Pages

The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

You can help by becoming a follower. I'd really like to know who you are and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing. Every great leader needs followers and if I am ever to achieve my goal of becoming the next great leader of the Italian culinary world :-) I need followers!

Grazie mille!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Stop Screwing With My Christmas Music!


This is an open letter to radio station music directors, school administrators, pop music “artists,” and wrongheaded carol singers in general: stop screwing with my Christmas music!

First off, believe me, I am the farthest thing from a Bible-thumper that you could possibly imagine. But this whole thing about Christmas music “offending” people is illogical and insane. I know Jewish people who sing Christmas songs just because they like the music.

Some things are meant to be traditional. So what is “traditional?” The dictionary defines it as relating to the passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation; a time-honored practice or set of practices. Synonyms include customary, established, classic, and standard. “Christmas comes but once a year,” so the saying goes. Admittedly, these days it comes in September and lingers until January, but the traditional trappings of Christmas are just that; traditional. Oh, I suppose there's room for new traditions now and then, like Rudolph and Frosty. And it just wouldn't be Christmas without Charlie Brown and the gang or the Grinch. Or Bing Crosby. But we have to be careful when adopting new traditions not to neglect the old ones or relegate them to inferior positions. After all, Christmas is a commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ and whether or not you believe in his divinity, you can't deny that he is “the reason for the season,” as the religious folks like to say.

Don't start with me. I know Jesus wasn't actually born on December 25 and I know all about the pagan holidays that were co-opted by the church in order to make the transition more palatable to the people who were being more or less forcibly converted to Christianity. As I said, I'm not a Bible-thumper. But, c'mon. A traditional Christmas carol is a traditional Christmas carol. Like it or not, it's a song about Jesus. Live with it. I'm not Jewish either, but I don't get all bent out of shape about people singing “Hanukkah, Oh Hannukah” as part of their tradition. You feel like singing “The Kwanzaa Song?” Go for it. You won't offend me in the least. And if secular tunes about snowflakes and Santa Claus are your bag, sing 'em long and loud. They're all part of the season and nobody should be offended by any of them. 

What really offends me are people who are afraid of offending me. Like public school administrators. I must have read twenty stories this season about schools booting traditional Christmas music from their “holiday” concerts for fear of “offending” someone. The latest such idiocy comes out of a middle school in Long Island where they changed up the words to “Silent Night,” eliminating references to “holy infant” and “savior.” Let me see if I remember, now; “Silent Night” was written by a priest in an Austrian church and first performed in that church on Christmas Eve in 1818. I do believe that kind of qualifies it as a religious song. It has since become one of the best-known and best-loved examples of its genre, to the extent that it has actually been declared by UNESCO to be an “intangible cultural heritage.” And this gives some moron music teacher in Long Island license to screw with it in what way? “Oh, but we must not be offensive.” I'm sorry, but the ridiculously specious nature of your silly argument is highly offensive to me or to anybody with any common sense.

The only people who really seem to be offended are the virulently anti-religious fringe who would like to see all traces of any faith removed from our culture. “Jesus is a myth,” these people say. Like Santa Claus isn't? Why is it okay to sing about one myth and not another. So you don't believe in gods and saviors and holy infants. Fine. Your prerogative. I don't believe in dancing, singing snowmen, but I like singing about them. It's music and it's pretty and it's fun.

The folks at the Freedom From Religion Foundation believe that there are plenty of secular songs out there and that “holiday” music with religious overtones should be abolished. You let me know how your campaign to reverse Constantine and the Edict of Milan and undo seventeen centuries of Christian culture goes. Until it's successful, stop screwing with my Christmas music.

If you're going to start censoring music programs to eliminate “offensive” religious references, you'd better be prepared to usher Bach with his “Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and Handel and his “Messiah” right out the door along with Beethoven and Brahms and the rest and replace them with secular neo-classicists like Madonna, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. Religious music has a valuable place in our culture, and since Christmas is, at its core, a “religious” occasion, one celebrating the birth of a major “religious” figure, how can any right-minded person be offended by Christmas music presented in its traditional context?

