Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Olive Garden vs. C&O Trattoria, Marina Del Rey - Who's more Italian?

***Begin Sicilian mandolin music***

Visuals: A huge block of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese being slowly sliced. Hot, steaming red pasta sauce being churned with a rustic-looking spoon passed down from many, many generations. Spring vegetables being flipped in a sauté pan in slow motion. The aromatic steam arising from freshly baked artisan bread. Salads getting tossed (not that kind of salad).”

Voiceover: “Buon giorno. Ai em from Seeseely. Mai femmehlee… ees een Uhmerikuh. Wen ai came too veeseet, ai wanted to eet audendeek Seeseelian food. So dey took me to the Awleeve Garden. And ai felt like I was et home.”

Super: Here at Olive Garden, everyone is family…

*Changing channels.*

Working in advertising, I know when I smell good work and bullshit work. The fore-mentioned TV spot stinks worse than an overflowing port-o-potty at an outdoor music festival. Try getting locked in one by your ‘good’ friends. True story. Anyway, I know I work in an industry that prides itself on selling you things you don’t need – or at least showing you what life would be like without a certain product. For the most part, I think I’ve lived a comfortable life without the ingenuity of products such as the Ginsu Knife, Egg-stractor and Nordictrack, which gave rise to the most, awful style of dancing I've ever seen at raves. When I see an Olive Garden commercial, I nod my head and yell out “oh my god”. I wonder how the creative minds behind those horrific TV spots can actually sleep at night. I sure as hell wouldn’t. I might add that the Darden Restaurant Group, operators of Olive Garden, also run Red Lobster. And we know their commercials don’t quite cut it as well. Just imagine the fore-mentioned TV spot with lobsters, lemon wedges, butter, butter and more butter. Jesus Christ. On a lighter note, if I ever bring my relatives to P.F. Chang's or Panda Inn, I won't be receiving any shiny red envelopes - nor will I see them ever again.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Italian food only because I think the sauces pretty much taste the same. Fine, I guess there’s a variety. Red or white. Red with wine. White with wine. Red with wine and mushrooms. White with wine and mushrooms. The list goes on and on. And as for the pasta, the number of sizes/shapes are unfathomable. Once in a while, Italian food sounds good but I know after I eat it, I’ll be feeling like shit. Kind of like eating a lot of heavy food from Panda’s Inn. Sounds good initially when your eyes are bigger than your stomach and regretfully find yourself lying in fetal position in a comatose state. I do appreciate the simplicity and history behind Italian food but I think places like Olive Garden are desecrating what Italians cherish most about their heritage. They can make amends by changing their name from "Olive Garden: An Italian Restaurant" to "Olive Garden: An American Restaurant."

My first trip to Olive Garden was back in 1997 in college. I didn’t know where else to eat Italian food and got tired of the Ragu and Prego sauces. (I think they taste better than Olive Garden though). I’ll admit it, I was actually kinda stoked to eat there only because I grew up in a Chinese family that ate Chinese food solely. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I know that it wasn’t worth going back for. Jeez, all that for $25? Call me naïve, but my parents deprived us of good, American food. I used to think Sizzler was for rich people haha. I’d envy my friends who ate there regularly, secretly giving my parents the eye for not letting us indulge in all-you-can-eat shrimp. I thank them now for saving me from eating crap.

Now Olive Garden is running their “All-the-Pasta-You-Can-Eat-For-$5.99” deal. How much can you actually eat. Two bowls at most haha? Seriously, if our little Southern California ‘foodblogging’ cohort should ever meet up, we should do Olive Garden for laughs. We're somewhat of a family because of our carnivorous instincts and love for writing, and who else other than Olive Garden would warmly welcome us? I think it’d just be funny to see ‘Daily Gluttony’ take out her frustrations in her blog after eating the Sicilian Parmesan Chicken for $8.99 haha. Point is, it’s because of restaurants like Olive Garden that I have a tainted perception of Italian food all these years. Things have changed. Watching Mario Batali on FN, I’ve really grown to like the more rustic style of Italian cooking, much like French and Chinese food – where nothing goes to waste. Duck liver sautéed with Chanterelle mushrooms and white wine? Yes, please.

As we get older, it seems that the only time we get to see friends is for someone’s birthday. When you have an Evite with over 25 guests, it’s gonna be hard to please everyone’s dinner palate. Most of the time, it’s going to be an Italian restaurant just because there’s something for everyone. The food is safe and simple. You won’t find Parmesan Tripe with linguini, Roasted Balut (duck embryos) in Alfredo sauce or Chicken Feet Marsala. I’ve been to Buca di Beppo and Maggiano’s many times but never C&O’s. I’ve been hearing that name over and over again after I moved to the Westside. For my friend XC (some of you are wondering how many names can actually start with an ‘X’.), we chose C&O’s in Venice and I was really stoked.

We met up around 8 and walked into what I thought was a courtyard. Turns out that it’s the only seating area underneath the Venice sky. Buzzing with heat lamps, the restaurant was adorned with light bulbs attached to wires, giving it a true backyard feel. I really like eating outdoors when I can. The walls were painted with scenes of a distant land with a far lower crime rate than Venice. Unplugged fountains with old water stood frozen amongst all the diners. Indistinct chatter and clanking wine glasses set the friendly atmosphere.

