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.
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 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.
Really looking forward to 2016's Never Ending Pasta Bowl! Watch this space. :)
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
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
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
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
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)
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:
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
It's true what they say: there ain't no free lunch!
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?
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:
|Three salads with croutons, no dressing||300|
|Four Coke Zeroes||0|
|Entree: Penee, Marinara, Chicken Meatball||820|
|Four Coke Zeroes||0|
|Three salads with croutons, no dressing||300|
|Entree: Random pasta, Random Sauce, Random Topping||1160|
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.
Demeanor -- Chardonnay-like: extremely white; an acquired taste, but rewarding
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "It's strange that you'd ask me that, given that we are best friends and have been for thirteen years (and counting). Anyway, it's pretty good."
Response to my threat to quote the ridiculous things she said in her blog entry -- "Don't count my quotes before they're hatched. From my brain."
On our walk to the OG, we passed a peaceful creek where some ducks were happily nibbling on the fresh algae. I reflected on the beauty and tranquility of nature even here, in the midst of the world's brightest and noisiest city. As I was about to share these feelings, Miranda, completely unprovoked, screamed gibberish at the ducks and they flew away.
She looked at me smugly. "Yeh. I scared those birds what good."
True to her bizarrely-phrased response to my contractually obligated question, Miranda is, indeed, my best friend of thirteen years (and counting). She flew all the way from Austin, Texas, our hometown, to be the final date for my blog! She's funny and complicated and is responsible for my being the man I am today more than any single person I could name, save for my immediate family. Thanks for dining with me, bro - I love you very much.
0 more dates to go. I'm...I'm free...
Today's pasta was
Since the invention of pasta, there have been five dishes that were rated the most scrumptious, the most pure. This one left them all behind.
Pictured here is The End - fin.
Demeanor -- Champagne-like: sparkling
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "This is my first time here. Actually," she adds, fruitlessly attempting to wrap the linguine around her fork, "this is my first time eating any long pasta at all. Harder than it looks."
Lifetime average of bachelor's degree accrual -- 1.0 every four years
"Yes, I am a sexist. I would never have a female doctor."
I'm taken aback, but also impressed that she can say something so controversial with such candor. "Why?"
She shrugs. "Women are too emotional."
I am sure that I'm not the first person in Sarah's life to describe her as a renaissance woman. While it's easy to be wowed by her education or penchant for riding a motorcycle in four-inch heels, to leave a picture of her at that is selling her criminally short. Smart, ambitious, witty, and fiercely honest, she was a fascinating conversationalist no matter the topic. Whether we discussed the biological basis of the different ethnicities in aliens, private World of Warcraft servers we've hosted, laboratory work dress code, or children's fiction, Sarah never missed a beat and was simultaneously very polite to our waitress, which I always take as a sign of good breeding.
1 more date to go.
Today's pasta was
Two Legs Bad, Four Legs Delicious
This dish combines cow, pig, and chicken into an entire farm on a plate. I'm a vegetarian when I'm not doing this blog, but this sort of thing really reminds you why people eat meat in the first place. Animals are tasty as heck!!
Pictured here is Two Legs Bad, Four Legs Delicious - all pastas are equal, but some are more equal than others.
The final city on the final days of my blog! Las Vegas is a lot more family-friendly than I expected it to be. The casinos all have kids running around in them, and the homeless population was generally amiable and did not threaten to stab me. The AirBnB I stayed at featured two amazingly cute dogs who sat like this without being posed, and a cat who liked to watch movies with me.
Luna and I engrossed in a Michael Douglas thriller
I spent hours wandering around through the downtown nightlife, then lost $10 on my lucky number at roulette and quit gambling forever. Mouse over this pic for the action shot!
The Olive Garden is large, clean, and well-staffed by friendly employees. One of them said "I can tell he already knows about our menu!" to my date, which either meant she knew about the blog or was calling me fat. She was otherwise super nice so I'm gonna go with the former!
The highest-rated Olive Garden in Las Vegas, according to Google!