Next, I have a bone to pick with radio station music directors. “Happy Holidays from WZZZ, where we play your favorite Christmas songs twenty-four hours a day starting in mid-November and continuing until you're thoroughly sick of it.” Except they don't. Not really. My favorite Christmas songs include the songs I grew up with. The “traditional” songs. “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing,” “Joy to the World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful.” No offense to Mariah Carey, but if I hear “All I Want for Christmas is You” one more time this season, I'm going to spit up. Same goes for Bruce Springsteen's off-key warbling of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Listen carefully and you'll find that these “Christmas stations” are all playing the same ten songs done by twenty different artists.

And I'm terribly, terribly sorry, but just because a tune mentions the word “Christmas” somewhere doesn't make it a Christmas song. Case in point: Dan Fogelberg's “Same Old Lang Syne.” “Met my old lover in the grocery store; the snow was falling Christmas Eve.......” And from there, the song is all about lost loves and lamenting missed opportunities and drinking a six-pack in her car. This belongs in a Christmas rotation? Really?

But at least it mentions Christmas. Unlike “My Favorite Things,” a lovely song from “The Sound of Music” that has absolutely, positively nothing to do with Christmas. In the stage play, Maria sings it to overcome her fears of her impending new placement with the von Trapps. In the movie, she sings it during a storm to assuage the fears of the children. In any case, other than references to mittens, sleigh bells, and snowflakes, it's not a Christmas song! Okay, I guess that puts it in the same category as “Jingle Bells” and “Sleigh Ride,” so I'm willing to overlook it. Of course, I can't overlook the dreadful Barbara Streisand over-performance of the song that dominates the airwaves. Please, radio guys, limit it to versions by Julie Andrews, Jack Jones, Kenny Rogers, Rod Stewart, Herb Alpert, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Lorrie Morgan, Tony Bennett, Kenny G, Barry Manilow, or any of a dozen other artists who have covered it.

Years ago, I volunteered to do a live Christmas Eve show on radio. My program director said we could just do a “canned” show like everybody else so I could be home with my family. But I insisted because I knew there were people out there who had to work on Christmas Eve or maybe some who were alone with only the radio for companionship, and I wanted to be there for those people, playing their requests and being a real person to whom they could relate. So I brought my family into the studio with me and we spent the hours between six and midnight taking phone calls and playing what people wanted to hear on Christmas Eve. Yes, I had to limit the playing of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” to once an hour and I had to restrict Alvin and the Chipmunks and Seymour Swine as well. (You know......the “Porky Pig” version of “Blue Christmas.”) But you know what people wanted to hear most? Carols. Good old-fashioned, traditional Christmas carols. Not one request came in for John Lennon's “So This Is Christmas” with it's repetitive “war is over” background refrain. Nor did they want to hear Bob Geldof's Band Aid exhort them to “feed the world” with “Do They Know It's Christmas?” Listeners wanted “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Silent Night.” They didn't ring the phones off the hook for pop/rock artists like Elton John and “Step Into Christmas” or Wham! singing “Last Christmas.” They requested “The Carol of the Bells” and “What Child Is This.” They called in for “The First Nowell” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” The didn't want political message songs. They wanted the songs they sang in church; the songs with the real message of Christmas that was important to them and that they carried in their hearts and passed on to their families. Not the “inoffensive” secular dreck that the so-called “Christmas stations” play today. There's a slick plastic automated computer operated Clear Channel station in my area that plays the “modern” Christmas songs and there's a little local “mom and pop” station with real DJs that plays the old stuff. Guess which one I listen to.

I was working around the house and wanted some background Christmas music. I tuned to DirecTV's alleged “holiday music” station. Yikes! I don't know what the hell that was, but it surely wasn't Christmas music. Instead, I brought up Pandora's “Classical Christmas” station on my computer. Much better. Like washing my ears out.

You know what else offends me? People who screw around with those traditional classics. I'll hear some good old song come on the radio and I'll warm up the pipes and start to sing along and.......Whammo!........somebody changes the words! Or the tempo. Or the overall arrangement. Why? We've been singing some of these songs the same way every December since medieval days. Why do they need changing now? I don't know who the guy was that I heard singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” today, but the song goes, “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our savior was born on Christmas Day.” It doesn't go, “Remember Jesus Christ our lord was born on Christmas Day.” Where did that come from? And the fifth line of the second verse starts, “How that in Bethlehem was born” not “Now that in Bethlehem was born.” Doofus. Way to wreck a song. If you're really clueless and don't know the words, learn them before you attempt to sing them.

