For the first 25 years of my life I lived in Brooklyn, NY. Being from New York I was privileged enough to be able to taste some of the greatest Italian food. Since moving from there I've been upset with a lot of the food choices in the area.
Living in Florida I see a majority of chain restaurants. In my mind I always picture the food at these establishments being slightly sub-par. Especially the Italian ones. Why would I go to a chain for Italian food? It's not going to be anything like what I was used to. Is it?
Then I was given an opportunity to attend Olive Garden for a taste of their new menu. Before I even begin to explain, I must say this - I was pleasantly surprised. My outlook on chain restaurants (well at least this one) has done a complete 180.
I love good food and this new menu was full of amazing dishes. The new menu is the most significant menu evolution in the restaurant's history. There are more than 20 new items that are prepared with new cooking techniques. Whatever new techniques they are using definitely works for me.
|Berry Sangrita and Long Island Limoncello|
The tasting started off with new drinks. I ordered the Berry Sangrita. A flavorful mix of berry sangria and margarita. Sangria and Margarita in one? Yes please. It was the perfect mix of flavors and a plus for anyone who loves berry. You could definitely taste the flavor.
Adam ordered the Long Island Limoncello. This one is also a mixture of flavors. You have the Long Island Iced Tea mixed with limoncello. Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqeur. This one was my favorite of the two. I wound up ordering it as my second drink. It's sweet and full of flavor. It was definitely a hit at our table.
|Crispy Risotto Bites|
Then it was on to the food. The first dish we tried was the Crispy Risotto Bites. These can be found on the "small plates" menu. They are bite sized blends of Italian cheeses and rice, lightly fried and served over marinara sauce.
I thought this was a great little dish. The cheese and rice were well flavored and the marinara sauce was the perfect finishing touch.
We then moved on to the Artichoke Fritta. This was marinated artichoke hearts, lightly battered and fried. The sauce that it's served with is a five cheese marinara dipping sauce.
I was skeptical about this dish. I never actually tried artichokes before and I was positive I wouldn't like them. Surprised, they were actually pretty tasty! Again, the dish was extremely flavorful.
This dish will be available June 16th.
|Polenta Shrimp alla Greca|
Our 3rd dish was also from the "small plates" menu. Polenta Shrimp alla Greca. This was sautéed shrimp served on creamy polenta and topped with a fresh blend of olives, capers, and tomato sauce.
This reminded me of shrimp and grits, only creamier. The shrimp was delicious and the polenta had a lot of flavor. My only complaint - olives. I'm not a fan.
It was then time to try the Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad Topper. This salad consisted of kale, basil, bell pepper, roasted tomato, fresh mozzarella bites and an extra virgin olive oil drizzle.
I was skeptical about this dish because I'm honestly never a fan of salad. I don't think they have much flavor, they never fill me up, and I don't normally like everything in them. This one had kale, which I've never enjoyed, even after trying it several different times.
Of course Olive Garden surprised me yet again! The kale was great! The salad was light and fresh, yet had enough to be filling. It was also very colorful - which is always nice. I love having a dish that is pretty to look at.
|Smashed Chicken Meatball Sandwhich|
Then we were given the Smashed Chicken Meatball Sandwich to try. This was my favorite dish of the night. The sandwich consists of smashed chicken meatballs with roasted bell peppers and mozzarella on a focaccia bun.
I could leave it at that, because that's what it was, but I'll try to be more descriptive. The chicken meatballs were perfectly seasoned. The mozzarella and the roasted bell peppers perfectly complimented the chicken and the bread was fabulous.
Now it was time for some pasta. The first pasta dish we tried was the Lasagna Fresca. This is hand folded vegetable lasagna, sautéed shrimp and grilled tomatoes with sun dried tomato sauce.
This dish, in my opinion, was decent. Its flavor paled in comparison to the last few dished I had tried. It may have been my mouth wanting some of the same robust flavors it was getting used to, but I can be certain.
This dish will be available June 16th.
