I am going to be honest, no matter how long The Olive Garden exists in Sofia, it will always remind me of the American restaurant chain of the same name. Personally, I detest The Olive Garden in the US, not because the food tastes bad; it tastes uniformly delicious where ever you go, but that is just the thing; it is not REAL food. It is the sit down equivalent of McDonald’s. That being said, there is no assembly line kitchen in this Sofia eatery, serving packaged food. While both restaurants offer a nice selection of pasta dishes, the Bulgarian counterpart uses only fresh pasta, which is a big difference.
I had the good fortune to meet the owners, Alex, who is from Syria and Tom, an American from Boston. During my dinner, I was able to satisfy my curiosity as to the origin of the restaurant’s name. Here it goes: a while back, Alex was walking with his wife through London and in the window of a shop he saw a olive tree and thought that “The Olive Tree” would be a good name for the restaurant. Tom, the other owner suggested that they name the place The Olive Garden because they have a garden area outside the restaurant, but Tom does have a reputation for naming places after already established American eateries. He was one of the owners of The Black Dog, a now defunct tavern in Martha’s Vineyard Lozenetz.
The menu is comprised of comforting food that you would easily find being served at a friends dinner party: steaks, lamb chops, goulash, antipasti and pasta. The portions are hardy for neighborhood, plus reasonably priced. There is also a distinct Syrian influence representing Alex’s heritage with the tabbouleh salad, humus and falafels on the menu, which was a collaboration between the owners and their chef, who had spent 4 years working in the kitchen at a Marriott Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri and another 2 years working in Ireland before returning to Bulgaria. Together they managed to create what I think is pretty well rounded menu that included a nice selection of international and local wines.
When I arrived at the table (I was late because I got in an fender bender during Sofia’s soaken rush hour), I was promptly served warm bread rolls with butter and an olive tapenade. I am not a fan of butter with bread or olives for that matter, but the tapenade was quite tasty. It could be because it wasn’t too over powering with the blend of olives and garlic. True olive lovers might have a different opinion.
We started with the humus and bruschetta. The humus had good flavors, but was not served with pita, but flat almost tortilla like bread triangles, which was a bit of a bummer for me, because the bread we were served with the butter and tapenade was so fresh and tasty.
The brushetta for me was also a bit of a disappointment because the bread was soft and not grilled on both sides. It had good flavors, but the the texture was a tad spongey for my taste. Yet, I was alone in my opinion because Drini
and the others at the table liked it!
For main courses, everyone except Mallorie and I went with the pasta. Because I wanted to write this review, I asked that everyone not order doubles and they actually complied.
Mallorie’s Anitpasti, which I didn’t actually try, now that I realize it.
Koos who lives right around the corner to the restaurant is a frequent visitor and his favorite is the Carbonara. He was spot on with his choice because it was the best pasta dish on the table, although a bit to soft for me, but that could because of the fresh pasta.
Drini ordered the Tagatelli with Salmon (not quite sure of the name) and it was good. The salmon was tender, but sauce was lacking something. After she seasoned it with salt, pepper and extra parmesan cheese, she said it was better.
Jason’s dish was quite interesting because he ordered the Fettucini Alfredo, which was suggested by the waiter and waitress as their favorite dish on the menu. But as you can see in the photo below, this was nothing like a true Fettucini Alfredo, which is traditionally fettucini pasta tossed with emulsified parmesan cheese and butter sauce. His was something else entirely, but that error in named doesn’t effect the taste. It was a good dish.
Finally, I ordered the Lamb Chops with a Dijon sauce. Both Jason and I enjoyed the way that the lamb was prepared and cooked. I however objected to the sauce and this could be another error in naming. The “dijon” sauce wasn’t even close to being mustardy. I know that there was mustard in the sauce because I saw whole mustard seeds, but the chef seemed to use whole grain mustard, rather than dijon because the kick that you get from dijon mustard was noticeably absent. Also, in reading a review from the Sofia Echo about The Olive Garden
, the reviewer, who also had the lamb specifically states that he was served “three chunky” chops, while my portion of chops was only two… Hmmm.
The overall experience at The Olive Garden
was good. It is not a gourmet restaurant, nor does it pretend to be. It is unpretentious, comfortable and accessible. If I spent more time in Sofia, I can easily see this being my go to place when I don’t feel like cooking. The next time I go, I will see how it works out with the kids.
I am eager for your thoughts on my review. If you don’t agree with me let me know. Looking forward to your comments!
18 “Angel Kunchev” Street (@ “Dr. G Varovich” Street)
Tel: +359 2 481 1214, +359 88 816 3232
Hours Mon – Sun: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
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