(Kind of reminds me of the amateur redneck band I once heard attempting to perform the Randy Travis hit “1982” and mangling the verse by singing, “They say eyesight's 20/20 and I'm nearly going blind.” You country fans will know difference.)

I heard Carrie Underwood the other day singing “Oh Holy Night.” She did a fine job and I was ready to go with her to the second verse. And then she just repeated the first over again. Why, Carrie? The song has three lovely verses. What's wrong with the other two?

Maybe it's my musical theater background. Trust me, when you're performing Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Lowe, you don't screw with the words. Or the melodies. Or anything else about the song. There's no room for “stylizing” in musical theater. You sing 'em like they wrote 'em. Same thing applies to Christmas music. Leave the songs everybody knows and loves alone. And if you want to be the next Frank Sinatra and do it your way, fine. Write your own song and do it any way you want to. Maybe in a hundred years or so, your idea of a Christmas song will be considered a classic. But for now, stop screwing with the real classics, okay?

Again, I'm not saying a Christmas song has to be five hundred years old to be traditional and I'm not discounting newer secular classics like Mel Torme's “The Christmas Song” as performed by Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby's rendition of Irving Berlin's “White Christmas.” But for goodness' sake, sing them straight. Nat and Bing and Andy Williams and Perry Como and Johnny Mathis all did pretty well just singing 'em the way they were written, you know?

Some years back I did a Christmas show at a nursing home. It was just a bunch of us from the cast of a musical who put together a little show to entertain some folks who needed it. I remember singing “I'll Be Home for Christmas” and having an old gent come up and shake my hand and thank me. “That song helped me a lot back in the war,” he said, “and you did it just like I remember it.” Wow. We closed another show with “White Christmas” and I almost didn't make it through because there was this little old lady sitting on the front row smiling at me with tears running down her cheeks as her memories played out in her mind.

That's why you don't screw with Christmas songs. For every thin-skinned idiot who finds them offensive, there are a thousand people who cherish them. And for all you “song stylists” who think that your trills and yodels and crescendos and vocal gymnastics and new arrangements are making you a superior “artist,” remember that you're messing with people's memories. Consider your audience. You ain't up there singing for yourself, Jack. You get up and screech and holler your way through some dusty old Christmas song, doing it your way and making it yours and you might see some tears in the audience, but not for the same reason I saw them. For a lot of people, Christmas songs are part of Christmas memories that you don't have a right to screw with because you want to stroke your oversized ego. It's really kind of sad when you think about it. Don't give me crap about “art” being “subjective.” I'm an artist, too and you can BS about it all you want but you can't “improve” or “stylize” the Mona Lisa with a mustache and you can't make traditional carols, hymns, or even secular classics better by screwing with the lyrics or the arrangements.

Does anybody remember the story a couple of years ago wherein a painting of Christ in a Spanish church was utterly ruined by an amateurish attempt to “restore” it? The original work dated back to around 1930 and it was getting a little flaky around the edges. But before a proper restoration could be funded, some ham-handed local “artist” with more hubris than talent totally and irrevocably screwed it up by painting over it and replacing and old but still beautiful image with something so indescribably horrid that it was ridiculed the world over. Exactly as has been done to some of the world's most treasured music by alleged “artists” who don't know when to leave well enough alone.

Okay. I'm done. If it's true that a picture is worth a thousand words, well........I've churned out more than two thousand words here, so I hope you get the picture. Christmas music should not “offend” anyone and it should not be trifled with for trifling reasons.

Stop screwing with my Christmas music! And, by the way, have a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 6, 2013

In Defense of Proper Italian


To paraphrase an iconic Bette Davis line, “Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy rant.”

