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Big Papa’s Shrimp

Big Papa’s Shrimp
Pappardelle superbly sauced with Asiago Garlic Alfredo, pumped chock-full of Shrimp Fritta
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Fashion faux pas alert! This shrimp fritta has “accidentally” let its breaded coating slip, providing us a tantalizing glimpse at the flesh beneath. Dinner *and* a show!

Papa’s Shrimp

Papa’s Shrimp
Shrimp Fritta gently settled on a pile of Pappardelle, balanced with Alfredo
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Looks like the chef who prepared this one got a little overzealous with the alfredo sauce, but can you blame him? It’s a tasty dish! Plus, he probably makes like $8 an hour serving up thousands of bowls of this stuff to ungrateful slobs who wolf it down without a second thought.

Budget Cuts

Budget Cuts
Meatballs settled on a bundle of Pappardelle, smeared with Marinara
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The water from the sauce has begun to settle out into the bottom of the bowl in a fairly unappetizing way. This is one of many problems that are solved by pre-mixing your dish before serving, but I understand that the Olive Garden is a high-volume restaurant. The extra step was probably deemed fiscally untenable by some accountant somewhere, but here we are now, dealing with the aftermath.

You Probably Should Get That Checked Out

You Probably Should Get That Checked Out
Meat Sauce blissfully sprinkled with Italian Sausage, accentuated with a generous portion of Pappardelle
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Naturally, all Italian Sausages are beautiful in their own way, and each has its own unique bumps, marks, fordyce spots, et cetera. But there’s something funky going on with this one, and I really think you should get it looked at before it gets worse.

Papa’s Italian Sausage

Papa’s Italian Sausage
Italian Sausage perfectly fused with Alfredo, lovingly combined with Pappardelle
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Ah, behold the subtle interplay of light and shadow. I haven’t seen a sausage photographed this tastefully since I uninstalled Snapchat.

First Time At The ‘Garden?

First Time At The ‘Garden?
Spaghetti thought-provokingly smeared with Alfredo, woven into Grilled Chicken
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Spaghetti and alfredo sauce is and always will be an artless combination, something a rookie pasta eater might ignorantly order at random off the main menu. When it arrives, he has to pretend that this is what he wanted, and eat the whole thing to save face. It’s really quite sad. I had a good seven minute conversation with my waitress as to how this was not the case with me, that I am actually a very important food blogger. She seemed convinced, but would not inform the chef as I instructed.

The Classic - 2016 Edition

The Classic - 2016 Edition
Grilled Chicken incorporated with Marinara, skillfully tucked away inside a baseless basin of Spaghetti
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I’m going to say it here and now - grilled chicken is a phenomenal topping, the best Olive Garden has ever offered, bar none. I know that this may scandalize the old guard, but the meatball has been dethroned. Grilled chicken for life. Gaze upon the new classic. Hail to the king.

The Seven Best and Worst of 2014-2015

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The pasta pass is back for 2016! As a little appetizer to this year's blog, let's have some fun. In honor of my favorite seven weeks, here's a look back at my seven favorite - and least favorite - pastas from the past two years.

Hall of Fame

Hall of Shame

Really looking forward to 2016's Never Ending Pasta Bowl! Watch this space. :)

New?

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If you're reaching this blog for the first time, welcome! I'm Vino, Olive Garden connoisseur, and I hope you enjoy reading it. There are two years of content to peruse, and roughly 250 reviews and high-definition pictures of Olive Garden food to salivate over. There's no real narrative or structure to the blog itself, so feel free to skip around randomly, or just start from the beginning and power through! If that seems overwhelming, here's a curated list of posts you may particularly enjoy.

All Of Garden - One Man's Quest to Eat All the Pasta
The first year (2014) Olive Garden offered the Never Ending Pasta Pass, and I decided to abandon my life of healthy mediocrity for a shot at stardom and diabetes.

