Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Benvenuto al mio blog humble! Speranza godete questa entrata circa alimento italiano!

Today we have something a special, an Italian restaurant in Pacific Beach owned by Italians with Italian servers and a head Italian chef that shout Italian at each other all night long. I feel like I'm back in Italy! (or not).

Mamma Mia

Located in a small house on Balboa Avenue the restaurant is owned by a husband and wife, husband does the greeting and the wife does the cooking (supervision I assume).

The fun thing of this restaurant is that the owner is a really loud guy, Francesco Mezzetti, but loud in that friendly "come give uncle Joe a hug" kind of way. He yells out to every person that walks in "CIAO BELLA! (if you're a girl)" and "CIAO *KISS KISS*" (that he knows, which does not include me) and gives them the patented European hug and kiss greeting. Actually he even goes to people's tables and yells at them. I guess its kind of nice if you like that kind of thing. The ongoing joke that we have is that every single person with any "power" at the restaurant seems to be yelling at this girl Franchesca to do something. "FRANCHESCA GO GETA SOME WATER!", "FRANChESCA SEAT THE TABLE OF FIVE"! Poor Franchesca.

The main problem with this restaurant is visible the moment you step in, it's really a small restaurant, at the most it has 10-12 tables and some of those tables are for 2. So if you decide after this posting that you want to go, I suggest that you get a reservation. Even with a reservation we still had to wait about 20 minutes to be seated. They have an outdoor patio, which on the cold days of San Diego really bring a chill down your spine. I do suggest eating in the hustle/bustle/loud inside eating area.

As well, since its located on Balboa Avenue there really isn't much parking available. You HAVE TO park on the street. What looks like a parking lot to the left of the restaurant is actually for the 7-11 that is strictly for 7-11 patrons.

After poor Franchesca seated us at the table we perused the menu. Pasta, pizza, standard Italian entree dishes, and appetizers on this 4 page menu.

Since it was 7:30 by the time we sat down for our 7pm reservations Frank and I (Eating Companion #2 is excluded from our appetizer) ordered an their appetizer of special of the day.

Two varieties of Zeppole, one with ham and mozzarella cheese and the other with mushroom and Gorgonzola, served with a side of Marinara sauce.

Deliciously crispy and airy fried bread. What more can you ask for? Lightly stuffed with the aforementioned ingredients, you get a good balance of dough and saltiness. Some could (and probably should) complain that they are a bit skimpy on the ingredients but as you may know, I love all things fried, so I might be a bit biased.

Next up is the cheese Ravioli with meat sauce.

Before I actually get into this dish, I'd like to get into something that I'm sure people have noticed while eating here. Almost every single sauce here that's not "cream" sauce is exactly the same. They are pouring the same "meat/cheese" sauce on every single pasta dish, may it be Cannoli, Ravioli, Lasagna, Gnocchi or whatever else. I wonder if anyone else has made this observation because I see a ridiculous amount of people talking about how authentic this restaurant is.

This restaurant is about as authentic to Italian food as PF Chang's is to Chinese food. I understand the people speak Italian to each other, they serve pasta, but everything is pretty typical Italian food fare, nothing you can't find at the Macaroni Grill. What I do believe is that its more "home style" cooking but it is definitely not "authentic" Italian. (I don't want to hear that its an Italian lady cooking, cause last time I checked in Monterey Park the authentic Chinese restaurants have more people from south of the border than from the far east). But do not let this detract you from coming to this restaurant, its still very good, I just wanted to address that concern. Now back to the Ravioli.

Perfectly cooked Ravioli and heavily stuffed cheese. In the picture you can see how plump the ravioli is. The noodles are cooked very well, doughy yet soft, and for ravioli this thick, I'm surprised that some pieces aren't undercooked and some aren't over cooked. The meat sauce is what's really good here. Like I said previously I have no qualms with the sauce, it is actually very delightful. It has a light creamy cheese taste to it but is mixed in with lean ground beef.

Next up is my Lasagna.

Inside the Lasagna is the same meat/cheese sauce that was on the Ravioli. Unlike the Ravioli, the sauce was pretty sparsely used on the lasagna, which led to a rather bland tasting meal. I felt like I was just eating forkfuls of dough. I mean, it was great dough, nice and thick but it definitely needed some more sauce on top or at least more filling inside.

Finally the Penne pasta with sausage and onions with oil.

Eating Companion #2' first statement was, I could make this at home (she wasn't happy with that).And she's absolutely right, you could make this at home if you were able to make peppery meaty sausages, perfect al dente penne, and a nice chili oil. On its face it is quite simple, but the preparation was the key to its success in my mind. Eating Companion #2 did not find it flavorful enough so she actually added the marinara sauce from the appetizer into this dish. To be honest, that actually made the dish exponentially better. Something to think about Mamma Mia. With the added tomato sauce it really reminded me of the spicy seafood pasta I had in Florence which was an absolute delight.

All in all Mamma Mia's is an enjoyable place. The previous time I had their Gnocchi, and like all their other dishes their pasta is TOP NOTCH. Their Gnocchi is without a question their best dish there.

