Two, an extension of the company’s higher-end Buitoni Riserva line. I tried two of the ravioli options from this sprawling line of frozen Italian dinners: Chicken & Mushroom Ravioli with Marsala Wine Sauce and the intriguingly ambitious Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce. Both achieved what is, for frozen food, the holy grail: They had strong flavor that at least tangentially resembled what you’d expect from real food you prepare at home. And both were brilliantly easy to make. You float the sauce bag in a large pot of water, bring the water to a boil, add the frozen ravioli for five to six minutes, and then mix the sauce and ravioli in a bowl.

The Chicken & Mushroom Ravioli has an intense initial mushroom odor and a mushroom flavor that is strong and convincing, unusual for the world of frozen food—the typical frozen and reheated mushroom is a sad little gray slug, whereas the portobellos in this sauce and ravioli are dark in color and persuasive in their funk and taste. The chicken is sort of along for the ride, but the wine note in the sauce is both perceptible and reasonably well balanced. If you paid $11 for a serving of this in a restaurant, you’d be disappointed but not furious; at $4.50 a serving as a frozen meal, it’s a damn good value.

The Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli is even better. If you’re like me—a professional skeptic—the presence of lobster in a frozen dinner sets off alarm bells. Yet there are visible pieces of lobster in these ravioli, and they actually taste like lobster and are neither overcooked nor soupy. The shrimp pieces provide more texture than flavor, but they’re present too—blindfolded, you’d pick out both tastes for what they are. The garlic butter sauce packs some actual garlic punch and is rich without being grossly tacky in texture or fatty in flavor.

In both cases, the pasta itself tastes delicate by frozen-dinner standards and is tastefully scalloped, a nice nod toward aesthetics that is appreciated at this price point.

In short: Buitoni is making some serious progress toward bridging the gap between a frozen dinner and a real, moderately good Italian-inspired meal.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.