Gonzo Food Critics Review: THE GREAT PASTA AFFAIR

The Olive Garden: The Great Pasta Affair

or Are You Not Being Served.
By Briony
hippediva @ aol.com

So Sonny and friend T. and I have a lovely Wednesday evening planned. Out to Michael's Craft Store to buy yarn and beads and other such goodies. To dinner then home to give T. a crochet lesson. Doesn't that sound just cozy and pleasant? We chat and natter for a bit, then go to Michael's. V. v. important decisions are made about which yarns are really cursed pirate treasure and MUST be plundered. Whether plastic or metal crochet hooks are preferrable and are Boye hooks shaped better than Susan Bates? Momentous minutes are spent smelling candles. Joy is discovered in Aisle 6A where beads dangle and dazzle. Having finished all this difficult work and paid for our booty, we were all understandably hungry. After all, making all those choices is hard work!

That's when it all went wrong.

The Olive Garden is always crowded and whyever not? The food is very good, the ambience a bit loud but easygoing and friendly. It's a chilly night here in LA and we are glad to be seated within 15 minutes. Rina, our server from that last few times Sonny and I lunched there says hello and we settle down to enjoy a meal and continue our scintillating girl-talk. We have a nice table and are informed that the waiter will soon bring us menus and water. We wait. We tell jokes and stories. And wait.

Ah, here comes our waiter. We make our choices and wait and chat. I'm feeling particularly thirsty and we have already asked for water. We discuss all the possible ramifications of Nuclear Disarmament in the Third World while Feisl, our Intrepid Waiter goes in search of the Fountain of Youth. Finally grabbed Rina before I started to faint from dehydration and get some water. Feisl returns with wines to sample. Sonny and T. each taste one but we decide that he might have to step on the grapes and order hot tea. He leaves the wine glasses. When he returns from wherever he disappears to every quarter hour or so, we order. Simple: the artichoke-spinach dip for an appetiser, various pasta dishes for each of us, soup for T., salad for Sonny and me. I'm sticking to water. I'm not sure if Feisl knows how to pick tea leaves.

Then Feisl vanished into the ozone to go save Planet Q in his alternate ego. By this time, we have a table full of empty wine glasses, we need more water and I've finished a thesis on Dostoyevsky. Ahh, here he comes bearing T.'s soup. Then he's off again on another exciting adventure in space. Sometime in the millenium, he managed to bring the salad and breadsticks. Wrong dressing. The table is still littered with glasses and now, with one salad plate that has a spoonful on it. He's brought the tea box and they make their choices and now the box is also on the table. We dive at the breaksticks like a pack of slavering hounds.

Relief! Rina stops by to see us. I beg for more water.

I guess that the planetary woes of the quadrant are particularly pressing this Wednesday evening. I spin fantastic stories and wonder if I'm going to be able to keep talking without the water. We recite all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in chronological order. He's back, with the salad. And no salad plates. Somewhere between Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing, I serve up the salad using my bread plate. Feisl pops in from the Twilight Zone to grin at us. Damned tease!

I finish my salad, T.'s soup has gone cold and Sonny is considering a leash. Feisl dashes towards us, telling us the artichoke dip is coming. Sonny looks at him blankly and says "I don't believe you."

Now the table is beginning to resemble the aftermath of a frat party. There are wine glasses, an empty salad bowl, one soup bowl, three bread plates (one with salad dressing on it), a proper salad plate, a box of assorted teas, two small teapots and cups and my empty water glass.

Our Hero finally brings the artichoke dip. It has trouble finding any prime real estate on the table. We've been here for well over an hour. I wonder if he is growing the mushrooms for my ravioli. Or is he wrangling the cow for the Fettucine Gongozola that both Sonny and T. have ordered?

Rina takes pity on us and clears away some of the clutter. I stab at a stray piece of lettuce. We have no sooner begun to eat the artichoke dip which was so hot as to render it moulten green lava, when the entrees arrive.

Table's getting crowded again. I still want more water but now I'm terrified to ask. He can't remember which of the steak dishes is T.'s rare. Whatever is going on in the Planetary Quandrant is definitely on his mind. We've run out of conversation. I consider a full-scale reading of Paradise Lost and poke at my ravioli. We eat in silence, glowering at the now-cooled dip we never did get to enjoy.

Rina, the Angel of Mercy, gets me more water.

Then the unthinkable happens. Sonny and T. want take-away boxes. This is evidently a really difficult task and Captain Q pops back into the ozone to invent styrofoam. Eventually, after another dissertation on biomechanics and the direction of zebra stripes, he returns with a small container. Too small. Sonny remonstrates with him. He rips his stryofoam treasure in half and vanishes.

At this point, T. and I are having massive nicotine fits and migraines. We go outside for a smoke. Evidently, Feisl reappeared at some point while we were gone and brought two tiny salad-dressing containers for the late-lamented artichoke dip. Sonny asks him if he is kidding.

Two cigarettes later, we return and he has yet to reappear. I do have more water. Hallelujah. Having saved the quadrant, he finally reappears with two proper take-away containers, ordering us to let him fill them. I guess that cold fettucine must be radioactive and we aren't properly equipped to handle such dangerous things. Salad, on the other hand, was certainly safe enough to leave on the table for me to dish up. I've learned something new here! He is gone again. We are quiet, eyeing the containers and the dangerous contents-to-be. Then he's back and filling them up. Evidently, part of T.'s steak is still living because it plops onto the table.

I'm tempted to throw myself at his feet and beg for mercy. He disappears to get a replacement piece of steak. I'm in despair. The knife is too dull to cut my wrists.

The New Age is dawning and I'm convinced that I will still be sitting at this cluttered table when the End Times begin. Sonny has gone quietly mad and is twirling her fork in a threatening manner. T. looks as resigned as if she is facing a firing squad. Feisl has gone off to wrangle another cow. We will be found here, rotting corpses in front of dirty dishes and the precious take-away containers that have the contents of our last meal.

Feisl has done it! He returns with another bit of steak and manages to get it into T.'s container without further incident. We don't dare even think about dessert. The mere concept is terrifying. I wait for the check.

And wait.

And wait. Whatever is happening on Planet Q has become a full-scale intergalatic war.

Finally, it comes. I put my trembling hand into my bag and pull out my credit card. Hopefully, the threatened denizens of the galaxy can give Our Hero enough spare time to run the card sometime during this century.

He's back. I sign and head outside for another smoke with a sense of relief. The ordeal is over. Almost.

While drawing in deep breaths of night air and nicotine, T. and I watch the curious ritual of locking the front door. The Olive Garden, better known as the Forest of No Return, is closing. Apparently, this is a most intricate procedure because it requires two waitresses, three busboys and the hostess. Sonny has gone to speak to management and I fear she will never return. She's risking her life in there, dammit!

In the nick of time, she escapes and we are free. She's done a bit of wrangling herself and is clutching a $20 gift card.

Oh dear God! It means we'll have to go back.

As I climb into the car, I'm wondering what poor devil we can foist it off on.

Questions? Comments? Email us at babaloo@mninter.net

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