Stuffed chicken Marsala? Spicy Calabrian wings? This is not my mother's Olive Garden. OK, in many ways it still is. But this week the company rolled out new menus with more options to customize meals and help the lunch brigade get in an out quicker.
With colleagues in tow, I sampled several of the new menu items today at lunch. Our destination: the Olive Garden near Fashion Square in Orlando.
The spicy Calabrian wings ($8.99) were tossed with garlic and chili peppers from the Italian region of Calabria, and served with a tangy Gorgonzola dipping sauce. A Calabrian chili paste came on the side to kick up the heat. I'd call the temperature a pleasant mild to medium without the chili paste. The creamy dipping sauce was nothing special and not needed. The wings rocked by themselves. The menu says "available for a limited time." If I had a vote on this island, I'd say keep them.
The new portobello goat cheese flat bread ($6.99) had a nice crisp crust with subtle note of olive oil on the finish. The mushrooms were roasted and cut into pieces and mingled with a chiffonade of fresh basil, sliced red bell pepper strips, generic melted cheese and the house marinara. The veggies were full flavored. It's another "limited time" addition that I'd keep around for a while. I think it will appeal to to a wide range of guests. But then, I am not the boss of the Olive Garden.
For entrees, the garlic rosemary chicken ($13.99) was tender and juicy but there was no rosemary to be found on the plate or the palate. The plump roasted cloves of garlic were great for mashing into a fragrant paste and to ramp up the overall flavor. The plate (560 calories), part of the restaurant's new "Lighter Italian Fare" offerings, included an unremarkable fresh spinach saute and a bland mound of mashed potatoes. (Tip: use your fork to mash a garlic clove into the potatoes.)
The baked tilapia with shrimp ($15.99), also a new lighter option (340 calories), came in a mellow white wine sauce and a hefty serving of lightly steamed broccoli. The fish and shrimp were fine but not show stoppers. The broccoli was perfectly cooked. If I were in the kitchen, I'd take the mash off the garlic rosemary chicken and finish that dish with the broccoli too. Just saying.
The stuffed chicken Marsala ($16.49) was an unexpected surprise. The creamy Marsala sauce made the dish. It was light in color but full of flavor with caramel notes and a pleasant puff of smokiness. I'd order it again. It did come with garlic Parmesan mashed potatoes that were a quart low on garlic and cheese.
The Italiano burger ($9.99) is a newcomer in a tough category. For the price point it needs another round of research and development. The toppings were swell: crispy prosciutto, peppery arugula and small rounds of sliced Roma tomatoes. The garlic aioli spread rocked. But the beef simply lacked flavor. On Wednesday's locals can go to K restaurant in Orlando's College Park and get chef Kevin Fonzo's signature grind of brisket for $5 or $13 on other days of the week. The burger competition is fierce and OG's Italiano burger is not a contender. My burger loving colleagues also thought the burger was small for the price. But kudos to the creator of the accompanying Parmesan garlic fries.
We ended our exploration of all things new with the salted caramel tiramisu ($5.99). The mousse layer was light and airy between the vanilla-soaked ladyfingers. The salted crumble topping makes the treat but I am not sure this "limited time" offering will be around for long. The regular tiramisu is long-time favorite and outshines the newbie.
Service was friendly and efficient. For more on this roll out, check out my colleague Sandra Pedicini's article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun