One More Plate For National Pasta Month

Olive Garden's Lasagna Fresca with Shrimp
Olive Garden's Artichoke Fritti
Olive Garden’s Artichoke Fritti

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

If you’ve been in the dark about National Pasta Month, the bad news is that well, of course is that it ends October 31st.  However, there’s always time to eat more and so there’s no cause to fret.

To make the point, t just so happens that several weeks ago, Gia On The Move was invited to taste the food re-inventions at the Olive Garden in Burbank.  After being stuffed to the gills with plenty of Italian inspired appetizers, pastas and main dishes including a new “light” menu (which we loved most!), it’s a no brainer for this down home Sicilian to urge you to go and fill your plate!

What we liked best about this menu was the absolute value and affordability mixed with some very significant upgrades in presentation and flavor.  Great date night dinners or family assemblages can be had without breaking the bank. And no one at the table will go hungry.  “Now THAT’S Italian!”

Olive Garden's Smashed Chicken Meatball Sandwich
Olive Garden’s Chicken Meatball Sandwich

Earlier this year, Olive Garden unveiled its most significant menu evolution in the restaurant’s history, adding more than 20 new menu items that broaden the choice, variety and value it offers guests, prepared with new cooking techniques that accentuate new flavors. Olive Garden’s new menu is designed to appeal to the evolving palettes and preferences of casual dining guests, while providing more options for a customized meal experience at both lunch and dinner.

New Menu Highlights

  • Small Plates: Expanding the Tastes of Italy section to include eight small plate dishes for guests who want to explore different flavors.
  • Antipasti and Caprese Salads: Creating new ways for guests to enjoy Olive Garden’s popular signature salad through the addition of antipasti or caprese toppings.
  • Lighter Italian Fare: Enhancing variety within the Under-575-Calories menu section by introducing additional dishes for calorie-counting guests.
  • Specialty Entrees: Bringing new culinary-forward entrees to the chicken and seafood sections of the menu, enhanced by preparation on a new Piastra flat-top grill for a more evenly cooked, tender and juicy taste.
  • Cucina Mia Section: Introducing a new menu section that gives guests the ability to create their own entrée from a variety of six pastas and five made-from-scratch sauces – starting at $9.99 every day.
  • Tuscan Trio Lunch Combinations: Enhancing our popular soup, salad and bread sticks lunch with choice of Mini Pasta Bowl, Small Plate or Signature Salad Topping.

Dishes served at tasting event: 

  • Crispy Risotto Bites (“Small Plates”) – Bite-sized blend of Italian cheeses and rice, lightly fried and served in marinara sauce.  An excellent choice even if a bit on the crispy side.
    • They are more like a mini arancini (an Italian rice ball) without the meat.
  • Polenta Shrimp alla Greca (“Small Plates”) – Sautéed shrimp served on creamy polenta and topped with a fresh blend of olives, capers and tomato sauce.
    • Carby and a little bit on the heavier sided but delicious.
  • Artichoke Fritti (appetizer) – Marinated artichoke hearts, lightly battered and fried. Served with a five cheese marinara dipping sauce.
    • Not our favorite; they were a bit too fried for our palette.  But if you are looking for an appetizer alternative in vegetable form, and like a saltier taste, it’s a way to go.
  • Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad Topper – Fresh mozzarella bites, roasted tomato, bell pepper, basil, kale and an extra-virgin olive oil drizzle.
    • This was actually a Kale salad with the roasted tomato topper and our least favorite in the grouping as it was overall too dry underneath. But for vegetarians looking for absolutely simple without oils, vinegar or other heavy dressings, this is your “target zero” for a healthy choice.
  • Smashed Chicken Meatball Sandwich – Smashed chicken meatballs with roasted bell peppers and mozzarella on a focaccia bun.
    • Without a doubt this spicy number is going to be a lunch favorite for all patrons.  Already a big seller, this sandwich packs all the awesome flavor of a regular beef or pork meatball but with a lighter side poultry alternative.  You will LOVE IT!  We totally did!
  • Bucatini with Spicy Diavolo Sauce and Sausage Meatballs – part of Cucina Mia:
    • Choose your pasta: New Large Paccheri, New Tri-Colored Vegetable Penne, Bucatini, New Cavatappi, Whole Wheat Linguine, New Gluten-Free Rotini
    • Choose your made-from-scratch sauce:  New Creamy Garlic Alfredo, New Primavera, New Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato, New Spicy Diavolo, Fresh Tomato Pomodoro
    • Add a topping (additional cost): New Chicken Meatballs, New Sausage Meatballs, Meatballs, Sautéed Shrimp.  
      • For diners who need choices but not the stress of deciding if any of the ingredients are too experimental.
Olive Garden's Garlic Rosemary Chicken
Olive Garden’s Garlic Rosemary Chicken
  • Garlic Rosemary Chicken (Lighter Italian Fare [under 575 calories]) – Grilled marinated chicken breast topped with rosemary and caramelized garlic cloves. Served with garlic parmesan mashed potatoes and fresh spinach.  
    • Hands down one of our favorites.  The only thing that could be improved is the sauce which is a bit too gravy-like instead of “jus” like and can potentially overpower the dish.  But nevertheless, it is an absolutely delicious choice and a recommend.
  • Lasagna Fresca – Hand folded vegetable lasagna, sautéed shrimp and grilled tomatoes with sun-dried tomato sauce.  Most of the tasters liked this one.
    • It wasn’t particularly our favorite.  We typically are traditionalists when it comes to food here at Gia On The Move.  The chopped vegetables seemed hard and detracted from the actual lasagna flavor.  BUT…patrons who prefer summer squashes to the taste of cheese are going to prefer this.  And although far from traditional, the shrimp topping adds an intriguing take.  It’s a toss-up.
Olive Garden's Chicken Abruzzi
Olive Garden’s Chicken Abruzzi

Chicken Abruzzi (Lighter Italian Fare [under 575 calories]) – Grilled chicken breast in a savory broth simmered with cannellini beans, kale and garden vegetables.

We loved this.  It’s a bit on the soupy, salty side, but the cannelli beans are a perfect mid-northern touch and a superior nutritional choice. Recommended.

  • Pappardelle Pescatore (Olive Garden Specialty) – Sautéed shrimp, bay scallops and clams tossed with pappardelle pasta, fresh asparagus and tomatoes in a creamy red pepper seafood sauce.
    • Olive Garden's Pappardelle Pescatore
      Olive Garden’s Pappardelle Pescatore

      Well, first off, it’s not really a parpardelle pasta.  We were told that most of the customers didn’t quite understand how to eat Papardelle in its original form; Pappardelle is traditionally a wider noodle closer to a strip of lasagna, which seemed a bit bulky to “regulars”. So Olive Garden management decided to make it skinnier, like a thicker linguine, but kept the name.  So technically it’s not pappardelle.  And it tasted simply like linguine with a melody of shellfish. But the taste was there: spicy and actually a little piquant.  Highly recommended.

  • Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries (dessert) – Sweet summer strawberries top a rich and creamy vanilla custard inspired by Italy’s mountainous Piedmont region.
    • Everything you could want in a custard desert.  Not quite as light as a traditional panna cotta but every bit as delicious.  We loved it.  Highly recommended for lovers of sweets.

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