Before yesterday (July 19, 2021), there were only three Olive Gardens in the Los Angeles area: one in Glendale, one in Culver City, and one in Montebello. There wasn't an Olive Garden located inside the actual city of Los Angeles. Thankfully, the famed Italian restaurant is now open at the centrally located cross-street of Venice Blvd and La Brea Ave (4835 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019).
I originally planned to meet Tessa there at 4 but, as always, I arrived 20 minutes too early. I walked into the restaurant and asked if I could sit at the bar until my guest arrived. The hostess graciously walked me down past the dining booths with walls warmly decorated with framed pictures of the Italian countryside hung alongside rustic European-style porcelain dishware. The restaurant's music system was playing Michael Bublé at an appropriate volume. I felt like I was in one of those rooms in rich people's houses that I wasn't allowed to enter when I was a child.
The bar was very simple, yet modern and sleek. The countertop was marble and spaciously sized. The bar stools were made of wood and had backings and cushioned seats. The television played ESPN basketball. There were beer taps that displayed the restaurant's options for beers on tap, but as I was at the opening night of an Italian restaurant, I opted for the first Italian drink on the cocktail menu: the Italian Rum Punch. The bartender was very quick and very polite. He was even nice enough to give me a handful of Olive Garden branded chocolate mints, similar to the Andes brand, for absolutely no reason. The menu described the drink as, "The perfect blend of Bacardi Silver rum, amaretto and strawberry-passion fruit," and I couldn't agree more. It tasted like an ice cold Capri Sun so much, in fact, that I questioned if there was even any alcohol in it. My doubts disappeared a few minutes later when Tessa arrived and I almost missed my footing getting off the barstool and nearly fell into the next seat.
Our hostess graciously allowed us to move from the bar to a proper dining table and handed us two tastefully printed menus. The front of the menu contained appetizers and entrees. The back of the menu featured cocktails and desserts. Since I already had a cocktail, I only used the front of the menu. The waitress seated us and Tessa jokingly told her that we were celebrating our divorce, which explained why we seemed a bit overdressed compared to the other diners. The waitress laughed but I didn't think it was funny because I have been quite fond of Tessa for several years now. We had sex once, on the first night we met, but never again. I tried to hang out with Tessa more throughout the years, but she denied every single suggestion I ever gave her until 4 years later when I asked her if she would like to have dinner with me on the opening night of Los Angeles' only Olive Garden.
The waitress then asked if we would like some cocktails to celebrate our divorce and Tessa informed her she was sober. The waitress gently suggested the non-alcoholic Strawberry Mango Limonata, which Tessa gladly ordered. I hadn't planned on drinking any more alcohol, but after the woman I had been smitten with for years embarrassed me in front of our waitress, I ordered a Peach Bellini cocktail. In addition to the drinks, Tessa ordered us the Spinach-Artichoke Dip. I always believed that TGI Friday's owned the trademark to that specific recipe so I was surprised and delighted to see that it was an option. The Spinach-Artichoke Dip came with crispy flatbread wedges with a liberal amount of parmesan cheese. Our waitress asked if we would like more freshly shredded cheese on our flatbread and I politely declined. Perhaps after a few more cocktails I would have accepted the additional cheese, but I unfortunately only had 2 drinks so far. The Spinach-Artichoke Dip itself was fantastic. It was as if each bite were transporting me closer and closer to TGI Friday's.
When the time came to order our entrees, Tessa ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana. I asked our waitress what the most popular dish was and she told me it was the Chicken Fettucine Alfredo. I ordered that. As we waited for the entrees to come to the table, I tried to engage Tessa is some light conversation about how she had been since we last saw each other. She told me she had been fine since then and didn't say anything more. We sat in silence for a few minutes and I understood that she didn't want to continue the conversation. Thankfully, this particular Olive Garden had very fast Wi-Fi that I was easily able to connect to with my smartphone. Best of all, the Wi-Fi is free for diners at the restaurant.
Our entrees arrived in an appropriate amount of time and they looked fantastic. I asked Tessa if I could have a bite of her Eggplant Parmigiana and she said no. I don't know what it tasted like but it looked delicious. The pasta for my Chicken Fettucine Alfredo was cooked perfectly. Each strand was independent of the other. The sauce was simple with its sparse ingredients of butter, parmesan cheese, and cream, but extremely satisfying and familiar. The chicken was grilled perfectly with a crunchy exterior and tender interior. A light sprinkle of parsley on top made it look like a picture-perfect farmhouse meal advertisement straight out of Better Homes & Gardens Magazine or a comparable magazine.
The food was so abundant that Tessa and I requested to-go boxes to take the rest of our meals home. As we waited for the boxes to arrive, we easily paid using the tableside wireless kiosk system that allowed us to easily split the bill and leave a tip at the touch of a few buttons. As I was paying, Tessa put her meal in her to-go box and then quickly put the rest of my meal in her to-go box, as well, without saying anything to me. She then paid for her half of the meal and quickly left.
After a fantastic dinner, I can confidently say that Olive Garden is a fantastic addition to Los Angeles' vibrant and diverse restaurant scene. They offer impeccable service coupled with familiar and traditional meals that many non-adventurous eaters would find more than comforting.
Petrine TX is a professional writer and food critic currently based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Instagram.