Last year I allowed comments on my blog for both the daily entries and all ~200 pastas I photographed and reviewed. This choice was, to put it conservatively, naively optimistic. Most of the posts I got were spam for Chinese knockoff luxury goods, some were abusive towards me or the food, and, worst of all, some were written by my mom. This year I opted to simplify things by making the blog a one-sided affair.
That said, one poster stuck with me through and through, consistently providing her insight on every single pasta, every day, with a bizarrely lewd comment about each photo. Since images featuring Italian sausage were her specialty, I dedicate this pasta to PonyGirl.
Pictured here is The PonyGirl Special - I know you're out there somewhere, PG - this one's for you!
Demeanor -- Sage-like: Wise, earthy
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "It's..." ((searches for the right word)) "...okay."
Reaction to my puns -- A polite, tight smile.
It's way too dark outside to get a quality selfie, and I'm coming to the realization we'll have to take it inside the restaurant. I take a deep breath and ask Christine if she's okay with embarrassing herself.
"You're asking me that now?"
Christine is a self-described "semi-practicing" Muslim, and an admissions agent for a study abroad program at a local college. They offer a variety of destinations based off your field of study, which is pretty cool. My major would've gotten me to some place that is not the Culinary Institute of Tuscany , so I changed the subject immediately.
Thanks to Christine for being flexible with her schedule!
7 more dates to go.
Today's pasta was
The Value of Pre-Mixing
Usually, Olive Garden's preparation for their Neverending Pasta Bowl dishes is a simple exercise in layering: bowl -> noodles -> sauce -> topping. This "elementary school cafeteria" style of presentation leaves a lot to be desired and is the source of a good deal of the criticism the chain receives. For whatever reason, though, the chef decided to make my bowl here a little special! You can see what a difference it makes by comparing it to a similar dish .
Pictured here is The Value of Pre-Mixing, which probably adds too much time to preparation to be viable for the scale of the OG dinner rush.
Demeanor -- Garlic Powder-like: Strong, independent, don't need no man
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "When I was a little girl, I'd beg my parents to take me to Olive Garden. Eight years later, I was a server! Really living the dream."
Her vote for 'worst part about the Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion' -- People like me
"Oh my god, I'm so happy to have found someone who likes Olive Garden as much as I do." Laura beams. My mouth is full of food, so I just nod vigorously, sauce dripping from my chin.
She reflects for a bit.
Laura has some kind of nonprofit organization office job, but used to be server at the Olive Garden, which is, of course, where all my questions were directed. She let me in on countless bits of OG trivia and lore. For example: the company was originally founded in 1930 as "Ollie's Garden" by Oliver Capone as a quasi-legal speakeasy. Customers ordered small bowls of cheap pasta that were 'sauced' with homemade bathtub moonshine! When Prohibition ended, Ollie poured the moonshine into bottles, relabeled them as "Sutter Home Wine", and kept the pasta. People loved it, and Italian-style eating has never been the same.
Oh, right, Laura. She's more than just an OG historian - she also plays a mean Mario Kart. And I mean that literally. She will not hesitate to yell very hurtful things if you dare to use a blue shell.
8 more dates to go.
Today's pasta was
It really is! I love this sauce so much. When people ask me my favorite sauce, I try to be impartial, to share my belief that sauce choice is an intimate and intensely personal affair, but I can't deny it any longer. Pesto alfredo is delicious and worth every calorie.
Pictured here is Delicious! - I could eat ten of these.
Demeanor -- Oregano-like: Slightly bitter
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "People are snobby about it, but it's fine."
Helpful/unsolicited tip, brought up apropos of nothing -- "I will say, though, you are much better looking when you look straight ahead."
"You're an asshole!" Yujin informs me.
I've just finished telling a story in which I, to be fair, come across as kind of an asshole. Before I can respond to this astute observation, the waiter asks us if we need anything. Yujin glares at me and says "Yeah, a better date!"
Before I continue, I must legally inform you that this blog post is not legal advice, and Yujin is *not* a lawyer. Granted, this is true of every single one of my dates, but she is the only one that made it a point to stress that I cannot imply her having any sort of lawyer-powers. Bearing that in mind, All Love Garden Dot Com is a fully licensed and bonded law firm, and you should consider all other posts as such.
