In retrospect of my last birthday fun-times, I realized the potential for an interesting article comparing the two dinners and dining establishments I made merry. So I thought I’d parse out my thoughts, pull one together, people read it and laugh, I become rich and famous overnight, retire in the Bahamas, you know, that old chestnut. So, that private nude beach is waiting – let’s get cracking.
I thought the best way to compare the two is to set up some kind of metric that would compare their common features. What do they share? How do they differ? What are all those Michelin Stars and Forbes ratings REALLY about? Well, I decided on the categories of decor, service, and food. I couldn’t properly compare some things that the Olive Garden has a monopoly on, so there is no category for senior discounts or all you can eat deals.
Le Cirque is an absolute institution. The fun, old-world styled paintings of circus performers, bauble-adorned chandelier, and billowy canopy make for a wonderfully relaxing dining room that doesn’t become boring after the first course. Not to mention the overlook to Bellagio Lake and the fountain show every few minutes. Even the plates they have at seating, which are painted with an impressionist monkey, are amazing (they sell them now for the plate-ophiles among us).
The Olive Garden is styled after something that must, I assume, exist somewhere in Italy. At first I thought that the building must be very old and in great disrepair, but upon closer inspection I saw that the exposed bricks were painted-on, as was the ivy and windows. Continuing their unending passion for visual drama, directions to the restrooms were painted on nearly every visible wall in the typeface Papyrus, known to adorn the business cards of new-age healers and flower shaped fruit arrangement designers. I assume this over-signage was especially important here at the OG, where most patrons are either under 12 years old, or over 70. One feature I was taken aback by was a false terrace with a small cafe table for two overlooking the main dining room. Legend has it that the ghosts of patrons who die of a massive intestinal obstruction or lungs filling with alfredo sauce dine there, overlooking the grim dance of the dead known as “The Olive Garden.” Also I saw a guy pay for a drink with mostly pocket change.
Going to have to give this one to Le Cirque.
I imagine if there was a PHD program for dinner service professionalism, the Le Cirque staff would be the tenured professors. Everyone is efficient, courteous, and sharp as a tack. From keeping glasses filled to your wine pairing perfect, everyone knows their part perfectly. Even special requests and allergies are petite frites to these fine masters of comfortable dining, all under the watchful eye of Ivo, the GM. If you ask, “Will they bring me (whatever sick boorish thing you need, like ketchup or a Coke zero)?”, the answer is most likely yes.
Lord help the poor souls who I assume live as well as work at Olive Garden. I cannot imagine the sins committed in a past life that would anger a cruel Mayan trickster-god to curse them so. They are easily tackled down if you need your glass refilled, you just have to pick out the persons wearing the worst ties in human history. Our hostess, who I believe was about 16, had at least improved hers by dipping the bottom few inches into recently-microwaved pasta sauce. I choose to believe this was self aware irony at the level of Andy Kaufman. Their Sisyphean task to forever grate cheese onto every single dish is only relented by the joy they feel for placing plates and letting you taste their pink melted popsicle wine. At one point, there were over four plates per person at our table, and that was counting a baby and NOT counting sub-plates and other complicated plate/bowl strata.
Let’s just chalk this one up to Le Cirque.
I could go on about how Gregory Pugin is, for lack of a proper term, a pretty big damn deal in the food world. I could go on about the AAA Diamond rating, the Michelin star rating, etc. Let me just let you know the courses I went through vs. their Olive Garden counterparts. You can guess which is which.
- Fresh baked bread, including bacon onion, rosemary lemon, cranberry wheat, and others.
- Lubricated and salted “Bread” “sticks”.
- An amuse bouche of butternut squash soup with carbonara cream.
- I think it was a salad with a sea-water vinaigrette.
- A fresh and rich Lillet marinated Foie Gras torchon, paired perfectly with an almond and orange blossom bavaroise and chocolate nougatine.
- Just big bowl of melted cheese. This is seriously a menu item.
- Tender and full-flavored Wild venison loin, chartreuse sauce, poached quince and cranberry compote, roasted beets millefeuilles.
- Chianti braised shortribs and portobello mushroom “rissoto”, garnished with 107% the lethal dose of sodium.
- Green apple degustation, lemongrass mousse, sorbet muscat de Venice, served in a hand blown green glass apple.
- Mints and bicarbonate of soda to ease my roiling, ulcerated stomach.
Let’s tally the final scores:
Le Cirque: 3/3
Olive Garden: intestinal pain/3
Well, there you have it folks. My only regret is that my monumental and hypnotic influence over the literally tens of people who read this will not crash the microwaved pasta based economy Olive Garden has created. I’m sure the city streets will be lined with former employees reflexively grating cheese when the car horns of commuters rouse them from their pasta-withdrawal-induced nightmares.
I suppose this is where I say, “Let’s all be serious people, blah blah you get what you pay for blah”, but I’m not going to insult your intelligence by assuming you won’t secretly think me a boob for finding any comfort in an OG experience while nodding your heads in stony agreement. Let’s just suck it up and go there when our pre-teens and flyover state acquaintances come to town, hit up the ER on the way home for a quick stomach pump (tell them Mitchell sent ya! Mad Di$count$), and never speak of this again. Then go to Le Cirque and realize that dang, this is like the best place ever.
Some more humorous links on this palace of woes.