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Olive Garden is real Italian!


=Mark
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Wow!  Did you know that the Olive Garden chain of restaurants sends all of it's cooks to Italy to learn how to cook authentic Italian cuisine?  It's true!  I just saw a commercial that shows how they sent their cooks to Italy to make tortellini!  To think I've been fooling myself with all these local mom & pop family owned Italian places who have probably never been closer to Italy than Mulberry street!  I'll have to start checking out these Olive Garden places, they even offer endless refills of bread sticks and salad!  Can't get more Italian than that...   :-)

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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Well, they couldn't say it on TV if it wasn't true. And, all the people on the commercial are smiling as they eat. Momma, Nonna, Uncle Nick...

So, it must be true.

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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Here's what they say. I hear Robert Brown eats at this place in Italy all the time. Maybe he can tell us more about it. :)

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Our Restaurant and Culinary Institute in Italy

Riserva di Fizzano is a restored eleventh century village in Castellina-in-Chianti, Tuscany. It is the site of a 21-room retreat and now, Olive Garden Riserva di Fizzano, our restaurant in Italy.

While learning to cook by following the recipe is a standard method of the culinary arts, the best education comes from being in the kitchen with Italian chefs. Every year, culinary managers from our restaurants travel to Italy to take part in our Culinary Institute of Tuscany, also located at Riserva di Fizzano. There they work hand in hand with head chef Romana Neri, sharing ideas and creating exciting, flavorful dishes that capture the rich, robust flavors of Tuscany. For our Culinary Managers, however, the Italian experience involves much more than cooking lessons. It is there that they are immersed in Italian food and culture by:

Shopping for fresh herbs and vegetables in the markets of Florence

Tasting wines at Rocca delle Macie and local wine bars

Learning about the history and evolution of the traditional Italian meal

Experiencing firsthand Italian hospitality at numerous restaurants, including Olive Garden Riserva di Fizzano

When they return from the experience, Olive Garden Culinary Managers take pride in sharing that experience with their guests at Olive Garden.

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I promised myself I would not join this bandwagen, so I am jumping only onto the "tender".

Markstevens says it right (I hope) They are sending their cooks.

RailPaul, who is Uncle Nick?

And once I know, jhlurie, you don't have to trust him, he is just a customer?

Steven, I believe Robert is eating at these places, because he knows how to visit olive gardens (no Caps).

And Tommy, the word "chef" is a misnomer (in my eyes) as the word in French simply means "Boss". You even have a "Chef d'Epandage" ( that's the sewage system in Paris).

Peter
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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Quote: from Peter B Wolf on 4:15 pm on Jan. 2, 2002

RailPaul, who is Uncle Nick?

And once I know, jhlurie, you don't have to trust him, he is just a customer?

No, Uncle Nick isn't a customer.  He's a corporate shill disguised as an old Italian guy.  I mean would a "real Uncle Nick" (I mean a real Italian uncle) tell his nephew how much he loves ANY dish at the Olive Garden?  Not unless he hated his nephew and was trying to embarass him in front of a date or something...

So when you see Uncle Nick partying it up at the Olvie Garden on the commercial PLEASE don't trust him.  I don't!

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Okay, I want to know, in the interest of fairness: Who on this thread has dined at the Olive Garden, when, what did you eat, and how was it?

I'm going to be in some pretty desolate suburban areas later this month, so I think the Olive Garden will be on my list of chain restaurants to try. I'll report back. Certainly, from what I've seen on the Web site, there's cause to think the place is making a more conscientious effort to serve acceptable food than most chains.

By the way, here's the site for the parent corporation:

www.darden.com

Looks like big business. Has anybody been to a Smokey Bones or a Bahama Breeze restaurant?

