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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Monday Lunch Date with the Mr.

This was not just any Monday, this was the Mr.'s actual, calendar official birthday and so we decided to spend the day together and have a lunch date.  The details aren't very exciting - he had a doctor's appointment for the late morning and I happened to have a gift certificate to Olive Garden and so a rendezvous was planned and I took the day off from work.

Part of my past life includes a 7 year stint working as a manager in a service industry that was part of a large retail corporate world. Planograms.  District meetings.  Goals.  I left as the goals of others became an increasing part of my responsibility and yet, they were something I had the least amount of control to grow. However, that experience has certainly taught me many chapters in life lessons and has given me an appreciation for those who continue to work in that general outline.  Chain restaurants such as Olive Garden seem to fall into the category.

I am certain management requires all restaurants have a shared decor and that each member of the chain follow guidelines.  It's not that this is unreasonable, the diner's experience should meet expectations as they travel to a location outside of their neighborhood.  After all, if you are a fan of a particular restaurant you want the same experience when you visit one in another geographical area.  

Our server is well trained.  We are greeted, offered specials, shown particular items on the special menu and brought drinks within moments.  

I am overwhelmed.  I have specials on a tent, on a stand up menu, and two fold out menus.  When I have too many choices in life the first thing I tend to do is eliminate.  I decide to NOT look at the tent or the specials standing on the table and focus on the traditional menus. Our attentive server returns and I apologize that I am not ready to order. Usually the Mr. is the one who reads and rereads but orders chicken.  I struggle for a few minutes then finally decide.

Part of the comfort in eating at a chain is the familiar tastes.  I see the bread stick basket and I am happy. Warm, soft and perfectly sized.  Who doesn't love a bread stick?

The Mr. and I order the same soup.  This never happens.  Since Olive Garden offers the large bowl of salad, one of us usually orders that and the other has soup and then we share.  So cute.  So practical.  Not today. 

Today is a day for Zuppa Toscana and it is exactly what I expect.  Sausage, potatoes and kale in a not really creamy, but not completely thin broth.  The Mr. leaves behind about half a cup of potatoes.  I try to avoid a few of the hot/spicy sausage crumbles.  I wonder what the residents of Tuscany would say about the soup?

A million years ago when we were new parents and our older son was to celebrate his first birthday, we held a family party at our home and I prepared baked ziti.  It was my first time hosting everyone and I will never forget the moment my mother came in the kitchen to see if I needed help and when she saw the ziti edges had pasta that were not coated in sauce she said, "Ziti is supposed to be covered in sauce with no white pasta visible."  This was not a dish my mother frequently prepared (though she does make an epic lasagna) and for this occasion it was too late, but I assumed everyone could either mix the ziti once it was on their plate or simply pile on more sauce if desired.  

Now, when I see pasta that is presented like the one I received (it happens quite often) I think of that story. Food and cooking shows most times show the pasta being coated with sauce before being served. They talk about simply draining not rinsing so that the starch helps the sauce stick.  

However, my linguini with grilled shrimp is presented with near precision plating appeal that must surely be on a laminated photo in the kitchen or part of a video or something.  Planogrammed Plating 101.  Not a criticism, just an observation.

The Mr.'s calzone is placed in front of him and we look at each other and communicate silently like a married couple of 26 years.  My eyes say, "Wow, that's not very big. You are going to be hungry when you finish, but don't worry, I will supplement your meal with some of mine."  And his say, "This is small."  Even in eye language I am wordy and he is brief.

I can't take my eyes off of the placement of sauce on the calzone.  It is stiff and nipple-like.  I don't like it. A calzone should never remind someone of a fake breast.  Sorry.  So if any district managers, regional managers or other Olive Garden representatives who can initiate change ever read this review, my one take-away would be to either allow the sauce to gently cascade over the crispy crust or simply serve it naked with sauce on the side.

We talk about life; surgery that may be needed for his arm, the main floor bathroom remodel, and the required trip to the big box home improvement store.  Yes, more corporate America.  We enjoyed a simple lunch and once we paid the bill we were given the small aluminum foil wrapped chocolate mint candies and a website address for a survey I will never complete.  Fed Well, we set off for the rest of our day and know Olive Garden will be waiting for us when we are ready to return.  Which of us will be different?

Olive Garden on Urbanspoon

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