Day 23: Wait, what

Where is this place?

Oh, yeah, OG has franchises all over the place.

Still it felt weird and like cheating to meet our pasta in another town, served by people who’d never run us off the property.

Service was adequate.

I had to ask twice in order to get enough to-go containers. It’s like, if somebody’s asking, just bring a few because at worst you can collect the unused ones. Don’t make it into two trips.

Time is what really counts. And they don’t have any more of that around here than they do back home.

Menu is the same, too.

Am I sick of this experience yet?

Getting there.

Some different art here: it’s like instead of being in house aunt’s Rome-obsessed kitchen you’re now in some college kid’s first dorm room, complete with canvas prints of paintings just colorful and abstract enough to be utterly banal.

Plus they didn’t even offer us a booth. The greatest sin of all.

Hey, at least I don’t write yelp reviews. I could always be worse.

Merry Christmas to all within Olive Garden and all those without! God bless you all, Italians and gentiles.

1: linguini, meatball, mushroom Alfredo (you can kind of pretend that it’s all Swedish meatballs at that point and pretend like you’re eating at IKEA with a cold or something.)

Breadsticks: 1.75

Weight: enough

Olive Gardens visited: 2

Day 22: Eat the Onions

I’ve eaten the salad 22 out of 22 times at Olive Garden this past three months. I could eat soup. I know that. There are four kinds of soup I could eat. I could cycle them, trade one for another.

I know that it would taste fine if I did that. I would like the soup. If not all of them, at least two or three would be fine. Yet I have ordered the salad instead 22 times.

Part of this is because 21 out of 22 of my trips has been with Chrissi and James. And sometimes Chrissi has wanted soup, so I get the salad so she can have some of that, too, if she likes. But it’s not just that.

There’s something else.

It’s like, as long as there is salad on the table, I think whatever else I eat doesn’t matter. Like the shredded lettuce and slivered carrots are going to weave into a stent and prop open my arteries so the flood of salty fat and starch can churn right on through. Perhaps it’s a fool’s hope. The salad is there to make me able to enjoy the pasta, without feeling like I’ve done wrong. But I have done wrong.

Let’s talk about the salad, though: not even the salad, just the onions. They really like to load up red onions into the salad mix. This is fine, as they do add flavor, but they are some particular strain of Allium cepa.

To be completely honest, I think we all know that the onion is a homely flavor vessel.

As you can see from this photo, it’s no great loss to leave a few slices on your plate. It’s just an onion. Nobody cares. Nobody’s going to lecture you about the starving orphans in nameless, onion-less Balkan nations.

Actually, these last few onion bits aren’t left on the plate carelessly: I leave them on purpose, because my taste buds are all cooked out after a couple of mouthfuls of these red hots. They look so innocuous, but whatever farm The Olive Garden gets its red onions from has to be within at least a hundred miles of hell.

These onions are spicy.

I only realized this after about ten trips or so, though, when I finally ordered the salad in its standard form (that is, with Italian dressing lathered on top), as Chrissi wasn’t interested in salad on that occasion. I found out that with the oily dressing coating the vegetables, the red onions are almost completely neutralized. It’s crazy, actually, how much the oil takes away the heat, just sliding it right on down without even letting you know what you’re eating.


So that made me realize that most people eating the salad here have no idea what they’re missing. The fire, the belching breath of Satan’s gardeners, is extinguished under a lipid mask.

Friends, this was not how things were meant to be.

Leave the oil, feel the heat. It’ll all be over soon.

Don’t waste those onions.

1: linguini, five-cheese marinara on the side, grilled shrimp

2: linguini, meatballs

Bread: 3 sticks!

Weight: 165

Onions: 2,000

Day 21: Date with My Favorite Dude

Really have had to slow down the rate of my OG visits. It wasn’t a purposeful thing. It’s not that actually tired of the food–I really still think it’s fine. It’s more that as things have gotten colder and wetter and traffic has picked up with the holidays and construction and things have gotten busier at the end of the term I just haven’t, well, cared as much as I should.

About this place. Cared enough to go. For that I am sorry.

Yesterday was the first time James and I went to the restaurant without mama. He did quite well, as always. He’s pretty well-behaved considering he’s three and also considering how little effort I’ve put into that kind of parenting in the last three years. He’s a natural.

The server asked us what we’d have and I gave my spiel about the never-ending pasta truly being that–despite that the promotion is long gone by now. James said he’d like the children’s cheese pizza. This surprised me because usually he just likes to eat whatever pasta we’re eating. But he insisted and made it clear by drawing an arrow toward the pizza he wanted and using his crayons to cross out the other gross items on the children’s menu.

I thought this was hilarious. I asked him what side he wanted and he said grapes. But when I reported this to our server, James interrupted, asking, “what color are they?”

The lady smiled and said they were purple grapes.

James said he thought purple grapes were all right. Here he was just being polite, because he doesn’t actually care for red grapes (which is what these really were).

The server asked about drinks and James said he was fine with water (he likes to save his money for important things like red vines). She explained that a drink came with his kid’s meal and I asked him if he wanted apple or orange juice in addition to water. He just wanted water. I said maybe orange juice. Water was all he wanted, he maintained.