Introduction Video - Big thanks to my sister, the camerawoman

Noteworthy Days
One - The journey of a thousand bowls begins with a single bite
Four - My first time eating alone
Five - My first date (if only she could see me now!)
Seven - A duet theme
Sixteen - A tribute to my second-favorite poet
Twenty-six - My olive garden mixtape
Forty- The best pun to non-pun ratio in the blog
Forty-six- A video callout of im-pasta-er Alan Martin

Noteworthy Pastas
Rime of the Ancient Marinara - Still pretty proud of this one
Cheezilla - A fan favorite
Grown Up Meal For Big Boys - A special request sauce (primavera) and topping (grilled chicken) that is a real game-changer. Highly recommended if your OG will work with you
Collecting Seashells - Based on a true story


All Love Garden - Fifty First Plates
The 2015 edition of the blog, which focuses less on the food and more on people. Don't worry - there's still plenty of pasta!

Introduction Video - The production values of this are not my own doing. The horrible audio levels, however, are
Introduction Website - I spent a lot of time stealing just the right CSS for the scrolling effect, so please appreciate it

Random Dates (All dates were noteworthy in their own way)
Katrina - The brave first date
Marty - The Party's here
Ashley - Features a picture of a corgi
Celene- Writer of the worl'd second-best Olive Garden blog
Alycia - An Olive Garden hostess with a heart of gold

Roadtrips
San Francisco, California - I deeply regret not getting better photos of this beautiful city
Phoenix, Arizona - I deeply regret giving a con artist $10 in this oppressively hot city
Las Vegas, Nevada - Make sure to mouseover that picture

Noteworthy Pastas
Rice-A-Roni - Least appetizing
The Chicken - I never did get the meter quite right here
The End - Most photogenic

Epilogue

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Thank you all for reading through my blog! It was a labor of love, and while I looked forward to each date and each bowl of pasta, I am very glad to be done. If you're wondering what I'm eating these days, it's mostly homemade food, supplemented with regular trips to my local Del Taco. I have not yet gotten a craving for pasta.

A very special thanks to all 50 of my dates, as well as two dates that didn't make it onto the blog proper due to poor photography on my part. Isai and Zoo, I hope that the free food was compensation enough for your time. I enjoyed my meal with each of you.

This will be my final post for 2015. If the Neverending Pasta Bowl returns next year, I may as well. Not sure what sort of blog it'll be then. I'm thinking something travel-related; going to new cities and exploring the regional cuisine was a fun part of this year's outing.

Until then - stay hungry, my friends.


(one last bad selfie for the road)

Day Fifty-One: Analysis Part Two: Budget

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The question I am asked second-most (after the first) is if I'm getting my "money's worth out of that pass, haha!!"

Yes and no.

I received the Pasta Pass Family edition, which covered my meal and the meal of up to three additional guests. Dinners were always a one-on-one affair, but for lunches I'd usually treat three (sometimes fewer) friends or coworkers. On average, I'd estimate the number of Neverending Pasta Bowls procured per day at around five.

Average Olive Garden Meal:
Entree: $9.99
Drink: $2.80*
Topping: $3.00
Ravioli: $0.40**
Pre-Tax Total: $16.19
Grand Total: $17.49
*Coca Cola products are $2.99, and are comped by the pass. Almost everyone got one, but not everybody
**Ravioli is an additional $2.99. Most people didn't get it - I'm averaging

That $9.99 NEPB you saw advertised added up quick, eh?

So! With 49 days and roughly 5 of these meals comped per day, the total amount of money saved was $4,285.05. The Pasta Pass Family edition retailed this year for $300, so I definitely did get my money's worth! But that's not the whole story...

While I did get an enormous amount of free food, the pass doesn't cover everything. Sometimes, my date would order something that wasn't a Never Ending Pasta Bowl (I know, I know, that should've been a red flag). Dipping sauces, desserts, alcoholic beverages, flavored teas, other entrees - none of these are covered by the pass. Being a gentleman, I'd usually pay for them out of pocket with only the slightest of passive-aggressive remarks. I'd estimate these incidentals cost me around $75 over the course of the seven weeks.

Far more significant were the tips. I tipped $5, per person, per meal. I occasionally paid for the tips of my lunchtime friends/coworkers, and always paid for my dates. Here are some numbers!