So if you're looking for good Italian food with a home cooked style then head on over to Balboa Avenue and get ready to get verbally assailed by a loud Italian man.


1932 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 272.2702 (make sure you call for reservations)



Kitchentrove said...

I feel like I've been there...only it was a very similar couple in North Beach, San Francisco.....

Liz said...

yum... gnocchi. I'll have to give this place a run. Thanks for reviewing it.

caninecologne said...

glad i saw this post...i've been wanting to go there and eat that zeppole i've been hearing about...

glad you warned your readers about their ubiquitous sauce and the lack of parking too. helps to know that!

Charlie Fu said...

kitchentrove: maybe there is a business secret we aren't aware of, really loud Italian people = popular restaurant? =P

Liz: their gnocchi is the best gnocchi I've ever had. Don't know if that day was a fluke, but it was awesome.

Canine: reservations reservations for the weekend!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure reservations really help all that much -- you still have to wait, even if you've made them!

Frank said...

The Zeppole was solid. But I disagree with Charlie on some of its aspects. There is a tad bit too much dough in my opinion, and the ones with mushrooms and Gorgonzola were just a tad bit too salty. But it does have a light shell and has a good crisp.

I'd lighten up on the analogies, too. This place isn't really like P.F. Changs at all. Regardless of the authenticity of the cuisine, P.F. Chang's is a American restaurant that happens to sell American versions of Chinese dishes, while this place is an Italian restaurant that sells some Italian dishes that might have some American modifications. P.F. Chang's tries to appeal to white yuppies. This place? well, it's in Pacific Beach, and probably does not have a target market. Just letting the readers know so that if you pay attention to the atmosphere of restaurants and such (you don't really bring your boys to Forever Fondue; and you don't really bring your date to Super Bros. Sports Bar), you might want to disregard the P.F. Chang's comparison.

I can't believe Charlie didn't say much about the sausages in the pastas because they were just about the best pieces of foods in my dish. They were absolutely delicious. They were just the perfect blend of fat and lean meat. Terrific consistency, good taste...so YUM!

The portions were a little small, which is fine, but I felt that the prices were a tad high for the portion, the time waited for a table(which would be okay if there was a small bar somewhere that allowed you to have some wine or drinks or something), and the parking troubles.

I'd go there again if I lived in Pacific Beach; but in my opinion, I don't think it is worth the trouble unless you are relatively close to it, or if you are trying to impress some chick that enjoy the whole loud, loving and affectionate Italian theme.

Charlie Fu said...

frank: Sausage was good, but i enjoyed the texture of the noodle significantly more.

Now on to the target audience. Its target audience is 100% not Italians but people wanting to believe they are eating authentic Italian food. Their target audience here is the same as PF Chang's, middle to upper middle class folk who want to pretend they are eating authentic cultural food. The prices on their menu indicate just who they are targeting. Hence is the same group that go to PF changs. That's why they go out of their way to speak Italian to each other, yell in Italian to customers and so on so forth. That's their persona they want you to believe its authentic when its not. Don't be fooled by the fact they have Italian dishes and speak in Italian, this place is not authentic.

PF Changs has classic chinese dishes just like this place does too, but the obscene use of the SAME EXACT sauce is a clear reason on why its not authentic. As well the items you see on the menu at Mamma Mia are definitely not "classic" Italian food, but what our perception of Italian food is growing up in America. Kathy's dish was as close to authentic as it gets which is pretty pitiful. I have no false idea that I'm eating authentic Italian food.

Hence PF chang's is a perfect analogy. Where its located has really nothing to do with it. Look at the food they serve, not where it's located. Just because PF changs looks nicer, is usually located in a nicer neighborhood doesn't mean much. A place like Mamma Mia's can't operate at a large scale like that, they'd get utterly exposed due to the low variety of food on their menu.

Also the Gorgonzola wasn't salty, that's just how it tastes.

Frank said...


I googled Gorgonzola to research on its tastes (while taking a break from outlining for Crim.Pro.) and apparently, the cheese has a wide variety of tastes that range from strong to sweet after tastes. Now I'm no expert, but if this is true, it must mean that there are probably different types of Gorgonzola cheeses that taste different at different ages. If that is the case, then they should change the type of cheese they are using in the Zeppole to reduce the saltiness of the appetizer (if indeed the cheese is the cause of the saltiness).

As far as the P.F. Chang analogy is concerned, I am not saying that the food at this restaurant is completely authentic. But I am saying that the analogy is a bit far because this is, after all, a family restaurant with a family atmosphere. P.F. Chang's got big horses and such for their decorations. They hire hottie college white girls to wait business peoples, etc. I'm sure there is a better analogy with some other restaurant.

I'm a bit surprised that you are recommending this place because you seems to bash this place quite a bit with your "non-authentic" and "petty attempt at authentic" talk.

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie,

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Shannon Eliot
Editorial Assistant, Foodbuzz.com

Charlie Fu said...

Frank: I don't think its authentic, but at the same time it tastes fine. I love Pizza hut and that's not authentic by any means.

I mean I don't like PF changs because I can find better Chinese food out there, I don't eat there because its not authentic (I love the living daylights out of Pick Up Stix)