Friday, March 9, 2012

Olive Garden - Restaurant Review

Prior to going gluten and dairy free (GFCF), I used to love the Olive Garden restaurant. I'm not sure if it was the bottomless salad bowl (I'm a big fan of Italian salads with black olives and peppers) or the warm bread sticks I used to smother butter over. When I became GFCF and realized one day that I may never dine at the Olive Garden again, it almost brought tears to my eyes. I'm not sure why because it's not really that nice of a place but anyway you can imagine my excitement when I was told they now have gluten free pasta.

I decided to combine a needed trip to the Great Mall in Milpitas with a review of the Olive Garden. They have a full gluten free menu which includes Penne Rigate Pomodoro, Penne Rigate Marinara, Steak Toscano, Herb Grilled Salmon and Mixed Grill (steak and chicken). They even offered two kid's entrees.

I know this is hard to read. Email me if you want a bigger JPEG.
I was very excited over the prospect of our gluten free meal. I asked our server many questions which he patiently listened to and eagerly tried to answer. He was a little under trained on the new gluten free menu. He did however go the kitchen and proceed to cut the ingredient list from the bag of GF pasta - very sweet and accommodating. Turns out it is a quinoa and corn blend. He did verify that the two sauces both Pomodoro and Marinara are dairy free. He told me the salad dressing was both gluten and dairy free but then came sprinting back after I had eaten about three bites to tell me that there is cheese in the dressing. Oh man...he brought back a fresh salad bowl and I settled with olive oil and vinegar. It was disappointing especially when my "milk cramps and bloating" started about an hour later. 

Warning: the Italian dressing on the salad contains cheese!

I was further disappointed when the pasta came out. It looked over cooked and translucent. See the third photo below. The pasta was literally falling apart. From what I've read on the gluten free chat boards, this is a common experience at Olive Gardens across the country. One post read, "DO NOT ORDER THE GF PASTA AT OLIVE GARDEN." Unfortunately, I read that post after this visit.

Adult Entree of Pasta Pomodoro with grilled chicken

Kid's entree of Pasta Marinara with grilled chicken

Not very appetizing!
The taste was okay. It was not bad enough to send back but overall, I was disappointed with the meal. Maybe it was because my hopes were so high. Sammy seemed to enjoy his pasta. He's always happy to eat gluten free pasta in a restaurant though. They did not have any dairy free or gluten free desserts and no gluten free beer. They do bring out a small bowl of grapes for the kids. That was a special treat for them and served as dessert. I also love these capped children's cups (below). I like it when beverage spillage is just one less thing I have to worry about.

Being that there are only a few gluten and dairy free dining options at the Great Mall, I will probably be back there occasionally. I think next time, I'll try the salmon. Rather than give this Olive Garden experience a "thumbs down," I'll give it an "Okay" rating just because there are not that many other options at the mall and my son seemed to like it. It was a good atmosphere for children which was good for me since Sam kept popping in and out of his seat. No one seemed to mind.


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