OLIVE GARDEN - PARAMUS, NJ
Being an Italian American, I have never been someone who thinks of the Olive Garden as real Italian cuisine. I grew up on the real stuff you know. However my wife, bless her, was in the mood to have lunch today at our local Olive Garden in Paramus. You may ask how she was able to get me to join her. Simple, she said that I could write out the experience for Feast and Fandom. How could I argue that logic? I couldn't. I have been to Olive Garden before. The first and last time had been with my wife when we first met. It had been a staple in her household. My first experience was did not go so well. How would this trip end?
The exterior of the restaurant was very clean and had minimal liter if any aside from a small wrapper or cigarette. There were not many cars in the parking lot even though it was around 12:45 in the afternoon. This should be peak lunch time especially right off of Route 4 which is known as a busy highway.
As you can see in the photo of the host stand it is again very clean and well organized. The host was accommodating and friends. I immediately had an understanding of possible staffing issues which has unfortunately become the norm when she gave us a 15 minute wait time for a restaurant that was maybe at 25% capacity. As seen in the photo above, they push to go even from the host stand. I overheard the manager speaking to a potential new employee. She seemed very nice and welcoming as well.
Now let's get down to the nitty gritty. The entire reason for my lack of trust with Olive Garden when they call themselves an Italian Kitchen. I will begin with my wife's drink. She ordered the Italian Margarita. It featured triple sec and amaretto. The reaction to the beverage was that it was weak and forgetful. Nothing really to write about. My personal feelings about this is that if you are going to take a popular drink and give it an Italian flare, you have to make sure it makes you forget the source material if you know what I mean.
We also ordered the soup and salad lunch special to share. The salad was gigantic, it could have served four people. The lettuce was fresh and the croutons were crunchy. My wife mainly ate that. I had the Minestrone soup which was loaded with vegetables, beans and pasta. It was a little bland but some salt fixed that right up. This was the best part of my meal today.
I ordered the Chicken Marsala. It was pan seared chicken topped with a very small amount of Marsala sauce which was more of a bland demi-glaze with mushrooms. The chicken was juicy but had very little flavor and the sauce helped very little. My impression of the sauce was that it was a pre-made frozen product that really took the dish in the wrong direction. I ordered this with a side of spaghetti with marinara sauce. The spaghetti was slightly over cooked but the sauce was decent. It had a good tomato flavor that was sweet and not too acidic. Honestly I could have just dipped the bread sticks in the marinara sauce and been happy.
My wife ordered the Stuffed Ziti Fritta which she enjoyed but did not tell me much about and definitely did not give me a chance to take a photo of it.
This Olive Garden sold me on the service. The location seems to hire good team members and have a good training practice. That is probably what helps them the most with their score. The food on the other hand is really nothing special. I always feel that when you go out to eat you should be blown away by the food. It is what defines the experience and is the star of the whole show. This was not the case. My wife enjoyed her Stuffed Ziti Fritta and I enjoyed my Minestrone soup but that was all. The Chicken Marsala is very forgettable which is better than being remembered in a way that they would not want.
I give this Olive Garden a 6.4 out of 10. Again this is only because of the service. If not for that, it would have probably been a 5.4. Is it worth a try? That's up to you. If you happen to go, make sure you ask for Yazmine. You will at least have great service. Enjoy!
1620 Bergen Town Center
Paramus, NJ 07652