I'm sick and tired of being called “elitist” and “snob” because I insist on proper pronunciation of so-called “foreign” words. (Remember, they're only “foreign” if they're not your native language.) In this country we laugh at “foreigners” who mispronounce common English words, but we are apparently immune to such criticism when it comes to our own blatant ignorance of other languages. That's okay. We're Americans. Everything we do and say is right, right?

Whenever I hear words like “marinara” and “bruschetta,” “bolognese” and “calzone” being mispronounced, I literally cringe. I mean, I physically react before I even have time to think. I've gotten better. I used to fly in the offender's face, but I have found a calmer place in my advancing age. Now I just sit quietly and turn colors until the urge to strangle passes.

Italian is, bar none, the single most abused and bastardized language in the United States. This is especially true because even Americans of Italian descent badly, badly mispronounce common Italian words. Part of it is the aforementioned cultural arrogance and ignorance. Some of my friends tell me, “Well, you shouldn't be so harsh. It's just the American pronunciation and that's the way people learned it.” Okay. And if somebody “learned” that the capital of Alaska is Nome, should I, knowing better, correct them or should I just tell everybody in Juneau the bad news?

Some say that a contributing cause of adulterated Italian can be traced to dialects. I can buy that in some cases. Not all Italians speak Italian. There are twenty distinct regions on the Italian peninsula and twenty distinct dialects. People in one area frequently have different words for things than their neighbors in another area. It would be like crossing from North Dakota to South Dakota and finding that people had different words for “cow.”

Officially, the Italian language is based on the Tuscan dialect, but people in Campania and Sicily and all the other regions still retain much of their native way of speaking. And when these people emigrated to the United States, they often brought their different dialects with them, so that your Italian grandmother and my Italian grandmother may not have called the same object the same thing. All that said, there are regional dialects in English, too. But when it comes down to it, proper English is still proper English. It's the English that is taught in schools and used in common speech. The same principle applies to proper Italian. Regional distinctions aside, English is English and Italian is Italian.

Probably the biggest reason for bad Italian in America is the politeness of Italian people. They know you're butchering their language when you flatten out “a”s and drop “e”s, but unlike the French, they are too polite to correct you, and so abominations like “mare-uh-NARE-uh” are allowed to pass into common usage. I guess the politeness has been bred out of me in the successive generations since my ancestors left Italy, because I'll correct you in a heartbeat. But whenever I do I get flak for being snobby.

What was it Alan Jay Lerner wrote in My Fair Lady? “Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?” The song concludes, “But use proper English and you're regarded as a freak.” Can we also apply that to using proper Italian?

One of the most common criticisms of Giada De Laurentiis is what some consider her “over-pronunciation” of Italian words. There she'll be, tripping along in her California-accented American English and she'll come to an Italian word or phrase, which she will, of course, render in perfect Italian. And for this she gets called snooty and pretentious. I don't get it. She's being snooty and pretentious for pronouncing something correctly in her native language? When an Italian pronounces an English word incorrectly, he's stupid and ignorant, but when an American pronounces an Italian word incorrectly, he's just saying it the American way. Never mind that it's wrong! Why isn't he equally stupid and ignorant? It's because of the American ethnocentric bias that maintains that everything we do is, by God, right because it's American. And we wonder why people in other countries don't like us.

What I always wonder about is why this bias only seems to apply to the Italian language. There are many ethnicities in America. They all come with their own unique languages. And English-speaking Americans seem to accept all of them and adapt to all of them – except for Italian. We're meticulous with French and proper with Spanish. We are careful to pronounce German words correctly and even attempt to get the right inflection in Japanese and Chinese. But when it comes to Italian, all bets are off. We can pronounce it any old way we want to and excuse it by saying, “It's the American pronunciation.”

Think I'm exaggerating? Consider: Do you drive a “Shev-ro-lay” or a “Chev-ro-let? When you order a layered dessert, is it a “par-fay” or a “par-fate?” Crème brûlée is “krem-broo-lay” and not “creem-bruh-lee,” right? When you go to one of those all-you-can-eat places, you're eating from a “boo-fay” and not from a “buff-et.” So why do you ask for “broo-shet-uh” at an Italian place instead of “broo-sket-ah?” Why is it more important to be correct in French than in Italian?

