Noodle Knockout: North Fattoria Italiana vs. Olive Garden
We thought it would be funny. We thought maybe Sam Fox's new Italian restaurant would prove to be comparable to corporate Italian beast Olive Garden. We thought that we could prove once and for all that no matter how much money you dump into making your contrived and sometimes ridiculous restaurant concept look good, it really is about the food. And the word around town, as you know, is that the food at Fox restaurants just isn't very good.
In the spirit of the battle, we picked out two very similar dishes: the capellini pomodoro from Olive Garden and the bucatini from North. Both dishes kept it simple with noodles, basil, and tomatoes. Read on to see why this match-up was like pairing a young Mike Tyson against an 8-year-girl. It wasn't even fair.
In This Corner: Olive Garden
The Setup: The Tempe Olive Garden seems to have received a face lift since the last time I was there in 2007. With all the plastic "stone" accents gone and the comfy chairs on wheels replaced with wooden ladderback-style seating, the corporate restaurant looks even more generic. The booths have been replaced with more open tables, and the décor now looks like a cheap hotel lobby. (I'll be honest: This place is actually depressing. A cold, sad chill came over me upon walking in, and I really wanted to leave immediately.)
The Good: When I was about 12, this was my absolute favorite place to eat. (I am a product of the strip mall-ridden 1990s Ahwatukee, and I don't think there was a single independently owned restaurant in sight.) So when my giant salad with OG's signature dressing and the basket of warm breadsticks was placed on my table, I was actually kinda stoked. The salad and the bread still taste exactly the same, and I figured everything else would be just as I remembered, too.
When my bowl of capellini pomodoro -- a dish of angel hair pasta with olive oil, basil, and seasoned tomatoes -- arrived, it didn't look so bad either. The tomatoes were bright, and after a quick sprinkling of cheese, the dish looked more than edible.
The Bad: Just because something looks edible doesn't mean it is. This was what comedian Patton Oswalt would refer to as "A failure pile in a sadness bowl." The pasta was overcooked and mushy, the tomatoes tasted like they were from a can and were almost salty, the basil was undetectable, and even that layer of cheese couldn't save the mess.
The food wasn't the only thing that was bad. Our inexperienced server (it was her second week. I know this because she reminded me, like, seven times) was so nervous that it made me nervous, and the woman at the table across from me wouldn't stop talking with her mouth full of food. Food literally was falling out of her mouth as she talked. The entire experience was one that I hope to never experience again. Ever.