“Why?” I was asked on Facebook where all great questions originate. Well, because the Neverending Pasta Bowl has become a tradition, one I must heed despite little interest in flour and water formed into shapes, reconstituted (in unsalted water, of course) and coated in thick tomato sauces during my day-to-day life.
Pizzas may continue being overstuffed, or rather, turned into full-course meals, and burgers may blacken and pinken, yet some things stay staunchly the same. With the fate of autumn novelty, the McRib, up in the air this year, at least you can count on Olive Garden offering all-you-can-eat pasta for a price that still starts a penny shy of $10 some time toward the end of summer, usually August–this year it fell unusually late (and lasts through November 9).
Each of my experiences have gotten progressively weirder. I’m not really sure what the promotion costs in reality, despite scrutinizing the receipt. Small print on the website threatens the usual higher prices may apply in NYC garbage, but the base price appears to be $9.99 like anywhere else. As in previous jaunts, if you live in NYC the only clue that this deal exists may be if you catch a commercial on TV. There are no menu inserts or advertisements, no lent cheat sheet as in years past, just a quick verbal description with no prices given.
I suppose one could follow Olive Garden’s millennial-baiting Twitter account for NEPB alerts. Weird Corporate Twitter has become the social media standard. The newish website is designed in that tiled Pinterest style with links to things young people care about like “culinary innovation” and “nutrition,” the redesigned logo curling like reassuring text on the packaging of an eco-friendly feminine hygiene product.
The thing is, the restaurant had no wifi, which won’t do for its intended demographic. I couldn’t even get a signal on my own, and I desperately wanted to Instagram the shit out of my progressing bowls (and ultimately typed bowel later while hastily trying to upload a picture before Gone Girl started because my biggest fear is becoming a during-movie texter, followed by an on-plane barefooter) and ping the brand for attention, but obviously no hashtags were displayed on signage because this NEPB is a stealth campaign of the highest order.
And the plan worked. Not a single diner in the eerie side room that was initially uninhabited, neither the young boy with a father who only ate a bowl of soup, the obvious tourist family of four, the solo lady who gave me faith, nor the girls’ night out crew, was partaking in the deal, and not out of any sense of dignity, I like to believe.
Olive Garden finally convinced me to spring for an extra topping because for the first time in history it wasn’t all sausage or meatballs, but also shrimp fritta a.k.a. breaded, fried shrimp ($4.99 surcharge). Every year two new sauces are introduced, and for 2014 that would be Spicy Three Meat (anyone’s guess which three) and Roasted Mushroom Alfredo, which I only know because of the very informative website. These too, come at a price in select locations. Maybe a dollar in Chelsea? Maybe someone would tell you if you asked? I’m not convinced anyone would know.
Cream sauce, penne and fried seafood? Yes, one bowl is plenty.
Bowl two is the size bowl one should probably be but would break the convivial spirit of NEPB. Scale is hard to parse–this meat sundae is roughly the serving of one generous scoop of ice cream.
Bowl three was forgone in favor of shared chocolate cake. Black Tie Mousse Cake, to be precise, which frankly doesn’t scream young and fresh at all and sounds like something from The Silver Palate Cookbook. If I were an 18-to-34-year-old I would’ve obviously ordered the “dolcini” because small desserts for sharing and health is where it’s at now.