Olive Garden unveils new menu selections

Olive Garden recently introduced several new menu items and Chicago Foodie Sisters was invited to a tasting event to check out the new menu. They're offering a variety of fresh, trendy ingredients that really elevate the selections to something you'd expect to find more often in a fine dining establishment than a restaurant chain.

Over 20 new menu items broaden the selections and introduce a new blend of flavors using new cooking techniques. They've also added ways to customize your meal, such as adding new "toppers" to your salad or the Cucina Mia three-step selection which allows you to choose your own pasta, sauce and meat or shrimp topping for a combination made just the way you like it.

Along with some nice wine options, Olive Garden has new new beers on the menu. There are also some temping signature cocktails, such as the Italian Margarita, Peach Bellini, Sangrias, Daiquiris and Margaritas. Pictured is the Strawberry-Limoncello Martini, which was very refreshing.

For the Menu Tasting Event, we sampled TWELVE courses! Yes, twelve. We slowed down a bit half way through but made it to the end trying at least a couple bites of each course.

There's an Olive Garden down the street in the town I live in (Lansing), so I've been eating there for many, many years. I must say, I am not real adventurous and although I go there once every month or two, I could count on my two hands the number of dishes I've tried. Most frequently I go there for lunch with my Dad (it's his favorite place) for  soup, salad and breadsticks. If I have a heartier appetite, I most likely order Fettuccine Alfredo or sometimes lasagna or a chicken dish. So, in attending the tasting event, I was thrilled to be able to try out a lot of dishes I may not normally order. Take a peek at the list below where we checked off each course and offered our comments and suggestions for those at the corporate office.

Our evening began with a taste of the Polenta Shrimp alla Greca, which is inspired by the southern coast of Italy. Sautéed shrimp is served on a creamy polenta and topped with a fresh blend of olives, capers and tomato sauce. It's part of the revamped appetizer menu, now termed "small plates." Such small plates or tapas have become increasingly popular in the restaurant industry, helping to ease back on portion size and giving the opportunity to sample a variety of items when a few different small plates are passed around the table. This was was definitely a winner. They had me at capers (I am a super fan.) The polenta paired very nicely with the shrimp and the olives were the ultimate compliment to this taste of Italy.

Here's a list of all the menu items we had a chance to try. I'll get to the rest of it in some more posts. 

·         Polenta Shrimp alla Greca (“Small Plates”) – Sautéed shrimp served on creamy polenta and topped with a fresh blend of olives, capers and tomato sauce.

·         Risotto Bites (“Small Plates”) – Bite-sized blend of Italian cheeses and rice, lightly fried and served in marinara sauce.

·         Parmesan Olive Fritta (“Small Plates”) – Blend of olives and Italian cheeses rolled together and served with a choice of citrus aïoli or gorgonzola cream dipping sauce.

·         Spicy Calabrian Wings (appetizer) – Chicken wings tossed with garlic and chili peppers from the Italian region of Calabria, served with gorgonzola dipping sauce. Increase the heat by adding our signature Calabrian chili paste. Available for a limited time.

·         Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad Topper – Fresh mozzarella bites, roasted tomato, bell pepper, basil, kale and an extra-virgin olive oil drizzle.

·         Smashed Chicken Meatball Sandwich – Smashed chicken meatballs with roasted bell peppers and mozzarella on a focaccia bun. Served with garlic parmesan fries.

·         Large Paccheri with Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato and Chicken Meatballs, and Bucatini with Spicy Diavolo Sauce and Shrimp – both part of Cucina Mia:

o    Choose your pasta: New Large Paccheri, New Tri-Colored Vegetable Penne, Bucatini, New Cavatappi, Whole Wheat Linguine, New Gluten-Free Rotini
o    Choose your made-from-scratch sauce:  New Creamy Garlic Alfredo, New Primavera, New Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato, New Spicy Diavolo, Fresh Tomato Pomodoro
o    Add a topping (additional cost): New Chicken Meatballs, New Sausage Meatballs, Meatballs, Sautéed Shrimp

·         Pappardelle Pescatore (Olive Garden Specialty) – Sautéed shrimp, bay scallops and clams tossed with pappardelle pasta, fresh asparagus and tomatoes in a creamy red pepper seafood sauce.

·         Chicken Abruzzi (Olive Garden Specialty, Lighter Italian Fare [under 575 calories]) – Grilled chicken breast in a savory broth simmered with cannellini beans, kale and garden vegetables.

·         Chicken Primavera with Giant Fusili (Spring Seasonal Menu) – Sautéed chicken breasts with snap peas, asparagus and Italian vegetables tossed in a fresh tomato pomodoro sauce over giant fusilli pasta.

·         Wild Berry Layer Cake – Layers of moist vanilla cake and Italian cream topped with seasonal berries and white chocolate shavings.