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Olive Garden with a Side of Proper Expectations

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Olive Garden: Not Bad for What It Is
Not Bad for What It Is

I plead guilty to yucking other people's yums. To wit: I have mercilessly mocked Olive Garden and those who think it fine dining. I realize now that it was wrong of me to do so. I committed the sin of expressing subjective opinion as objective fact. Olive Garden just couldn't be good food, but who am I to tell you what is or is not good? More to the point, though, how can I pass judgement on the place if I have not eaten there?

Clearly, I have never had the desire to eat at Olive Garden. I like real Italian food and felt that this place would be an abomination. The only reason why I went was the $50 gift card I had won in a raffle and a guilty sense that I should know that of which I rant. Now, any restaurant can be a good restaurant (supposing it's run with a modicum of skill and a desire to do a good job). The key is to set the right expectations. I prepared myself for this meal by repeating the mantra: "This is not an Italian restaurant, it is Corporate American cuisine made in the Italian idiom." Oh, and I promised I would not complain about over-cooked pasta.

Long story short, it wasn't that bad. The four of us ordered:

  • For an appetizer, we chose to create our own sampler and selected stuffed mushrooms, toasted raviolis and the calamari. Surprisingly, the squid was well cooked, with only a hint of rubberiness. The mushrooms were a tad on the greasy side, but edible. Nobody else seemed to like the raviolis, but I noshed big time.
  • We cycled 3 bowls of soup and an overly large serving of salad amongst us. The soups weren't bad, if a tad salty. The salad was an uninspired assembly of greens headlined by iceberg lettuce.
  • My youngest and I both ordered the special: 4 cheese stuffed pansotti (hers with chicken, mine Italian sausage). The pasta was (tss, tss!), er, um, drenched in a tomato-y cream sauce that actually went well with the sausage. The stuffed pasta seemed almost an afterthought that I wouldn't have missed.
  • My wife and eldest went with items from the appetizer menu. I questioned their selection of steamed mussels, but was proven wrong. The liquid was half way decent, even if overly salty (alas, this was turning into a theme here). They also ordered the Lasagna fritta, which was a disappointment. It looked nothing like the picture on the menu.

As I waddled out, I felt like we got our money's worth (the additional $40 it cost us), but don't think we'll be coming back. For that amount of money (or just a little more), we can get better food elsewhere. The place is not cheap unless you stick to water and the unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks.

One conclusion I reached, though, is that it's no wonder we're an obese nation:

  1. Portion sizes are gigantic. Those weren't plates, they were platters!
  2. Everything is drenched in cream and/or cheese. Why? Perhaps to cover up the fact that the pasta is (Dude! NO!), um, not the best.
  3. There is way too much salt. Telling sign that the dishes weren't made in house, but somewhere else and shipped here.

I felt miserable for the rest of the day, like I had swallowed an indigestible rock. I then made the mistake of looking up the nutritional value of the meal we just ate.

  • We consumed enough calories for the whole day for all four of us.
  • We ingested over 350 grams of fat! The equivalent to 7 Big Macs and 7 large orders of fries.
  • The salt intake was equivalent to the recommend daily amount for nearly 7 people.

I'm still in shock over witnessing a women who had to have been half my size who had ordered something that looked to be twice the size of my meal and she was furiously shaking salt on to it.

Now, I can rationalize crappy nutrition if the food is really good (bypassing for the moment the argument that good food doesn't need so much salt or fat) and I had a good time. This was not the case for me, yet others seem to truly enjoy the place. I won't try to talk them out of it. I would suggest, though, that they might try other places.