Or Spanish? Just to be annoying and to carry home my point, I've begun to be deliberately obtuse in Mexican restaurants. I figure if you can order “boh-loh-naze” and “mare-uh-nare-uh” in my Italian place I can order “tack-ohs” and “kwes-uh-dill-uhs” in your Mexican joint. Why should I care any more about correct Spanish than you do about correct Italian?

Of course, as I alluded earlier, one of the biggest obstacles has been Italians themselves. More specifically, Italian immigrants who wanted desperately to fit in in their new country and wound up anglicizing a lot of their own language. But dropping final vowels from Italian words does not make them English words. It just makes them bad Italian words. East coasters make my ears bleed with their “mozz-uh-rell” and “pro-shoot” and “ruh-got.” And just because there are silent final “e”s in English doesn't mean the same holds true in Italian. “Cal-zoan” and “pro-vuh-loan” are emphatically and painfully wrong. I don't care if they're common; they're WRONG! How about this? If it's so American and correct to drop the final “e,” I'll just order up some nice “gwahk-uh-mohl.” Or maybe a tasty “tah-mahl.” Ooops! Gotta watch those “a” sounds. Better make that a “tuh-măl.” And obviously only snooty, pretentious people ask for “moh-lay,” so I'll just have some “mohl.”

Is it all beginning to sound really stupid to you? Good.

Tell you what, next time you sneeze, instead of saying “gesundheit” the proper German way, I think I'll say “jess-und-heet.” Surely that will catch on and become correct through common usage.

Next, I'll go after the Chinese and order me some of that “kung pay-oh” chicken. What do you mean, it's “kung pow?” That's not the way it's spelled. In American English, “pao” should be pronounced “pay-oh,” shouldn't it? Well, shouldn't it?

English is a weird language, loaded with tricky diphthongs and silent letters and homophones. I could go into pages and pages of scholarly dissertation on why English developed the way it did. I could talk at length about the “Great Vowel Shift” that effected major changes in the sound of English between the mid-14th century and the beginning of the 18th. But what it all boils down to is the fact that there are a lot of phonetic elements in English that just don't exist in other languages. For example, there are fifteen vowel sounds in English. The letter “a” alone has three sounds; the long sound, as in “lake,” the short sound, as in “apple,” and the schwa sound, as in “father.” There are only seven vowel sounds in Italian, and the letter “a” only has one. There are just five vowel phonemes in Spanish and the Spanish “a” is sounded the same as it is in Italian, which would be the equivalent of the English schwa, producing the “ah” sound. That is why you have “tah-coh” instead of “tack-oh” and why you should have “mah-ree-nah-rah” instead of “mare-uh-nare-uh.” But for some unfathomable reason, Americans recognize and honor the difference in Spanish while totally ignoring it in Italian.

I maintain that it is the height of ethnocentric hubris to change somebody else's language rather than to learn to correctly pronounce that language ourselves. We demand that people for whom English is a second language speak it properly and correctly and we ridicule and deride those who do not. And yet we mangle and massacre “foreign” tongues with impunity simply because we are Americans and we have the intrinsic, God-given right to do so. There's no such thing as "the American pronunciation." That infers that there is something wrong with the original, correct pronunciation and that the "American way" is somehow better. Just because some tongue-tied Americans have to dumb some things down in order for them to meet their inferior philological abilities doesn't mean that such linguistic laziness is correct.

Okay. I am quietly putting the soapbox back under the porch now. I have sufficiently ranted and railed and harangued enough for today. But I'm not giving up my crusade, quixotic though it may be. I will continue to lobby for proper Italian pronunciation if for no other purpose than to show my respect for another culture and its language. If I want other people to respect my culture, then it is inherent upon me to respect theirs. And if that is seen by Joe Average American as being snooty, snobby, elitist, and pretentious, then so be it. Guilty as charged.

But rather than point fingers at me and call me names, why don't you join me? It's lonely here on the mountaintop and I'm getting hoarse from all the shouting. Stupidity is permanent but ignorance is curable and some people are actually willing to learn. I am gratified by the number of folks who, when I point out their mispronunciation, say, “I didn't know that,” and then go on to modify their speech. Of course, there are many others who just look at me like a doddering, pompous old fool and go on about their erroneous way, not really caring to change because they're content in their stupidity. But I remain extremely hopeful for the merely ignorant.