$75 of assorted incidentals
49 lunches at $7.50 tip each (average based off tipping for myself and occasionally friends) : $367.50
53 dinners at $10 tip each : $530
Total: $972.50

It's true what they say: there ain't no free lunch!

Day Fifty - Analysis Part One: Nutrition

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For those of you who like facts and figures, here are some rough calculations I did about my pasta adventure this year. I'll be splitting this over a few days, because it's a lot of info, and I need to be gently weaned off my blogging habit lest I go cold turkey and get "blogger's shakes".

Today, I'll present some stats about my nutrition! What happens when a (physically) normal 27-year-old eats nothing but Olive Garden food for 49 days in a row?

Weight
One of the most frequent things people asked me on my dates was how much weight I gained. The answer is: some, but probably not as much as you'd think. Let's do the numbers!

Weight on October 5, 2015: 56.0 kg (~123 pounds)
Weight on November 23, 2015: 57.2 kg (~126 pounds)

Gaining three pounds over two months isn't exactly something to strive for, but if you're on a reverse-Atkins diet, I think you're doing alright.

The Never Ending Pasta Bowl Diet
Over the 49 days, I ate 102 meals at Olive Garden - 49 lunches, and 53 dinners. Occasionally I'd double-book an evening to work with my dates' schedules, or just because I was particularly hungry. The numbers following are all averages, and not exact.

My lunches were with coworkers, friends, acquaintances, etc, and were not blogged about. Consequently, I typically ate the same thing every time:

Lunch Calories
ItemCalories
Two breadsticks280
Three salads with croutons, no dressing300
Four Coke Zeroes0
Entree: Penee, Marinara, Chicken Meatball820
For a grand total of 1,400 calories per lunch. Again, these are averages and estimates. OG portion size is not perfectly consistent, and some days I ate more or less.
Dinner Calories
ItemCalories
One breadstick140
Four Coke Zeroes0
Three salads with croutons, no dressing300
Entree: Random pasta, Random Sauce, Random Topping1160
For an average of rougly 1,600 calories per dinner.

Dinners are trickier to calculate, because each entree was different. The only significant change from a calorie perspective was removal of one breadstick (-140 calories) and the replacement of the Marinara sauce with alfredo-based sauces (2/3 of the time) and Chicken Pomodoro (1/3 of the time). This simple change averages out to be an increase of about 340 calories a day (!) and I suspect is the cause of my weight gain.

Total Calories Consumed
So, using those numbers, we'll do some quick math.

49 lunches at 1,400 calories each: 68,600 lunch calories
53 dinners at 1,600 calories each: 84,800 dinner calories
no snacks, desserts, breakfasts, or non-OG food of any sort
153,400 calories (~3,130 per day)

That might seem like a lot, since the nutrition guidelines on the back of most food advise you to stick to around 2000 calories a day. It seems like much less when you realize this would actually be a restrictive diet for most of us Americans.

I want to stress this point: I never exercised solely for the purpose of exercising. I find exercise extremely boring and avoid it whenever possible, as is evident by my puny girl arms. However, I have a fairly active job and I biked to and from the Olive Garden regularly, so it balanced out, mostly.

Let's wrap this up. Why didn't I get gross and super fat like that asshole from Super Size Me?

Calories In, Calories Out
"Health" as a general category is really complicated! I definitely don't fully understand it, and don't claim to. But weight gain and loss is simple physics - matter/energy can't be created or destroyed. Fat doesn't magically appear on your body, and if you do work (in a physics sense, that is; exerting force on other objects) the energy that you expend likewise must come from somewhere.

Simply put, if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. The reverse is, of course, also true. It really is that simple: the laws of physics do not allow any other way. It doesn't matter if you eat big macs, neverending pasta bowls, boiled broccoli and lean chicken, or cabbage soup. Calories in and calories out is the only thing that matters in the context of simple weight change.

Thanks for reading this long as heck post! Tomorrow I'll write about the financial side of the Pasta Pass.

Pasta Combination Selector