The Never Ending Pasta Bow(e)l should really have an extra E because there were some never ending bathroom trips the following day (it was probably my jungle curry lunch, but I don’t want to say anything bad about Chao Thai). Who knew? Even more disturbing is that this was my fourth visit to the Chelsea Olive Garden and I don’t even like (Italian-American) pasta. But all you can eat for $8.95 demanded investigation.
They’re very sneaky with this promotion; despite being advertised on TV continuously, there’s no signage, menu inserts or little cardboard foldovers on any of the tables. It’s all very hush hush and I’m not assertive so I started getting a little nervous. Thankfully, a dining companion who tipped me off in the first place had no qualms about piping up for cheap pasta.
Phew, paying Manhattan chain restaurant prices for mushy alfredo would be harsh (I’m still steaming how once I inexplicably spent close to $50 on a cheeseburger and two margaritas at a Times Square T.G.I. Friday’s. It’s the price you pay for suburban simulacra). I had no idea how the whole thing worked, it’s much more customizable than I’d anticipated. I figured you’d get spaghetti and a couple sauce options, but there were approximately six choices for each.
I have to admit that my linguine with smoked mozzarella and breadcrumbs was satisfying in a creamy starchy way. And I would’ve been fine with the one bowl—pasta is one of the few foodstuffs that never spurs a desire for seconds—but it’s never ending so you have to play along.
Penne with five cheese marina came next, and amusingly, in a bowl half the size as the first. Would the third come in a teacup, we wondered aloud. “People don’t finish their second,” we were bluntly told. I wasn’t complaining because entrée number two had no flavor, like I imagine hospital food would taste. Under-salting is one of my many cooking crimes, I never touch a shaker in restaurants, but this blob was crying out for sodium. Maybe they do it on purpose to quell appetites. Like many a diner before me, I didn’t finish my second bowl.
The upside of such a bargain (don’t forget the salad and breadsticks) is that you’ll have plenty of money left over to get sloshed on inexpensive Shiraz. (9/20/07)
I never run into anyone I even vaguely know anywhere in the city. It’s certainly not like the everyone-knows-your-name NYC portrayed on television. Despite living in a popular neighborhood, its not one filled with many friends or acquaintances. So, I was surprised when I ran into my pal Heather while waiting outside for our beeper to go off on an early Friday night. And running into friends isnt always good–despite being quoted a 30 minute wait with the usual hoardes cramming the entrance, we apparently missed our call while sneaking a quick smoke and chit chatting mere minutes after arriving.
So, after being tormented in the lobby for over half an hour while everyone arriving after us was seated, we finally realized we had been burned by our buzzer. I liked how the hostess told our waitress after hearing our dismay, “give them a good table.” Olive Gardens a class act. I also liked how they sent a girl around to push blank Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay on you. They even give you a taste, a decent pour, to lure you in.
A Passion for Cheese was the current promotion, surpassing the previous Never Ending Pasta Bowl. Never ending stories are one thing, but I dont really give a rats ass about all you can eat pasta, which isnt my top meal choice in the first place. But this was the special that had enticed Heather in the first place, too bad she missed it by a week. I’m surprised OG actually feels the need to deem a special menu to this cheese crazy style, as most casual chains serve everything drenched in dairy anyway.
We chose an appropriately cheesy appetizer, the smoked mozzarella fonduta, which is a platter of melted cheese with small bread slices. James had the four cheese (parmesan, mozzarella, provolone and gouda, if you must know) tortellini with shrimp. I wimped out and ordered the same thing I ordered the last time I was at the OG, Seafood Alfredo, rightly heavy and creamy even without the ubiquitous cheese.
I’m not as critical of OG food as one could be, but the dessert was way off. Chocolate lasagna, which was literally like eating massive mouthfuls of really cold sheet cake frosting with chocolate chunks interspersed. I dont remember any actual cake. I like a sponge to icing balance, and this was like eating a slab of chilled fondant. I know cookie dough somehow has gained gross (but good) popularity, but a plate of chocolate and frosting is too gauche for even me. (11/21/05)
I’d been waiting for what I’ve been calling the "upscale Olive Garden" to open in its new Chelsea location. The facade intrigued me, nondescript stone with stately gold lettering. So subtle, you’d almost mistake it for a hotel lobby. We went opening week, and strangely there was no wait (maybe New Yorkers really don’t want or need chain restaurants in the city. Say it isn’t so.), which was surprising since once I had to wait an hour for a table at the Times Square Olive Garden.
The perky, overzealous staff easily outnumbered patrons, and it appeared they were still in training mode. They were hard selling with abandon, recommending their "favorite" i.e. highlighted in the menu, dishes, mentioning their "cooking school" in Italy and trying to pawn off overpriced wine, practically forcing you to try a sample. It was a bit much. I don’t know if this is some New York tactic, but I’ve never encountered such a used car sales approach. I’ve always been one to defend the chains, but this corporate barrage was almost too much. I really wanted to warm up to the upscale Olive Garden, but came away feeling abused. I will have to see if the new Battery Park Applebee’s fares any better.
And to add insult to injury, James ate my seafood alfredo leftovers without even asking. You just don’t go and eat a girl’s pasta like that. (11/13/02)
Olive Garden * 696 Sixth Ave., New York, NY