Go on. Learn a proper Italian word today. It won't hurt, I promise. And if you're successful, maybe you, too, can be snobby and pretentious someday. It'll be nice to have company.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Olive Garden Yanks Out a Few More of Its Italian Roots


You Want Fries With That?

Just when you thought Olive Garden couldn't possibly be less of an example of an authentic Italian restaurant, they come up with another brilliant idea to distance themselves from their identity. Now they wanna be a burger joint. Enter the “Italiano Burger.”

This latest dumbing down of the menu consists of a six-ounce burger topped with mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, pesto, tomatoes, and aioli. And, yes, it comes with fries. Parmesan garlic fries, of course. Gotta stay Italian, right?

What's next? A clown mascot with an Italian accent?

I'm not saying the burger doesn't sound delicious, but it's about as authentically Italian as Chicken Alfredo, another of the chain's signature "Italian" dishes.

The move comes as a knee-jerk response to increased competition among so-called “casual dining” establishments. This competition has forced a lot of “refining” – to use their word – of the Olive Garden menu. First, they pared down their original menu. Of late, they've been trying to appeal to cost conscious diners with three-course meal options. And they've gone after the young trendy crowd with small plate offerings. They abandoned their long-standing “family” marketing strategy in favor of something allegedly more appealing to hip, edgy, consumers on the “go.” It worked for me. Every time I see an Olive Garden, I say, “Go. Anywhere else. Just go.”

Apparently Clarence Otis, the CEO at Darden Restaurants, thinks the best way for a pseudo-Italian eatery to compete with classic American places like Applebee's, Chili's, and Ruby Tuesday is to become more like them. I guess the idea of becoming a better Italian restaurant never crossed his mind. It's easier to lower the bar than it is to raise it. And when your financial backers are looking at falling numbers and pushing for changes, you take the cheap, easy way out and become a burger joint. An Italian burger joint. Hey, there's one on every corner in Rome, right? Not!

A Sicilian chef named Paolo Lafata used to be the executive chef at OG. I don't know if they showed him the door or what, but now Jim Nuetzi, a guy who started out slinging pizzas in Atlanta, is calling the shots and he's the one you can thank for this latest burger debacle. Seems even the head guys at Darden were reluctant to go the burger and fries route, but Nuetzi won them over with his concoction of an all-American staple made with Italian ingredients. And French fries. Uffa!

You know, there are cheap little Mom & Pop restaurants with Italian-sounding names all over the country that get by on serving spaghetti and burgers in an attempt to be everything to everybody. You probably have one or two in your town. If you also have an Olive Garden, you now have one more.

I want to like Olive Garden. I really do. But they keep making it harder and harder. I've read dozens of comments on various sites from people who say they really used to like Olive Garden. It used to be unique, it used to be a good place to take the family, you could get at least sort of Italian food there that you couldn't get anywhere else. But in recent years the chain has cut its menu, lowered the quality of its food, and raised its prices. Even their new “Italiano” burger is weighing in at a hefty ten bucks.

Maybe the time has come for a remake. Let Darden shutter all 800-plus restaurants and rebrand them as some sort of classic American place. Then they could be just like Applebee's and Chili's and all the rest. They could serve steak and seafood and burgers and wings and be just like dozens of other eateries. No need to keep up an Italian front that has been slipping away for years. Or they might do something really radical and try to become a real Italian restaurant. Do away with the faux-Tuscan trappings and the overpriced Americanized menu and serve authentic Italian food at affordable prices. And the dish could run away with the spoon while the cow is busy jumping over the moon. That's more likely to happen first.

Mexican food is a fast-growing element on the American dining scene. Look for Olive Garden to add tacos to their menu next. I actually visited an Olive Garden that was attached to a Red Lobster. Since Darden owns both properties, why not knock out the wall and make an Italian seafood place that also serves burgers and fries? Sooner or later you'll pander sufficiently to the lowest common denominator and you're bound to make a buck or two, right?

In the meantime, how does “McOlive Garden” sound to you?