I know I’m supposed to be a serious food writer and all, but I kinda dig the Olive Garden. (And fans do say THE Olive Garden, even though “the” is not part of its name.)
Once the butt of many a chain restaurant jokes, the Olive Garden back in 1999 teamed up with the Culinary Institute of Tuscany in an effort to reinvent itself.
Yeah right, I thought, and was horrified when my editor at the time asked me to go review the new menu for a restaurant critique. “Olive Garden?” I squealed – this is before I became a fan, thus no “the” – “At the mall!?”
But I reported for duty, skeptical wife in hand, to sample some of the new wares. Wow! This was not the Olive Garden I remember.
We started the evening with delicious new appetizers, ended it with impressive baked desserts, and filled the middle with delicious gourmet entrees and nicer quality wines. Amy still talks about the pork loin we enjoyed that night – and it’s been more than 10 years.
Now I seriously don’t go back that often, but I’m always pretty impressed when I do. I think it’s one of the rare national chains that actually keeps getting better instead of resting on its “lowest common denominator” laurels. I adore the Braised Beef and Tortelloni (sliced short ribs tossed with cheesy pasta, mushrooms and a basil-marsala sauce) and just this week I sampled the delicious Vino Bianco Pork Scaloppini featuring pan-seared pork cutlets served with asiago cheese-filled tortelloni tossed with roasted portabella mushrooms and green onions in a white wine cream sauce. (That last one’s only being offered for a limited time, so rush in if interested.) And I usually manage to sneak a bite from other plates that are just as tasty.
Sure, there’s too much fat and cream and salt. And it’s really unnecessary to shred cheese over EVERY SINGLE THING they bring to the table, as they are want to do. The garlic breadsticks aren’t all that – and I think it’s socially criminal that they offer them to overweight Americans in unlimited quantities.
But I can say no to a tsunami of cheese, stop after one breadstick and actually enjoy my meal. Which I do, every time.