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The Agony and the Ecstasy

Every year in late February/early March I am faced with my greatest dilemma. It’s always caused by the same event, so I know it’s coming. Oscar Sunday presents the ultimate Micah Lubens paradox. I love Oscar Sunday. I love movies, and if there weren’t already so many excellent film blogs I would’ve potentially started my own. I also love tradition, friendship, and camaraderie.  Unfortunately, I hate terrible chain dining.  These preferences come crashing head-to-head every Oscar Sunday at the much maligned, much blogged about Olive Garden.

For the past three years, it’s become a tradition for my group of friends to go to Olive Garden on Oscar Sunday, and it seems likely to continue until we all move out of DC. I don’t know how exactly or why exactly it started, but there’s no stopping it. Much to my chagrin, come Oscar Sunday you’ll know where to find me.

Olive Garden recently blew up on the blogosphere thanks to Marilyn Hagerty’s earnest review (Haggerty!), so I won’t bore you with an ironic write-up that can’t compete with her unintentional brand of humor.  But it’s not just a fear of redundancy that’s keeping me from trashing the restaurant, either overtly or through satire. The fact is that this past Oscar Sunday, I actually sort of, just maybe, enjoyed my trip to the Olive Garden.

mmm...delicious

The first two years I’d had unpleasant meals that left me feeling ill and bloated. The décor was depressing (Papyrus font on the bathroom signs, wheels on the chairs). Food that bad should not be that expensive. But something happened this year. Gone was the Papyrus. Normal chairs had replaced the silly and somewhat saddening rolling chairs. Olive Garden felt warmer and friendlier.  I can’t complain about unlimited salad and breadsticks.  And maybe it was just what I ordered, but the food seemed better (not good mind you, but definitely better).  I went with a Chicken Vino Bianco, and I left Olive Garden feeling good (although not going with my friends for a post-meal shake at Dairy Queen may have contributed to this).

Many of you will brand me a snob, and I say sure, point well taken. I won’t try to deny it. But I also won’t try to deny that I enjoyed my time at Olive Garden and for once might even be looking forward to next year.  Maybe tradition, friendship, and camaraderie can make anything – even a trip to the Olive Garden – a pleasurable experience.

So next time you’re pondering a meal out with friends, don’t rule Olive Garden out…completely.

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