New Olive Garden Menu Additions
Olive Garden is introducing several new menu concepts this winter. I was invited to attend a tasting of the Olive Garden Menu Changes with a 10 course tasting menu. Before the event, she was trying to figure out what the 10 courses would be called (coming up with appetizer, salad, entree, and dessert).
Olive Garden Menu Changes
Olive Garden Menu Changes include an expansion of their Lighter Italian Fare menu with additional options under 575 calories, the introduction of the “Cucina Mia” section where you can create your own entree with a choice from 6 pastas and 5 sauces, and the addition of a new Piastra flat-top grill for additional chicken and seafood entries. Even the iconic Olive Garden salad, is getting an enhancement with salad topping upgrades such as caprese or antipasti.
Olive Garden provided me with the following description of their menu changes:
- Lighter Italian Fare: Enhancing variety within the under-575-calories menu section by introducing additional dishes for calorie-counting guests.
- Tastes of the Season: Enjoy Olive Garden’s winter dessert, Apple Tuscan Bread Pudding.
- “Cucina Mia”: Introducing a new menu section that allows guests to create their own favorite entrées from a variety of six pastas and five made-from-scratch sauces—for only $9.99 every day.
- Specialty Entrees: Bringing new culinary-forward entrées to the chicken and seafood sections of the menu, enhanced by preparation on a new Piastra flat-top grill for a more evenly cooked, tender and juicy taste.
- Salad Toppers: Creating new ways for guests to enjoy Olive Garden’s popular signature salad through the addition of antipasti or caprese toppings.
Meal at Olive Garden
Since my daughter (age 9) is moving past most kids menus, I decided to bring her as my guest and get a kid’s opinion on the new Olive Garden menu items. When we arrived, we ordered our drinks. My daughter ordered a Bellini Peach-Raspberry Iced Tea which she loved. Meanwhile, I had a frozen Peach Bellini which was delicious (but not for the kids as it contains alcohol). Our meal was served family style with 10 dishes to share. The way the seating worked at our table, my daughter and I ended up having most of the dishes to ourselves.
Appetizers at Olive Garden
Our meal started with four starters: Crispy Risotto Bites, Artichoke Fritti, Spicy Calabrian Wings, and Mediterranean Flatbread.
Crispy Risotto Bites
Our first appetizer was Crispy Risotto Bites. They were delicious and my daughter loved them. When they were first served, she wasn’t too sure if she would like them, but they ended up being one of her favorite dishes of the night. I also enjoyed the Crispy Risotto Bites although I felt the risotto could have been more flavorful.
The next appetizer we tried was the Artichoke Fritti (lightly fried artichoke hearts). Even my daughter who does not really like artichoke hearts enjoyed these. The citrus aioli sauce that they were served with was very good as well. I preferred the
Spicy Calabrian Wings
I am not always a fan of spicy food and my daughter definitely isn’t. I was unsure how the Spicy Calabrian Wings would be. They had a wonderful flavor. The spiciness was part of the flavor profile and not just heat for the sake of heat. My daughter found the wings too spicy after one bite. I found the wings ok to eat, but that they had quite the afterburn (but again, I don’t like heat).
The Mediterranean Flatbread was our final appetizer. The Mediterranean Flatbread is topped with basil pesto, olive oil, artichoke hearts, olives, capers, roasted red peppers, and garlic. We are usually big fans of Flatbread appetizers. My daughter’s comment on this dish was “I had higher hopes.” However, since neither of us like olives it probably affected our take on the dish. We both picked the olives off of our Flatbread, but they still left a lingering taste. I would still order a flatbread, but would opt for Grilled Chicken Flatbread (mozzarella, roasted red pepper and basil with alfredo and garlic spread) or Pizzaiola Flatbread (Italian sausage, pepperoni, roasted red peppers, basil, and 4 Italian cheeses).
I love that Olive Garden entrees come with your choice of unlimited soup or salad, usually selecting the salad. The basic salad is unchanged, however there are now two options for upgrading the salad with a topping – Antipasti Italian Meats & Cheese or Roasted Tomato Caprese. We had a chance to sample the Salad with Roasted Tomato Caprese topping.
Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad Topping
The Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad Topping adds chunks of fresh mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, bell peppers, basil, and kale to the salad. I thought the caprese topping was a nice addition to the salad. It made the salad more hearty and added dimension of flavor. The salad topping is $2.99 (at the Ann Arbor Olive Garden, prices may vary by location).