Next up on our culinary journey was the Garlic Rosemary Chicken. This dish is grilled, marinated chicken breast, topped with rosemary and caramelized garlic cloves. It is served with garlic parmesan mashed potatoes and fresh spinach.
I have to admit I got super excited when I saw this dish. For one, I love a great presentation, and the dish looked wonderful. Second I love garlic and rosemary. I also love mashed potatoes.
The chicken was good. It was moist and pretty well flavored. The potatoes were amazing. I could probably just eat a giant plate of those potatoes. And the two together - perfectly paired.
|Bucatini with Spicy Diavolo Sauce and Sausage Meatballs|
For the second pasta dish of the night we feasted on Bucatini with Spicy Diavolo Sauce and Sausage Meatballs. This is part of "Cucina Mia". You can first pick your pasta, then you pick your made-from-scratch sauce, and then can choose to add a topping (this is at an additional cost).
The pasta choices are: New Large Paccheri, New Tri-Colored Vegetable Penne, Bucatini, New Cavatappi, Whole Wheat Linguine, New Gluten-Free Rotini
The sauce choices are: New Creamy Garlic Alfredo, New Primavera, New Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato, New Spicy Diavolo, and Fresh Tomato Pomodoro.
And lastly, the topping choices are: New Chicken Meatballs, New Sausage Meatballs, Meatballs, and Sauteed Shrimp.
This dish was HOT. If you like spicy please order the Spicy Diavolo sauce. This dish definitely has some kick to it. And the sausage meatballs were scrumptious.
Our next delectable treat was a dish from the Lighter Italian Fare portion of the menu. All dishes in this section are 575 calories or less.
This was the Chicken Abruzzi - grilled chicken breast in a savory broth simmered with cannelloni beans, kale, and garden vegetables.
The WHOLE dish is under 575 calories and it's A LOT of food. This is a great choice for those looking to spend a nice night out without sacrificing their waistline.
But how did it taste? Again, I have to say I'm surprised. The dish was delicious and again I enjoyed the kale. I'll definitely be trying some of the other dishes on the Lighter Italian Fare menu soon.
The last meal of the night happened to be my favorite pasta dish of the evening, and my second favorite dish of the night. It's off the Olive Garden Specialty menu and is called Pappardelle Pescatore. Figures that my favorite would be hard to pronounce!
This dish is sautéed shrimp, bay scallops, and clams tossed with papparedelle pasta, fresh asparagus and tomatoes in a creamy red pepper seafood sauce.
I love seafood and I have a preference for thicker noodles, so this dish was right up my alley. Plus it was full of flavor. I liked it so much I took some of it home and enjoyed it again for lunch the next day.
|Strawberry Panne Cotta|
Even though we had a ton of amazing dishes, and our bellies were full, it was time for dessert. We were being served the Strawberry Panna Cotta, which is being debuted on June 16th. This heavenly dessert consists of sweet summer strawberries on top of a creamy vanilla custard, inspired by Italy's mountainous Piedmont region.
I didn't think saving room for dessert was going to matter because i knew the dessert was something strawberry. I'm not really a fan of strawberries, so I figured I would have a taste and that would be it.
I was wrong.
This dessert was AMAZING. I'm waiting for June 16th to come so I can go back and have some more. Yes, it's THAT good. It's sweet, creamy goodness and the strawberry sauce is divine.
You must try this.
|We love pasta and we love Olive Garden!|
My experience at Olive Garden was nothing short of superb. The staff was super friendly and knowledgable, answering any questions we may have had. They also perfectly described every item in detail.
I'm also excited that my opinion has changed about the chain, and I will definitely be frequenting Olive Garden much more often. It will now be my restaurant of choice from carb-loading before a long run and also for fun date nights (need more panne cotta!).
And if the night couldn't get any better, I also won a $25 gift card for utilizing my social media skills on Instagram during the tasting.
I'm sure that will be used up real soon!
*I was invited to attend a special media tasting event at Olive Garden in Tampa, FL. All opinions expressed are my own.