My sister-in-law came down to DC from NYC over the weekend, and she wanted to go to Olive Garden. I'm an Outback guy, but she was a guest, and it was her birthday, so she got to choose. At dinner, while the kid was busily coloring away at her map of Pisa, I asked how the Times Square Olive Garden was. She rightly gave me a look like I was crazy.
It got me thinking, though, what would Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic, say about the Times Square Olive Garden? Oddly enough, the Times was thinking the same thing. They just ran a lengthy report/review of some of the tri-state area's most popular restaurants, including: Bertucci's, The Cheesecake Factory, TGI Friday's, Red Lobster, Outback, and Olive Garden.
The verdict, roughly: Waits are long! Kids get crayons and chicken fingers! Food's not bad! And "The soft, chewy breadsticks were warm, wrapped in a cloth napkin and absolutely irresistible."
Uh, actually, they are resistible. The bread has less flavor than a Subway roll; it serves merely as the too-foofy vehicle for a fat brushload of that butter-flavored oil [a fry cook's secret weapon] and too much garlic salt. Meanwhile, the actually tasty, slightly sweet dark brown bread at Outback [which the kid calls, "the brown bread restaurant," btw] went totally unmentioned. [Note: Apparently it's called Bushman's Bread. The reverse engineered recipe involves 150 drops of food coloring, which I didn't know they had in the bush. The scale of the chain restaurant copycat recipe movement blows my mind.]
Anyway, point is, the Times did a cheap stunt, allowing wide-eyed, suburban staffers to pretend they've never been to the wilds of Westchester Mall. If they want to be serious about it, tell Bruni to get off his ass and walk the half block from the Times new HQ to Red Lobster flagship on 41st & 7th. Meanwhile, Applebee's and Olive Garden are up, and the Outback is down. The people ride in a hole in the ground. New York, New York, it's a helluva town.
Deja Vu Dining [nyt]