Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lunch At Olive Garden

SP and I were out and about on Saturday. We had an appointment in the morning and then planned to do some 'fun' shopping along with the usual chores and errands. As soon as we left the house, my stomach started making 'feed me' noises. So embarrassing. This continued on the drive to our appointment, in the waiting area, during the meeting. I ate my usual breakfast and it wasn't even noon when we finished, but my stomach had been demanding food for well over an hour. We decided we had to eat before anything else. But where? Originally we were thinking mall court food, but that wasn't really appealing to us. Then we remembered our gift certificate to Olive Garden plus we had a coupon. We figured (hoped) that the wait around noon wouldn't be as horrible as the wait at dinner time. Fortunately, it wasn't. We were seated after a 5-10 minute wait.
Saturday was another frigid, blustery weekend day. I was so cold - the wind chill was 19 and it was just so darn windy. So while SP ordered iced tea, I ordered hot tea. To my surprise and delight, Olive Garden offers more than plain black tea. They have flavored teas, like Earl Grey. I like that the hot water comes in a carafe that gave me 2-3 cups of tea.
A newfangled teabag
The teabag intrigued me. I'd never seen one like this! I had to read the directions on the foil packet! All the tea we drink, loose leaf and bags, and I'd never seen this neat self-squeezing teabag. No need for a spoon. I don't know if I was all befuddled or bedazzled by this neato teabag design, but I spaced out on the sugar. I looked at the blue, pink, yellow, and white cylinders and thought something like oh, blue for boy, pink for girl, what's yellow? Oh it's all the same I'll use a yellow.
The confusing sweetener options
Total brain cramp. Or maybe I was thinking of the last time I was at Olive Garden, which was for Z's bridal shower, and then maybe my mind wandered to showers...  then baby showers...  and maybe that's why I was thinking of blue for boys and pink for girls, but sheesh...  I wondered why my first cup of tea tasted so sweet. It was tasty, but sweeter than I normally make it. Um... maybe because it was fake sugar. I cannot believe I spaced out on this. Blue = Equal, pink = Sweet N Low, yellow = some other fake sugar, and white = the real deal. Duh. But I didn't figure that out until my second cup of tea. SP had a good time making fun of me.

Anyway, I chose to start with soup instead of salad because I was cold! Soup sounded warming and comforting.
Chicken & Gnocchi Soup
It was good, but I'm not sure I'd get it again. I didn't like all the green onions, and it was saltier than I would have liked but that's a risk of soups at places like Olive Garden. The gnocchi were pretty tasty. Not soft and pillowy, but definitely not tough or rubbery or heavy balls of dough.
Minestrone Soup
SP chose minestrone soup. He liked it, as did I when I tried a bite, but it, too, was a little salty. Of course, we tend to under salt our foods because we don't like salt, so perhaps others wouldn't notice any salty taste.

We also received a basket of the breadsticks:
Breadsticks
SP suggested sharing an appetizer of these fried goodies, which surprised me because he's not really a fried foods person, but I like fried calamari & cheese!
Appetizer Platter, we chose 3 appetizers: Calamari with Mustard Sauce, Fried Mozzarella with Marinara, and Stuffed Mushrooms
The calamari was all rings, which I liked, and not heavily breaded and not rubbery. My favorite of the three appetizers. The mustard dipping sauce was really good, too. The mushroom caps were OK. I think they are stuffed with a mix of breadcrumbs, cheese, and herbs. I thought I tasted a bit too much garlic salt, so I only ate one mushroom cap.

The fried mozzarella was OK and the marinara was OK.
Grilled Shrimp Caprese
SP ordered Grilled Shrimp Caprese and ate a bit less than half. He said it was tasty. I didn't try any. I was busy eating half of my Ravioli di Portobello:
Ravioli di Portobello
They were tasty. The creamy, cheesy sauce was good.

I know I am just as guilty as other food bloggers in being a bit 'snobby' towards chain restaurants. The fact of the matter is, not all chains are horrible. Yes, most of the food is pre-made and all they have to do is cook it. They aren't whipping up a marinade from scratch or baking their own bread or making fresh pasta. And that's OK. This was a perfectly decent, tasty lunch, and we had leftovers for another lunch.

My issue is that, for instance, SP's Shrimp Caprese was $16, and for $16 we could get a fresher, completely homemade, tastier pasta dish at Piccolo Forno or Osteria 2350. Even my ravioli was $12, and given a choice, I'd rather pay another $2-$4 more for homemade ravioli at one of the above mentioned places.

If we hadn't had the gift card and a coupon, we probably would have just hit the mall food court for a Subway or a soft pretzel. This was a nice lunch date, especially since we had separate plans for the evening, and it was nice to relax and be out of the hustle and bustle of the mall. Our server was very friendly. She kept SP's iced tea filled. She asked if we wanted our soup or appetizer first, informing us that the appetizer could take up to 10 minutes to come out because of cooking/broiling the mushroom caps. A manager was walking around, checking on customers, too, and I thought that was nice.

And chains certainly are good locations for families with small children. They are less formal and more spacious than some of the places at which we dine in Lawrenceville or East Liberty, places that would not be good for children.

All in all, a good lunch.

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