EVERETT — Typically, The Herald avoids reviewing the big chain restaurants, mostly because the intent is to tell our readers about the smaller independent places in their community that might be deserving of their business.
But we’ll make an exception here for Olive Garden for a couple of reasons, not counting that octogenarian Marilyn Hagerty earned herself media darling status and a book deal by writing a positive review of the Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald a couple of years ago. (I’m no where near as adorable as Mrs. Hagerty and more likely to get a dope slap than praise from Anthony Bourdain.)
But Olive Garden recently moved to a new location in south Everett, and the chain deserves some appreciation because of a program through which it delivers food that has been prepared but not served at the Everett restaurant, including soups, sauces, lasagna, meat and vegetables, to the Everett Gospel Mission.
Olive Garden moved its Everett location just last week to 1310 SE Everett Mall Way in the Everett Mall’s main parking lot, across the street from its old location, giving it 7,660 square feet and room to serve 240 guests.
Not even a week in its new home, the restaurant was packed on Friday night with a 20-minute wait for most of those arriving without a reservation.
The new restaurant’s interior is attractive and the seating comfortable, decorated in the kind of Tuscan appointments you can likely find at the Everett Mall’s Pier 1 Imports.
General manager Jennifer Martin, a nearly 10-year Olive Garden veteran, wisely beefed up her staff for the first week to keep things moving. Wait times for service and food were reasonable, and the staffers were friendly, attentive and quick to apologize if it took a little longer than usual for a refill on the salad bowl.
That doesn’t mean everything was flawless. It’s a first-world complaint, mind you, but a rushed kitchen means that sometimes you’re presented with a baseball-sized hunk of unshredded iceberg lettuce and unseparated slices of red onion in the house salad.
Olive Garden has made its name by serving what Americans expect from Italian food, from the first bread stick to last bite of tiramisu.
Olive Garden’s menu is deep, offering Italian classics, a menu of small plates and lighter fare, much of it familiar and approachable.
The restaurant has freshened its menu recently, adding what a press released called “culinary-forward” chicken and seafood entrees. While we wait for an explanation from the home office on what “culinary forward” means, we can tell you that an order of stuffed chicken marsala ($18.49) was well prepared with moist chicken breast stuffed with cheese and sun-dried tomatoes and served with garlic mashed potatoes.
Another new feature, Cucina Mia ($11.99), has you choose from among six pastas, five sauces and four toppings. My Life and Dining Companion chose bucatini — a thick, spaghetti-like pasta — fresh tomato pomodoro and sauteed shrimp in a light Alfredo sauce. L&DC liked the topping, which she compared to a caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato.
Choose tiramisu for dessert if you’re sticking with the program, but I was more impressed with a vanilla panna cotta topped with fresh strawberries ($5.99), proving not every treat has to have chocolate in it. The panna cotta was firm, smooth and rich.
Olive Garden, at least the Everett location, gets points for a wine list that includes Washington wines along with selection from California and Italy. A Horse Heaven Hills Merlot from Columbia Crest pairs well with most Italian food.
You can find more interesting dishes without paying much more (and sometimes less) for a meal at other restaurants in the county, but the full dining room tells you that Olive Garden satisfies families looking for a selection of Italian food, quick and attentive service and a pleasant atmosphere. That’s worth something.
1310 SE Everett Mall Way, Everett; 425-265-0660; www.olivegarden.com
Alcohol: Cocktails, draft and bottled beer, wines by glass and bottle