Side by Side Reviews: Le Cirque and Olive Garden
I’d like to start off my writings here on a humorous note. Don’t worry, proper reviews are just over the next ridge, but maybe we get to know each other first? Take a seat. How are the kids? Is little Jayden still in lacrosse? How nice.
I wrote this a while back when everyone and their adorably-naive grandmothers were writing articles about Olive Garden for laughs. I actually really like to write comedy, so I did it, and people seemed to like it. Enjoy it, won’t you? Thank you.
– your pal, Mitchell Wilburn
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 what I thought I’d do is parse out my thoughts, pull an article 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.
- Pictured: Palace of woes
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 fancy 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 billboard 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 on the iconic Bellagio Lake and 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).
- Pictured: Palace of “WHOA”s
The Olive Garden is styled after something that must, I assume, exist somewhere in Italy. More likely, it’s a cartoonish caricature that existed in someone’s idea of LA ITALIANO™. 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, windows,and server’s smiles. 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. Seriously, at least a dozen pennies.
A real toss up, especially considering my affinity for David Lynch weirdness, but 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 danged tack (aside from the errant bottom blazer button done, but we’ve seen that everywhere). From keeping glasses filled with 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 in The 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 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. I didn’t catch the name or vintage, but I think there was a clown on the bottle. At one point, there were over four plates per person at our table, and that was counting a baby in the per-person 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 Le Cirque’s pedigree of Executive Chefs are, 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 years experience in the kitchen, 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, prepared sometime that week.
- 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.
- Ok, I might be a teeny bit biased.
Some more humorous links on the subject.