Olive Garden: Bellingham

During the first weekend of reading week, Xinya and I went on a little day trip to Bellingham with the mothers. We absolutely love crossing the border to do a little shopping in the States. Everything is just cheaper on the other side! As much as I am proud to be Canadian, I see myself fitting in better in the States. I think I belong there. On our way home, I suggested that we grab dinner before crossing the border. I estimated that there would be a long border wait so we might as well wait it out at the dinner table! Everyone agreed and we chose to eat at the Olive Garden by Bellis Fair.

This Olive Garden is literally less than 5 blocks away from Bellis Fair Mall, which I’m sure all Vancouverites know about. I probably visit Bellis Fair more often than I visit Metrotown in my own country. It’s pretty much the same distance from my house anyway. It’s not uncommon to be greeted with a long line at Olive Garden but we arrived around 8 pm, which is late for dinner.

We were seated immediately. I always love the service at Olive Garden. The employee to customer ratio seems to be 3 to 1 and every employee has a great, huge grin on their face! It’s so welcoming and friendly- makes me feel like I’m coming home to my grandma’s house in Tuscany. Ok, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration but you get the idea.

The restaurant is huge! It’s cleverly sectioned off into smaller dining rooms so that it’s less noisy for each party. Some of the interior fixtures of the Olive Garden franchise (they all look identical) are nice but some are getting increasingly outdated. For example, the rolley chairs. Please take them away from me. I’m getting hives! Ta-cky.

Like all meals at Olive Graden, we started with Complimentary Breadsticks. I love these breadsticks. I know they’re not proper, per se, but these are my favourite! They’re soft, lightly salted and served warm. And they’re unlimited so I mean, all the better! Olive Garden is currently offering their “3 course Italian Dinner” at only $12.95. Considering their pastas are usually $13.50 to upwards of $20+, this is a great deal! And you get a dessert, oh my!

Go Olive Garden’s 3 Course Italian Dinner! 3 courses only $12.95!

  • The 3 Course Italian Dinner is back!
  • 3 delicious courses – just $12.95
  • Choose from 5 new entrées

My mom and I ordered one 3 course Italian Dinner ($12.95) between the two of us. For the first course, we chose homemade soup. You can choose any soup from the regular menu. I didn’t expect this as I imagined it would simply just be the soup of the day. So under pressure, my mom quickly chose this soup, the Chicken & Gnocchi (regular price $5.95)A creamy soup made with roasted chicken, traditional Italian dumplings and spinach. The soup was served piping hot! I love that Olive Garden heats/chills their plates accordingly. Even though it almost should be expected at some restaurants, in my mind, Olive Garden is of the same  calibre of restaurants like Boston Pizza, White Spot, Kelsey’s, Red Robin, etc. as it definitely would get be grouped with the other higher-end line of chain American-style restaurants (Earl’s, Moxie’s, Cactus Club, Joey, etc.). They also split our soup portion into two bowls, as they knew we would be sharing- we didn’t even have to ask. The soup itself was quite salty and that was off-putting, but again, I know that I have a lighter palate than most. The chicken was tender but the gnocchi tasted like it was undercooked. To be honest, I’ve never had gnocchi so I have no reference point. Maybe that’s how gnocchi is supposed to be.

Xinya and her mom also shared a 3 course Italian Dinner ($12.95) between them. For their first course, they opted for the famous Garden-Fresh Salad (regular price $6.75)Our famous house salad, tossed with our signature Italian dressing. If you’ve never had Olive Garden’s house salad before then I feel sorry for you. This salad is serious business! It doesn’t taste as great to me as it used to but at one point I loved it so much that I would purchase their signature Italian dressing to take home for my own salad-making purposes. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

We also ordered a piccolini (Italian small plate) of Sicilian Meatballs ($5)With Italian herbs and cheeses, simmered in a bold arrabbiata sauce drizzled with parmesan cream. These small plates are meant to be an addition to their appetizer menu:

Enjoy individually as a light snack – or mix and match two or more to create a shareable appetizer or meal.

1 for $5.00 | 2 for $9.00 | 3 for $13.00

The meatballs were average but oh boy, the Alfredo sauce. It was creamy and heavy perfection. Really, really good. Although after a couple of bites, I was no longer interested in the meatballs. Maybe next time we’ll skip “small Italian plate” altogether. But I’d feel bad for only ordering $12.95 between two people. It just was too much food.