(Edited by Fat Guy at 12:18 am on Jan. 3, 2002)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Quote: from Fat Guy on 12:13 am on Jan. 3, 2002

Okay, I want to know, in the interest of fairness: Who on this thread has dined at the Olive Garden, when, what did you eat, and how was it?

oh i have.  several times.  my first time was the night i graduated college.  yes, my parents aren't big spenders and don't know much about food.

the second time was while i was spending time in columbia, SC.  when i saw that an olive garden was opening, i was actually excited.  this tells you a bit about the state of food in columbia in the early 90's.

more recently, i went with mrs. tommy, as a lark more than anything.  it's not a cheap lark either!  had really horrible pasta and overpriced wine.  the high point of the olive garden, IMO, is the salad.  it's crispy and dressed just right.  there is something holy about oregano, salt, pepper, vinegar, and onions on a salad.  it just doesn't get much better than that folks.

i must mention, the lines outside of our local suburban OG are enormous.  i can't believe that many people would line up for that stuff, day in and day out.  and like i said, it ain't cheap!!

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I'll plead guilty.

Dee and I were cajoled into watching a nine year old niece and her friend for a weekend. They demanded to go to an OG. We went to the place on NJ 3 just east of the Giants Stadium.

I found the food to be generally bland, and more expensive than I anticipated. My guess is you'd be better off picking any NJ Italian storefront out of the yellow pages and walking in. Kids loved it, had a great time.

The restaurant had a magician at Saturday lunch, organ grinder music. Didn't see Uncle Nick, though.

FWIW, the Best Buys located just east of this store is in a NJ special tax zone. Sales Tax is 3% on video, sound, TV, etc. Home Depot is in the same zone.

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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Three words about Olive Garden....Do Not Go.

I went to a Olive Garden once when it was the only option still open and close to the hotel.  The food lacked any flavor or seasonings, I have had ketchup with more spice than their marinara sauce.  The pasta was also overcooked to the point of mush.  It is an establishment run by marketing executives and market researchers.  Their food is bland by design.  Olive Garden and Red Lobster use recipes designed to be acceptable to the widest potential audience throughout the country (I will try to find the article in Fortune or Forbes I read a while ago that discussed this).   The quality of the food is similar to Chef Boyardee canned goods.   Romano's Macaroni Grill is a much better choice for Italian food in a suburban chain restaurant.

Bahama Breeze is an upbeat restaurant where people go as much for the drinks and the bar scene as they do for the food.  The restaurant is similar to Bennigans and Fridays, but with a tropical theme.   I have only had appetizers and dinner salads...... not bad.   Their portions are huge, my friend was served two kebobs on skewers that must 18 inches long.   The food quality ranges between non-offensive to good.  Like almost all chain establishments, they do not go heavy on seasonings or spices, which is evident on their jerk dishes.  They have a house beer that is quite good.   Of the three chains you mentioned, BB is clearly the best.

They just opened a Smokey Bones not far from my house.   I have not been there, but the I hear it is awful.  The reviews have called it a Hooters with smoked meat.  Supposedly, the waitress wear very skimpy outfits.  Considering how accessible great barbeque is in Texas, I am surprised that Smokey Bones parking is always full.  I guess if Italian chain restaurants can survive in NY, then Smokey Bones can survive in Texas.  

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Tommy: my parents aren't big spenders and don't know much about food.

Playing the sympathy card, are you? Won't work here. ;)

Tommy: there is something holy about oregano, salt, pepper, vinegar, and onions on a salad.  it just doesn't get much better than that folks.

i must mention, the lines outside of our local suburban OG are enormous.  i can't believe that many people would line up for that stuff, day in and day out.  and like i said, it ain't cheap!!

Maybe that ain't oregano. ;)

NewYorkTexan: The reviews have called it a Hooters with smoked meat.  Supposedly, the waitress wear very skimpy outfits.  Considering how accessible great barbeque is in Texas, I am surprised that Smokey Bones parking is always full.

I'm going to guess there are no beaches or skimpy clothes neighborhoods in your part of Texas. On a more serious note, it's a really bad sign when quality cooking of local foods isn't of interest to the locals.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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"Hooters with smoked meat."

I'm not going to touch that one.

I really do have to check out the Olive Garden. I have some fairly knowledgeable friends who characterize it as a chain making a good faith effort to be as good as it can be within the limitations of catering to the rather limited tastes of its core clientele. I mean, were it purely a cynical corporate effort, why would anybody bother with the hassle of a cooking school in Italy and all those trips for the employees? It can't just be an advertising move, as that money could surely be spent more effectively on more ads in Sports Illustrated. That's why I was asking when people went (because I know the improvement effort is recent) and what they ate (because I'm interested to know the actual flaws in the dishes, rather than just the overall sense of things).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I thought the salad was one of the low points, myself. The Olive Garden is one of those chain restaurants that saves $$$ by making a dressing with little or no oil in it and dousing it with pure vinegar.

I can't eat a salad like that. A couple of bites and I feel my blood curdling.

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Knock yourself out, Steven.  Heck... apparently there is even a "Garden" in Times Square!

from Olivegarden.com:

SECAUCUS - 500 RT #3 WEST SECAUCUS NJ, 07094 USA

TIME SQUARE - 2 TIMES SQUARE NEW YORK NY, 10036 USA

LIVINGSTON, NJ - 227 EISENHOWER PKWY LIVINGSTON NJ, 07039 USA

SPRINGFIELD, NJ - 275 ROUTE 22 EAST SPRINGFIELD NJ, 07081 USA

WESTBURY - 1120 OLD COUNTRY RD. WESTBURY NY, 11590 USA

Want a gift card?  I'll sell it cheap.  ;)

...and more on Peter's question about who Uncle Nick is.  Click on the URL.  He's the older man sitting next to the little girl...

http://www.olivegarden.com/images/home1.jpg

(Edited by jhlurie at 2:04 pm on Jan. 3, 2002)

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Quote: from jhlurie on 1:55 pm on Jan. 3, 2002

...and more on Peter's question about who Uncle Nick is.  Click on the URL.  He's the older man sitting next to the little girl...

apparently someone is spending an unhealthy amount of time on olivegarden.com!

steven, i'd love to go into detail about the flaws of individual dishes, but jeez man, i didn't exactly have a pad and pencil that hung-over afternoon!!  if i could have thought clearly, do you think i would have went to begin with?!?

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Quote: from Fat Guy on 1:37 pm on Jan. 3, 2002

making a good faith effort to be as good as it can be within the limitations of catering to the rather limited tastes of its core clientele.

If they are trying to be the best they can be within the limits of their core clientele, then they are limited by a very low ceiling on quality.   Historically they have aimed for their dishes to be the "lowest common denominator" on flavor, with the ability to attract the largest mainstream audience.  If they try to have the cuisine become more authentic, they will alienate their current core base.  If they raise the quality of the ingredients they use, menu prices will rise and again their core base will be turned off.  It seems like they are striving for an impossible goal.   I also question if the parent company would have the fortitude to ride out potentially lower profitability during this transition.

I am interested in your opinion of Olive Garden after you go there.

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I'll let you know. I'm actually interested in all the non-junk-food chain restaurants of the Olive Garden/Red Lobster variety. I look forward to dining in several of them later this month, mostly for academic reasons but also because they'll probably be among the best restaurants where I'm at. If I get to enough of them, perhaps I'll devote a newsletter issue to the subject.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Quote: from Katherine on 1:52 pm on Jan. 3, 2002

I thought the salad was one of the low points, myself. The Olive Garden is one of those chain restaurants that saves $$$ by making a dressing with little or no oil in it and dousing it with pure vinegar.

Hmm, the Chef at your location must have had a bad day.  <vbg>

I ate at OG 6 or 8 years ago.  One of the guys ordered meatballs and spaghetti.  He swore it tasted exactly like dog food smells.  We didn't believe him, so it made the rounds of the table.  Sure enough we agreed to the last person a can of cheap dog food would taste better.

I ordered a pasta with a cream sauce, don't remember which.  It was edible, but not good.  The bread sticks were stale.  The salad was fine.

Fat Guy, is someone sending you to the Antarctic or something?  I can't imagine a place where OG is the best place to eat.

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North Jersey isn't the suburbs! It's the sixth borough of New York City. My generalization about the suburbs was meant to apply to the strip-mall culture of most of America, and I'm happy to defend it!

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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