When his meal arrived I gave it some time to cool and then took a slice of pizza out for him.

He promptly asked me to replace it on the plate.

“I just want to look at it!” He exclaimed.

Cool. I went to work on my noodles.

A few minutes later he thought it was all right so he started eating a slice. Then the rest of them soon followed.

Meanwhile the grapes looked on. In fact the purple grapes which were really red grapes actually turned out to be olive impersonations, which better fit the site of our lunch, anyway. Neither of us were particularly interested in them.

When James reaches the end of a slice, he’d hold the tiny crust up to his cheek and call his cat, Calla, from this pizza phone to see how she was doing. He doesn’t like to waste food.

When he finished with this, I offered him some of my linguini. He obliged and slurped up a few dozen noodles.

At some point the orange juice resurfaced. I ended up drinking some and he just stuck to a couple of polite sips. Water just tastes better, I guess.

One chocolate mint was all he asked for, so I pocketed the other three in case one of us needed a bribe. He knows his limits.

I wish I knew mine.

1: linguini, marinara, grilled chicken

2: linguini, meat sauce, meatball

Breadsticks: 2.5

Weight: 166

Miles run today: 2

Day 20: “I can’t believe it’s not Day 21!”

Seriously, I had to check multiple times. It seems we’ve only gone twenty times in two months, which means I really only went to the OG like six times in November. That is disgraceful and I’m sorry for letting you all down.

This was the first time we’ve gone since the 8 public weeks of “never-ending pasta” had passed. You would think that would help clear out the locals. It didn’t.

We had quite a wait last night as people apparently still pay to eat at this restaurant. So, not sure what I had left to photograph, I took a shot of the bathrooms while we waited in the lobby for a table.

Of course, somebody was coming out right when I took it.

At least the man’s face is obscured. I know it was a man because he was leaving the door marked “Men,” and that really simplified things for me.

Women can’t go in that side because of the sign.

I guess there’s also the floor tiles. We could talk about those.

Or perspective lines in the tiles. It’s how the photograph pretends to show a 3-dimensional world when in fact it’s really only a flat earth. Leonardo da Vinci was interested in those perspective lines. There are da Vinci-esque reliefs near the bathrooms, although I neglected to take photos of them during the two times I took James to the bathroom during dinner. There’s Venus on the women’s side, and Apollo on the men’s, as far as I can tell. That’s a lot of pressure–trying to look at yourself in the mirror after seeing them is a lot of stress. Nobody wants to see that. Anticlimactic.

Da Vinci was Italian. Maybe he liked the Olive Garden.

I went home and took what James would call “my big dump.”

Item 1: linguini (whole wheat, friends), meat sauce, breaded chicken

Item 2: linguini, meat sauce, breaded chicken

Breadsticks: 3 (yikes)

Weight: after Thanksgiving doesn’t count

Weight: I don’t want to know

Weight: I’ll check next week just back off

Day 19: How did we get here?

The holidays are coming and that changes little for the Olive Garden. They do offer to cater your holiday mess but we can’t use our passes on the actual holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas so that feels like a lie.

Also who eats Italianish food on holidays?

Today’s art is a traditional OG piece:

This is a study from the wall piece behind our table. The rest of the photograph was nothing exciting: just more people at more tables pretending to talk and eat.

What’s odd though is this woman in sunglasses in the center of the photo. Nobody else in the frame (several dozen) has sunglasses, and the lighting suggests they’re either indoors or in Purgatory.

So why the sunglasses? Maybe she’s a celebrity and wants to avoid the attention of commoners. This theory does quickly when we notice the buzz-headed child in the immediate foreground. No celebrity sits next to a kid with an oversized shirt from a fun run or whatever. If he’s her kid he’s going to be dressed differently as the son of a celebutante. As much as they don’t want attention, famous people can’t help dressing like rich, trend-addicted idiots.

The other option is she’s blind or has light sensitivity or something medical. That’s just depressing though and Olive Garden doesn’t want you to feel bad about your macular degeneration or whatever when you’re wolfing down wheat products. Maybe they’re trying to make some kind of ability-positive statement by putting her at the center of the work. Except this restaurant is about as progressive as a 19th-Century Sicilian fishing village.

The last option is she doesn’t even know she has them on. She just kind of wears the glasses now without noticing it. And she also doesn’t notice she’s in a portrait. And somehow this confusion is contagious and has spread to the photographer and editor as well, because instead of correcting the image and removing the glasses or at least recenterjng it on someone less out-of-place, they just said, well, it’s Friday at 4 and we’re going to beat traffic so here’s the finished galley print.

I think we all know why she’s there: same reason we’re here, too.

We have no freaking clue.

Item 1: linguini, spinach and artichoke sauce (last day!!!! I will miss this weird but good stuff), and crispy chicken (I think it comes out quicker than the regular grilled stuff that all the moms are ordering because who is gonna order this cut up chicken sandwich thing but me?)

Item 2: linguini, meat sauce, veggie topping

Breadsticks: 2 (second was double salted– not bad but actually yeah kinda)

Weight: 164

Compliments on James’s hair: 2 verbal, infinite silent praises