Instead of a small Italian plate, Xinya and her mom went big and ordered the Sampler Italiano (Three Choices: $12.25 Two Choices: $10.50)Choose from: calamari, stuffed mushrooms, fried zucchini, chicken fingers, fried mozzarella or toasted beef and pork ravioli. Stuffed mushrooms prepared with clams. They chose calamari and stuffed mushrooms. I actually always used to order this but recently I’ve gotten sick of it. The calamari is mediocre quality. You can tell that they were not made to order but simply reheated. It comes with parmesan-peppercorn and marinara sauces. The stuffed mushrooms, however, are very good. I don’t even like mushrooms! It’s the topping in the cap that I like.  Parmesan, romano and mozzarella cheese, clams and herb breadcrumbs baked in mushroom caps. Doesn’t that sound delicious? It absolutely is. 

By this point, we were all completely and utterly full to our stomachs’ brims. But the entrees were just coming out! For our second course, we ordered Penne di Mare, Shrimp and scallops in a seafood cream sauce, topped with toasted parmesan breadcrumbs. It’s not offered on their regular menu. Again, the sauce was very good. I’m happy that my mom agreed to a white sauce because I personally can’t stand marinara. I’m beginning to think I don’t like cooked tomatos. The shrimp was rather tough while the scallops were good. The picture is deceiving but this is actually enough food for 2-3 people! Boston Pizza needs to learn to price their items like Olive Garden. Oh and I want to mention that our server didn’t bother to separate this dish for us, despite separating the soup and Xinya and her mom’s entree. He apologized hastily, saying he “dropped the ball on this one”.

This is one half of the serving of Grilled Chicken Toscano, Grilled chicken breasts brushed with a sweet red wine demi-glace which Xinya shared with her mom. Served with fresh spinach and parmesan risotto with tomatoes. Again, this one is not offered on the regular menu. Xinya’s mom thought the chicken was so tough that she couldn’t cut it with her knife but I actually thought it was fine. It was very juicy and the char taste added great depth to the chicken’s succulent natural juices. The risotto was rather dry though and that was weird. It looked to be a much smaller serving than our entree was.

For the dessert course, we all got Dolcini (Three Choices: $7.65 Each: $2.95), Piccoli Dolci “little dessert treats”, layered with cake, mousse, pastry creams and berries.Choose from: Chocolate Mousse, Limoncello Mousse, Strawberry & White Chocolate, Amaretto Tiramisu, Dark Chocolate Caramel Cream. We all chose to get the Amaretto Tiramisu flavour. The Amaretto was very strong, almost overpowering. I didn’t care too much for the dessert.

My favourite part of Olive Garden is the mints. Oh and getting your bill at the end of your meal because every time it feels like you won the lottery. Our dinner came to only $19.51 after tax for all that food! Considering that we felt like we didn’t even need to order the small Italian plate, our meal would have been only $14.08 for the two of us. Crazy how much food a few bucks can buy you in America.

And there were even enough take out for one more meal at home.

I had an enjoyable dinner at Olive Garden, despite slipping into a food coma shortly afterwards. However, I’d like to make a mention about our server that night. Olive Garden has exceptionally friendly and helpful service. They are actually one of my favourite places in terms of service. Unlike the excellent service you receive in higher end restaurants, these servers aren’t snobby or condescending. But that night was the first time I had a poor service experience at Olive Garden. Our server’s name was Wallace and he was very outgoing and sociable. In fact, perhaps too sociable. I love it when people have fun with their work and act like a good time at work but sometimes it crosses a line. He pushed our plates very rudely when he was attempting to serve us. He even sat down at our table! While we were eating! What just happened? While he didn’t really do anything wrong or awful, I felt very uncomfortable. His demeanor was very over-the-top and it was way too much for me to handle. Further, I think this will be the last time I eat at Olive Garden in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I used to love, love, love Olive Garden. But I think I’ve simply exhausted all the food options on the menu (after previously already trying every item) and now it tastes boring and bland to me. Overall, you can’t beat the value and service of Olive Garden. I’ll be back in a few years, maybe in half a decade…

Thanks for eating with me!

Olive Garden on Urbanspoon

One thought on “Olive Garden: Bellingham

  1. Hi Diana,
    My name is Jane and I’m with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Bellingham to share on our site and I came across your post…If you’re open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!

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