My family enjoys going to the Olive Garden Restaurant, so when I am in Minneapolis to visit them, we often go for the unlimited Soup, Salad & Breadsticks. For $8.49*, this is a bargain. A garden-fresh salad served family style along with a choice of four homemade soups. You can try all four of them if you want to. “The Zuppa Toscana with sausage and kale is probably my favorite, but the Pasta e Fagioli, Minestrone and Chicken & Gnocchi are all pretty darned good,” she says with midwestern flare.
So, when I got an invite to see what was new at the Olive Garden’s Culver City location, I jumped at the opportunity. Justin Sikora, Director, Marketing Public Relations of Darden Restaurants says that it was time to upgrade the Olive Garden’s menu, to take advantage of the growing interest in authentic Italian cuisine and the trend toward healthier fare. So with the help of Jim Nuetzi, Executive Chef of The Capital Grille, also owned by Darden, they upgraded the menu to include some authentic dishes that I think you are going to love. Having worked for La Cucina Italiana magazine, I know authentic Italian when I see it and the Olive Garden delivered some authentic dishes that were pretty impressive.
My favorite appetizer of the three I tasted was the Polenta Shrimp alla Greca. Polenta, stone ground corn, is an Italian peasant dish. Here it is dressed up with shrimp and topped with a tomato sauce with olives and capers that add extra punch. Check out my version of Polenta with a Tomato Sausage Sauce.
My favorite dish was the Salmon Bruschetta. This dish was so good, that I have been dreaming about eating it again. I WILL go to the Olive Garden just to have this dish! The perfectly cooked salmon (I asked for it medium-rare) sits on a bed of perfectly cooked seafood risotto with crab meat. The salmon is topped off with a fresh tomato bruschetta and a basil pesto. Double yummy. Since timing is everything with risotto, restaurants don’t always get it right, but this dish was spot on! Creamy from the starch in the rice and the right amount of stock to keep it smooth, not gloppy. The Arborio rice had the nice bite that makes it authentic Italian too. At 1,110 calories and $20.99*, it might break the calorie bank and your pocketbook, but this dish could easily serve two. I took half of it home for lunch the next day. You’d pay at least $30 for a smaller amount of this dish at a fine dining restaurant and they would be pressed to make it as good. A great value no matter how you slice it.
Gotta love their new Lighter Italian Fare dishes under 575 calories. For only 540 calories, order the new Chicken Abruzzi. I tasted a small sample of this terrific dish filled with all the healthy stuff – cannellini beans, kale and vegetables in a flavorful broth. Topped with strips of a grilled chicken breast, this will satisfy your soul without killing your diet. At $17.99*, I thought it was a bit pricey though.
A value at $14.98*, you can indulge in the Large Paccheri pasta with Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce and the Chicken Meatballs. This dish from the Cucina Mia! or My Kitchen menu is customized the way you like it. Choose the pasta, the sauce and the topping to create a huge array of choices. The creamy sauce stands up to the thick pasta noodles that were happily al dente and the sun-dried tomatoes add extra flavor. The chicken meatballs were a nice change and went well with the creamy sauce. Ironically, the chicken meatballs are 30 calories more than the original beef variety, so go for taste, not calories on this choice.
Dessert was not a let down. I could not stop eating the Salted Caramel Tiramisu and that was after I was already satiated from tasting most of the new menu items. It was delicious. A new twist on the classic dish, it was light, but rich enough to feel you have really indulged. Just order it. Don’t look at the calorie count. I didn’t.
I took home a slice of our family favorite, the Lemon Cream Cake. I had tasted the version made by my niece at my mother’s birthday party, which was delicious. The slice from the restaurant was more refined. If you love this dessert and want to try making it, check out the secret recipe my family found by clicking here.
I’m looking forward to my next visit to the Olive Garden and I won’t wait until I visit my family to go. There’s a new location just down the street from me and I’m ordering the Salmon Bruschetta. Can’t wait.