Entrees at Olive Garden
We were offered 5 entrees to sample. Unfortunately, my daughter and I only sampled four of the dishes as one contains mushrooms which I am allergic to. We were served full-sized entrees family style at our tasting table. The four dishes we sampled were Salmon Bruschetta and Pappardelle Pesactore from the fish section of the menu, Citrus Chicken Sorrento from the Lighter Italian Fare menu section, and Bucatini with Spicy Three Meat Sauce from the Cucina Mia section.
This dish was a complete surprise to me. Having just seen the next course listed as Salmon Bruschetta without a description, I was expecting another appetizer – bruschetta with salmon. Instead Salmon Bruschetta, is an entree. The grilled salmon is topped with basil pesto and fresh tomatoes and served over a bed of shrimp risotto. This was easily my favorite entree! I loved it. It was hard to pace myself for the rest of the meal and eat only a small portion. Fortunately I was able to bring leftovers home which I had for lunch today.
Citrus Chicken Sorrento is from the Lighter Italian Fare menu and has less than 575 calories. This was my daughter’s entree pick of the night. Grilled Chicken Breasts are served in a citrus honey glaze with broccoli, artichokes, and roasted vegetables. The chicken was perfectly cooked and the glaze was delicious. You definitely didn’t feel like you were eating “diet food”. The accompanying grilled lemon added an extra twist for the dish. My daughter was thrilled with the broccoli accompanying the chicken since it is her favorite vegetable. I also enjoyed the dish, although not as much as some of the seafood dishes. However, since this dish is on the Lighter Fare menu I will probably still order it on occasion.
Since I am allergic to mushrooms, my daughter and I skipped trying this dish of sliced of slow-braised beef, portobello mushrooms, and asiago-filled tortelloni. The dish did look good (aside from the mushrooms and mushroom sauce). I did hear compliments on the dish from the rest of the table.
Bucatini with Spicy Three Meat Sauce
The Cucina Mia section of the menu allows you to create your own pasta dish with the selection of your pasta, your sauce, and optional toppings. Once the dish arrived and I stirred it, the first thing that I noticed was the aroma of the salami in the sauce. I loved the sauce and would consider ordering it again. I didn’t find the sauce very hot (the wings were much spicier). This was the first time that I had tried Bucatini pasta which is like a thicker spaghetti that is hollow. I am not sure that I would pick the same pasta again if I were to order from the Cucina Mia menu. I love that you can select your own combination to create a basic pasta dish just the way that you like it.
Our final entree was Pappardelle Pesactore – a mix of seafood tossed in a creamy red pepper sauce with asparagus, tomatoes, and pappardelle pasta. This dish is another winner for me since I love seafood. I was surprised to read the description today and see it listed as a creamy sauce. The sauce was not overly creamy. I can definitely see myself ordering this entree. This dish was harder to serve family style with its wide flat noodles. However, once I managed to transfer them to my plate, it was easy to twirl them around my fork.
Dessert was the only course that was not served family style. We were each provided with our own serving of Apple Tuscan Bread Pudding. My daughter and I also used our second drink ticket to share a Strawberry Smoothie.
Apple Tuscan Bread Pudding
The Apple Tuscan Bread Pudding is a bread pudding with large apple slices that is topped with caramel and served with vanilla cream. This was my daughter’s favorite dish of the night earning a “Very Delicious” on her comment card. I agree that the dish was very delicious and a definite winner. The dessert was not overly sweet – it was just right for the dish. The vanilla cream was frozen, but not quite ice cream and began to melt quickly. I thought the portion of vanilla cream was the perfect size. There was enough cream, but not so much to overwhelm the bread pudding.
And yes, I admit to being so eager to get to the dessert that I ate most of mine before remembering to take a picture. Fortunately, my daughter is a slower eater than I am and I was able to get a picture of her bread pudding before too much was gone.
I was given two drink tickets for alcoholic or specialty drinks. I had ordered a Peach Bellini which was delicious and I loved it. However, by the time I had finished it, it was nearly the end of the meal and I didn’t want to order a second alcoholic beverage. So I ordered a Strawberry Smoothie to share with my daughter. We enjoyed the Strawberry Smoothie and definitely recommend it as a special treat drink
Our Thoughts on Olive Garden Menu
We really enjoyed our meal at Olive Garden. We will definitely be returning to try some of these dishes and a few others on the menu. Thank you to Olive Garden for hosting the event.