Wow! What a date. If confidence is a single piece of cavatappi (or a cavatappo, as it would be called in my native Italy), Yujin is an Olive-Garden sized bowl of it. She went to several fancy schools, got several fancy degrees, probably makes more money than I ever will, and is a good three inches taller than me. That said, she dropped a crouton on her lap while eating the salad, which kept her from being all that intimidating. Olive Garden proves yet again that bread is the great equalizer.
9 more dates to go.
Today's pasta was
Looking through these penne is like looking through prison bars, and the meatballs are the wardens of my cell. The sauce, obviously, is society. Ten more days. Ten more bowls. I can do this.
Pictured here is Home Stretch - but will I be able to adjust to life on the outside?!
Demeanor -- Rosemary-like: astringent and striking
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "It's alright! I always get the same thing - the Five Cheese Ziti al Forno™."
Advice to young women who want to get ahead in the world of competitive Speech -- "Wear a skirt and pantyhose. And bring extra pantyhose for when it inevitably tears. Judges outside of California will expect a skirt, and getting to wear pants is not more important than the speech you worked on all year."
"My boss was shocked that I knew what a bong looked like. He said at other schools, I could be fired for that."
This date was a fun challenge! A debate and speech coach for a private Christian college, Angelica knows a thing or two about dealing with entitled, white men like myself. Though I'm sure she could have easily destroyed me with her mastery of verbal fencing, she spared my life and pride, for which I am eternally grateful.
10 more dates to go.
Today's pasta was
Crouching Penne, Hidden Spaghetti
This happens every few bowls - one random noodle that you did not order will somehow end up in your pasta. I don't know what kind of chaotic bacchanal the kitchen at Olive Garden is, but if they can't keep their noodles straight, what does that say about the rest of their health and safety protocols?!
Nothing, probably. It's just a freakin' noodle, man.
Pictured here is Crouching Penne, Hidden Spaghetti - can you spot it?
Demeanor -- Thyme-like: subtle and reserved
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "My friend and I always came here when we used to follow pop-punk bands around."
With friends like these -- Made her friend drive all the way to the date with her, and then wait outside the Olive Garden for the duration
"So, you work with kids. What can I do when there's a screaming child at the next table?"
She ponders a moment, and then gives me the exact answer I was hoping not to hear. "Eventually, you just tune it out."
Krystle is a preschool teacher who dreams of one day becoming a travel writer. She's a shy-until-you-get-to-know-her type, which is unfortunate because I only really got to the "get-to-know-her" part near the end of dinner! She's very nice, though, and was almost as amused as I was when I found out that the waitress had accidentally (??!) dropped an Andes mint in my Coke Zero. See a picture here - be forewarned it's not very good because I was shaking with excitement at winning this magical prize.
11 more dates to go.
Today's pasta was
A Tasty Snack!
This Plain White Sauce keeps your body running smoothly and prevents your teeth from turning all grey.
Pictured here is A Tasty Snack! - you wanna go and eat a snack like that!
Demeanor -- Basil-like: strong, sweet
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "Okay, so, about that. My dad hates this restaurant. Absolutely hates it. And he won't tell any of us why. So I've only been here once before."
Mildly threatening tip for my 'really bad' selfies -- "Try to stop breathing when you're taking them"
((reading her star sign's features off her phone)) "Aquariuses are cheerful. They like to have fun."
I interrupt. "I hate to have fun."
"Well, you're not an Aquarius."
She's got me there.
Mandy is an artist who works in the mediums of metal sculpture and photography. She taught me a lot about both of these things, including some genuinely helpful advice to really get the most out of my burgeoning pasta photography business. Granted, I only have one customer, and they haven't paid me or acknowledged my existence yet, but since I've taken over 300 different photos for them by now I think I'm due for one heck of a paycheck!!
Thanks much to Mandy for that and coming all the way from Los Angeles to dine with me!
12 more dates to go.
BONUS: Waiter Spotlight --
Our waiter brings me yet another refill of my soda (diabetes ain't easy).
"Here you are, sir. Diet Coke."
He places it on the table, and before I can say anything, he bursts out, "Just kidding!! It's Coke Zero."
I congratulate him on this classic bit of misdirection, the ol' aspartame-switcheroo.
Today's pasta was