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So I (too) had to go to Olive Garden (safe bets report)

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The co-workers in my group seem to love chains (plus we work in the chain heaven of surburbia south san jose), so our monthly birthday lunches are often at a chain. This month it was the dreaded Olive Garden. So I read past posts that discuss the safest bets to order here, including this very useful thread:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

I used to go to OG when it was a favorite of my in-laws in southern Ca, and over time got used to the soup salad breadsticks as the safest best. Consensus from that thread also was to order soup. But I've gotten to really dislike their salty soups. Then I noticed (atleast at my OG location) they have a Mussels di Napoli appetizer, described on their website as "Mussels in the shell, simmered with wine, garlic-butter and onions." No one has mentioned this on Chowhound so I thought I'd post a report.

Here's a photo of my mussels:
http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b39...

Not as generous as the photo on their website (not that I expected it to be), and for $9.25 not really a value priced appetizer. Mussels were relatively fresh tasting, NOT overcooked to rubbery chewiness surprisingly. One of the mussels in my plate had a cracked-to-pieces top shell, but I ate all of my mussels and didn't find any that tasted dead/rotten. I think there were 2 species of mussels in my plate, the kind that have an orangey flesh, and the kind that have a tan flesh (though all of the shells were black, no green lipped shells). I’m not experienced enough with frozen mussels to be able to tell if these were frozen mussels.

I used up 3.5 breadsticks to sop up the abundant broth; it was not as fragrantly winey as I’d like (ie I think there was vinegar, not just wine), but the acidity and saltiness were balanced. I don’t think there were any onions in my broth, but there was (maybe previously frozen) minced garlic.

Overall, not bad. Definitely not a reason to go to OG, but if you have to go and you like mussels, don’t be afraid.

I also tasted a co-worker’s linguine marinara with whole wheat noodles (now available as an alternative to any of the noodle dishes). The noodles were not overcooked nor pasty (of course they were not al dente either), the sauce was not offensively acidic (but more acidic than I like) and the herbs not overly commercial tasting. Not bad either if you’re looking for a safe bet.

BTW the "italian" salad dressing isn’t very good (even if it’s not the 'low-cal italian' crap that you see in chain salad buffets). But you can get a very standard ranch as an alternative. And definitely always order the dressing on the side.

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  1. We get panicked requests about what to eat at OG but this is the first report back I can ever remember. Thanks for manning the trenches and relating your survival strategies!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dave Feldman

      I totally was shunning Olive Garden for years. As a semi-joke my husband and I decided some months back to have lunch there while out shopping one Sunday. It was convenient, nothing more. We were surprised to find that it was actually edible. Mind you, didn't make us want to run back anytime soon but if we were forced into going with a group of people (like our family who has a lot of kids) we wouldn't complain like we would have in the past. Certainly not the worst of the bunch as far as chains are concerned, and it was inexpensive to boot.

    2. Has anyone tried their new Asiago Chicken? As a cheese freak, I am highly interested.

      1. "2 species of mussels in my plate, the kind that have an orangey flesh, and the kind that have a tan flesh"

        The orange ones are mature females, the lighter ones either male or young female. Usually means they're male.

        1. My MIL loves Olive Garden and for a while considered it the "best" in italian food.

          Being half Italian, I took offense to this. This is NOT italian food. It is sub-par partially frozen tv dinners. The "salad" (bottom of the barrel iceberg and canned black olives - yuckl!)and italian dressing she loves makes me sick!

          I don't understand the fascination with this restaurant. People in the area will wait (up to 2 hours) to eat at this joint...like it's going out of style!

          Not me. I think it sucks.

          1 Reply
          1. re: messyjessy

            Exactly! Why is it SO difficult to do a tasty "red sauce"??!!!

          2. When I have to go the manicotti are usually a safe bet.