That Food Guy
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
  Olive Garden, Albuquerque, New Mexico
10500 Coors Blvd By-pass NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87114

The road trip, not yet over, had been long and sometimes arduous. The stopover at my son and daughter-in-law’s house in Rio Ranch, New Mexico was to be a welcome respite from the rigors of cross country travel. I had called a bit down the Interstate with my late evening arrival. They awaited my arrival and their dinner so we could all go out and have a bite to eat together. We were quickly off to the local Olive Garden. This was to be my first venture to an Olive Garden. I have seen their many television commercials and have wanted to sample their fare for quite awhile. I welcomed the opportunity to broaden my experience.

The menu offers much more than a selection of pastas and sauces. The main menu features a large varied selection of their standard fare including spaghetti and sauces. An insert offers their newer innovations. My daughter-in-law, Vickie, asked for the gluten free menu. The special menu is actually quite large and I was impressed at how large a selection of gluten free dishes the restaurant offered. I think Olive Garden should be lauded for providing such a large selection for special dietary needs. Eventually, though, she ordered from the standard menu and requested wine braised short ribs of beef with Portobello mushroom risotto, the sauce with the gluten on the side. My son, Larry, ordered spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce, light on the sauce. One can only judge a trattoria by is pasta so I ordered spaghetti with meatballs and meat sauce.

The entrees come with breadsticks and salad or soup. The breadsticks are excellent. They were a nice golden brown, hot from the oven and a nice firm bread texture inside. Vickie and I chose salad. The salad is served, family-style, in a bowl with tongs. It s a nice mixture of crisp lettuce greens, slices of red onion, some shredded carrot, tomato, pepperoncini and black pitted olives. The house Italian dressing is unobtrusive but adds to the flavor of the salad greens. Larry chose the minestrone soup. The soup is hearty with beans and vegetables, almost a meal in itself. The servers are all armed with cheese graters and fresh grated Parmesan cheese is added, as little or much as you like. The salad, soup and bread sticks were a nice beginning to dinner. Soup, salad and bread sticks are replenished almost automatically.

Vickie’s braised beef was a nicely served dish with four large pieces of braised beef arranged around the risotto. The risotto was creamy with large pieces of Portobello mushroom. I sampled a bit of the sauce on the side with a breadstick. Very tasty and I would seriously consider ordering the braised beef on a future visit to an Olive Garden. She was quite happy with her selection.

Larry’s spaghetti, meatballs and marinara sauce was served in a pasta bowl. An adequate serving of pasta, the sauce applied just enough to order, and it was topped with three large meatballs. Again, the server applied a generous portion of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Of course the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente. The sauce was nicely seasoned, thick enough to cling to the pasta. The meatballs were savory with Italian-style spices. He enjoyed his spaghetti.

My spaghetti with meat sauce and meat balls was served in a similar manner. I had a nice topping of Parmesan cheese. The sauce is thick with ground beef and clings well to the pasta. The meat sauce is very tasty and would have been sufficient without the meatballs. However, since meatballs a rarity at home I was glad I went the extra mile to satisfy my curiosity. The pasta was cooked just right. The serving was ample, perhaps a bit more. After the salad, breadsticks and the entrée, I was very full. I enjoyed meal and was thoroughly satisfied with my selection. As a side note: the table setting is salad fork, dinner fork and butter knife. When the spaghetti dishes are served, there is a spoon tucked in the side of the bowl for us twirlers; a nice touch.

It was a late arrival at the restaurant but it was still very busy. It would seem that late evening dining is fashionable in the hot summer desert of New Mexico. We were quickly seated in a comfortable booth. Our server, Roxanne, was quickly there to offer menus and take our beverage orders. The restaurant was clean and tidy. In spite of the large number of patrons, the noise level was very low. Casual conversation across the dinner table was possible, seemingly a rarity in most other theme restaurants. That certainly is a big plus when considering another Olive Garden visit. Every one we encountered, the hostess and the server, were polite and friendly. Our server worked very hard to make sure everything was to our satisfaction in spite of some special requirements. A quite relaxing atmosphere, quick and courteous service, a lot of tasty food, and quite dinner conversation with family made for a most enjoyable evening.

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