As soon as we were seated, I was smacked in the face by the smell of garlic, parsley and butter. These garlic grenades were none other than the famous, Killer Garlic rolls, adored by many. Yum. I had to stop myself after eating three rolls, otherwise I wouldn’t have had an appetite. The waitress then brought two jugs of Chianti wine, charging $5 per glass I think. We easily knocked down two jugs in 45 minutes. Here’s what we had.

A. Killer Garlic Rolls. Too bad it’s not a scratch n’ sniff photo.
B. Fried Calamari. Good. This dish always taste the same anywhere you go.
Even Sizzler. Not that I would know.
C. Osso Buco. Oh man, my new favorite. I’m actually making this dish
tomorrow. The best part is sucking the bone marrow out of the shank bone. Yum.
D. No idea with chicken.
E. No idea with shrimp. Ok you see what I mean by Italian food. What the
hell is the difference?!
F. Gigantic Meatballs and Spaghetti. Boulders of beef/pork/bread crumb
Didn’t eat it, but I bet it was good.
G. Fettucini Alfredo. Another safe, favorite that I didn’t bother eating.

I think I selfishly ate the whole Osso Buco dish by myself. My friends freaked out once they saw me inhaling the juicy marrow. Another fabulous dish, not pictured, is the Linguini Mare, seafood linguini. IMHO, I love C&O’s. I think it’s a great place to eat large quantities of quality food (wow, quality and quantity. Chinese would love this place.) and drink Charles Shaw Chianti wine in Venice. I haven’t stopped thinking about the Osso Buco and will be back here soon. Thanks for reading.

C&O Trattoria
31 Washington Blvd.
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 823-9491


Kirk said...

Hi Dylan - You and my Wife share the same opinion of Italian food - I think it's quite humorous - after years of hearing "All Chinese Food tastes the same", I can now hear "All Italian Food tastes the same" - music to my ears. I've never really gotten "it", with Dead Lobster and Olive Garbage, but have been told by an Owner of a local restaurant here in San Diego, that there are places in the Gaslamp that charge twice as much, and are even worst! Go figure....

MEalCentric said...

Great write up! I'll admit that I am a fan (though not huge fan) of C&O as well. Lots of decent food at decent prices. They kind of hussle you on the wine though . $4 a glass and it is really piss poor wine. c&O is pretty much on par with bucca di peppo and a little below Maggiono's in my opinion.

If you ever get around to organizing a blogger event at one of these "Italian" restaurants, count me in. I'm always down to do a carbo load and top it off with wine.

Daily Gluttony said...

Funny that you mention the DG and Olive Garden--they took me there for lunch on my last day at my old job the other day. (I didn't choose it, I swear!) I played it "safe" and just ordered the soup, salad and breadsticks. Everything else there is just plain inedible! Haven't been to the C&O in a long time--the thing that bugs me the most is the wait. Places like this always cause a clusterf*ck, eh?

Great write up...I was laughing the whole time!

charity said...

hi.. random peruser. i was looking at elmo's blog and you commented about quan hy. they closed my fav location (on westminster blvd) down!! anyway.. glad to see someone else likes it there =o)

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Kirk, don't get me wrong, OG isn't expensive but what bugs me the most is that they don't have any shame in claiming themselves as an authentic italian restaurant haha. please.

Meal, i agree with you on the Charles Shaw-grade wine but hey, if you keep drinking C&O's wine it'll start to taste better and better. you know what i mean? haha. i do cook with Charles Shaw wine sometimes and the food comes out just fine. who's crazy enough to put a $40 bottle of wine in their food besides food network hosts?
if there was a meetup, i would get veggies thrown at me for even saying the "O" word.

Pam, fortunately i didn't have to endure a long wait as we were seated quite promptly. We're not going to see you in one of those Olive Garden commercials right? Was that your last day at the old job or really a commercial shoot haha!

Charity, is that the garden grove location? i'm sure the one on Bolsa is still up and running. you know about that front door bridge right?

elmomonster said...

Totally agree with you about Italian food. I thought it was just me. Great review BTW.

yoony said...

try out angelini osteria and la terza. the osso bucco at la terza is really good. and porchetta at angelini is great too.

BoLA said...

Hate Olive Garden myself. But love C&O's! =) I like singing with everyone with my cheap glass o'wine. *clink clink* And of course, drawing on my butcher paper tablecloth.

joanh said...

hahah. When I was a kid, I thought Sizzler was restaurant for rich people too.. well at least for special nights out like birthdays.

C&O's makes really good mojitos!

Anonymous said...

um..yeah. olive garden is not expensive it's quite cheep acutally. & olive garden is the best italian place in this world. so whatever you say about it..olive garden is fine!

elleistc said...

omg, growing up, I felt the same way about non-Asian food. and specifically those places you named. have you been back here? a friend suggested it for our next birthday get together and I was skeptical at first, but so far the reviews have been positive. yours is the most convincing, until I looked at the date.....

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