Saturday, October 10, 2009

Amateur eating tips part 1: Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Bowl

Well, as seasons change, so do menu selections. As mid-October arrives, I am all too aware that my beloved "Never Ending Pasta Bowl" event at Olive Garden is coming to an end. This year was a year where I truly took advantage of it, going a total of four times. Going there that many times has taught me many things about human limitations and what professional eaters must endure to be such champions. Hopefully, I will be able to go to Olive Garden tomorrow one last time before I have to wait another year for the "Never Ending Pasta Bowl" to come back. Listed below are a few of the tips that my companions and I have learned on our several trips there:

1. Choose orechiette or penne as your first pasta

To get the most bang for your buck, get either of these two pastas . Orechiette takes up very little volume and penne's tube like structure takes up very little volume as well. If you're trying to eat as many bowls of pasta as you can, you'd be wise to, at the very least, start off with orechiette or penne as your starting pasta. If you have a preference for spaghetti, fettuccine, linguine, or angel hair pasta, save that for at least your second bowl. It is a very big mistake to start off with any other pasta beside the two recommended pastas if you are trying to get through as many bowl as possible.

2. Minestrone is the lightest soup, if you're going to have a soup, order this

For those of you who don't need any extra roughage in your diet, and have chosen soup over salad, minestrone is the soup you should choose. I understand that because it is a vegetarian soup, it will deter many would-be diners. However, though it lacks the protein sources provided in the other soups, consider that it is not only light, but delicious as well. Yes, it is a full flavored soup that won't fill you up unlike the other options. The other choices you have are Zuppa Toscana, Pasta e Fagioli, and Chicken and Gnocchi. Let's break down the faults of the other choices:

- Zuppa Toscana: This soup has sausage, potatoes, and greens in a creamy broth. This is more or less what's on the description on their website by the way. Anyway, in all actuality, despite it having seemingly heavy ingredients, this soup wouldn't be a bad second choice if you weren't into minestrone. Every time that I've had this soup, it was more like there were bits of sausage and potatoes rather than huge pieces. Even though I rank it lower than minestrone, it's still head and shoulders better than the other choices.

- Pasta e Fagioli: This soup consists of beans, pasta, and ground beef in a tomato broth. When you order this you're basically ordering an extra bowl of pasta. They may describe it to you as something like chili, but don't be fooled, the bits of pasta will get to you. This is not unlike when I go to Sweet Tomatoes and I put their chili over a bowl of mac and cheese.

- Chicken and Gnocchi: I'm not really sure which is worse, this soup or the Pasta e Fagioli. This soup is basically Chicken and Dumplings, which is extremely heavy. Even on their nutritional menu this soup is way up there in calories compared to the other soups. However, our point at issue is not calorie counting, but it is how heavy things are. The gnocchi here are little balls of dough that will try their best to destroy you. Again, ordering this soup is like having a bowl of pasta before you've even received your first bowl of pasta.

3. TRY not to fill up on breadsticks

An obvious tip, if you can't resist the breadsticks, try having only one. Think about it this way, when you finish your bowl of pasta you can dip 1/4 or 1/2 of your breadstick in the sauce to soak up all the flavor. Before your pasta arrives though, try to not touch them at all.

4. Don't order sausages or meatballs

Seriously, even though you get unlimited sausages or meatballs for $1.95, they will decimate you. Let me tell you, on my second trip to Olive Garden this year, I had just finished five bowls of pasta. I felt pretty good, but I still had a meatball left. I decided to rip out the insides of a breadstick and fill it with smashed meatball. I bit into my makeshift meatball sub and that was the end of the night for me. Meatballs and sausages, no matter how tempting, will always feel like you're eating an extra bowl or two of pasta.

5. Don't eat too heavily before going there

Again, an obvious tip and this is another tip from personal experience. On my third trip this year, a friend and I decided to grab lunch. Knowing that I had an engagement with a group of friends at Olive Garden, I still foolishly ordered a chimichanga at the Mexican restaurant we were at. What were the sides that came with the chimichanga? Rice and beans. After finishing this I knew I had only two hours to try and get hungry again. Unfortunately, when I got to Olive Garden, I was only able to finish two bowls. TWO BOWLS. That was a bad evening for me. However, it doesn't help that I arrived late and my friends ordered for me Pasta e Fagioli, just so that they could say the word Fagioli, and they ordered me Fettuccine as my first pasta. It was the perfect storm for failure.

6. Know how heavy the sauces are

Here's my ranking for how heavy the sauces are:

1. Roasted Parmesan Florentine - Extremely creamy and rich, just like its friend the Alfredo sauce
2. Alfredo - A cream based sauce that is extremely rich, first and second places are interchangeable
3. Meat Sauce - A simple marinara sauce is turned into a beast when ground beef is added to it. Definitely a killer
4. Five Cheese Marinara - A sauce that's in-between rich and acidic. At times reminiscent of something Chef Boyardee would serve. Probably my favorite sauce
5. Roasted Portobello Pomodoro - A very acidic sauce that has a nice flavor to it, thanks to the mushrooms in it
6. Marinara - Simple and a sauce everyone knows. An excellent sauce to have when you're trying to get your second wind

Remember, all the tips I've laid out come from me, so these tips are amateur eating tips as I have no experience or knowledge of how the pros do it. However, these are tips that have worked for me and have helped me get through six bowls of pasta in one sitting this year. It would have been seven or more if SOMEONE didn't promise me froyo and then take back their offer. Regardless, hopefully I can get out to Olive Garden before this offer ends and beat my personal best. These tips also come from someone who ate an 8 by 3 at In-n-Out and then went to Taco Bell to get two 1/2 lb. Bean Burritos. And also someone who used to order both a half giant potato at BJ's and a sandwich to go along with it. Okay this is basically for people who don't really know that when your ribs start hurting that's when you're supposed to stop eating, but your pride is telling you to still go for it.

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