Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dallas - I feel your pain

Today I had the opportunity to go to lunch with a good friend and business acquaintance. Since he is much more worldly, here in Dallas, than I am, he chose the restaurant. Now Andrew is a really smart guy, PHD smart, but has the unfortunate characteristic to still be involved in telecommunications, just like me. Thus, Olive Garden may have been an appropriate place to discuss a new venture.

I must admit, this was my first experience at Olive Garden, I had visited a Macaroni Grill several years ago for my niece's birthday. This to say that my experience may not be the normal experience therefore, I will simply share it. We actually had to wait about 20 minutes, some analyst would say, "Buy the stock!" Once seated by some very friendly, very young people, David, I believe our waiter’s name was, asked “what would you like to drink?”

Amazingly, this is Frisco so you can drink, Plano requires that you belong to a private club, so everyone is part of the same private club. Maybe this is a way for the city to get 10$ from the owners of the establishments for every person that drinks in Plano.

Unfortunately, the drop in temperature from 92 to 36 in 48 hours was too much for me and I have a terrible cough. “Just water,” I responded dejectedly. Andrew followed suit with a diet something.

Now to order, Andrew knew the menu’ and suggested the Ravioli stuffed with Portobello mushrooms. Having no clue whatsoever on what to order, I trusted my friend. I know that if there is something worth having he will find it.

David, our waiter, politely asked, “Soup or Salad?”

Andrew quickly requested, “what is the soup of the day?” [I know this seems trivial but bear with me]

“Pasta Fagioli,” was the response.

Andrew wanted more information so he asked, “how is this dish made?”

At this point, I, numb-nuts that I am, butted in, “Pasta Fagioli is a hearty dish with many variations and found in most regional Italian cuisine.”

David corrected me politely, “It is kinda Mexican chili.”

At this point I ordered the salad.

Our lunch came and I remembered why I rarely frequent even the best Italian restaurants in Dallas. The Salad with “Italian Dressing” had garlic powder in it. David grated some Parmesan cheese that instead of being a powder was more like shredded industrial mozzarella. Andrew’s Pasta e Fagioli, which I did not try, seemed to be, in fact, some type of Tex-Mex soup with beans. I did not see any pasta but there were at least two types of beans. Traditionally, Ravioli are made with Egg Pasta. I doubt the pasta ever saw an egg in its preparation and the Portobello mushrooms had seen the port but I am not so sure about the bello.

Andrew followed with a raspberry cheesecake. I was somewhat amazed to see a black crust then I realized that it was crushed Orio cookies. It was REALLY sweet. Since I often get the request of where to eat Italian, followed by the comment, “things just do not taste the same as when we were in Italy.” I can respond, "I feel your pain." Usually we attribute the difference to the freshness of ingredients, and I agree this is a problem, but I believe that the real problem is the way the foods here are designed to be overbearing. Every dish must overwhelm you.

If you think about food as people, a good group of people is made up of those that are boisterous, good when you are bored to death, those who are contemplative, mediators, and culturally inclined. Get too many boisterous or contemplative people together and you can have some real trouble. When there is balance you have a lively group that can overcome the many difficulties that we all face in life.

To take this one step further, over the next few days, I will publish the recipes that my wife and I use to make these same dishes. Food is love. Preparation is a pleasure, not a responsibility. The dinner table is a place to enjoy one another’s company and let go of all the problems the day has sent our way.

Our lunch was a success! We were able to talk through the things we needed to talk about and it was good to see an old friend.

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Blogger Ann said...

Olive Garden, eww. Before moving I thought they were the bomb. Obviously have had a change of hear so to speak. Once on a trip stateside, was ropped into going to a "new" Italian restaurant in town. The waitress asked if this was my first time at the restaurant. Yes. Next question was if I had any questions about the menu. Politely responded, I am in town visiting, from Italy. Thank you for asking, but no questions about the menu. She just HAD to ask how authentic things were on the menu. Come visit Italy some time and try yourself :)

8:58 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Ann - You are so funny! You reminded me of a constant situation I find myself in. I have many Italian friends who have Italian restaurants here in Dallas. When we come to their establishment they usually prepare something off menu, espresso. Other people ask us where to eat real Italian. We know our friend chefs can cook Italian but most people will likely get food off the menu.

So here is the problem, our friends can cook fantastic Italian food, the people who ask us for real Italian do not have access to the good stuff. What do we say?

9:05 AM


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