Friday, June 22, 2012

Mangia Roma

Call it the beginnings of a tradition.  Last year, after I did a 100 mile bike ride, I was really hungry and enjoyed a good meal at Sono Wood Fired.  Last week, I did another 100 mile bike ride and, as one might expect, when I was finished, I was again really hungry.  While I didn't go to Sono, I did go to another Italian restaurant that serves pizza.  The place that I went to was Mangia Roma which is across the street from Steppenwolf Theatre and actually in the same neighborhood as Sono Wood Fired.  I walked in to a cozy space with hardwood floors and brick walls.  The front had a glass window wall looking out onto Halsted St with several high top tables in the front.  Tables were against both walls with a row of tables also in the center of the dining room and toward the back.  There is also a small bar at the back of the dining room near the kitchen.  The hostess station is in the back of the room also near the kitchen so it is a little confusing when you walk in and there is no one there to greet you.  I stood for a minute before being told to take any empty table.  I took a place near the front because the light seemed to be better there.  I wasn't really interested in pizza but they looked like they had some pretty good appetizers and pasta dishes.  I started things out with Calamari fra Diavolo.  This is breaded and deep fried calamari that is sauteed in a spicy marinara sauce and served with a wedge of lemon for a squeeze of lemon juice.  While I do like calamari, it does seem to be pretty easy to overcook in which case it becomes rubbery.  This was actually cooked very well and the spicy marinara was really spicy.  The dish did seem a little unusual in that while it was cooked with a sauce, it was actually cooked onto the calamari.  It was very good and really enjoyed starting to sate my hunger with this.

For my pasta, I stayed with a rather simple dish with a tomato based sauce.  I ordered Gnocchi with Sausage and Rosemary.  The Gnocchi was cooked very well.  It was firm, chewy, and had a great texture.  The sausage was a little spicy and well distributed and the rosemary was lightly spread over the dish.  While the taste of the rosemary was not at the forefront, it was prominent enough to be tasted and blended well with the other flavors of the dish.

The dessert was what I think of as an Italian dessert classic. While it seems to me to have a classic style, it seems that tiramisu (literally, "pick mi up") has only been around since the 80s.  There really wasn't anything special about it but in general, tiramisu is very good as was this.  It had a very delicate texture whith a light layer of chocolate over the egg and cheese custard layer and then the Lady Fingers.  It tasted nicely of coffee and chocolate, was sprinkled with powdered sugar and cocoa powder, and had chocolate syrup drizzled over the plate and the dessert.  I really enjoyed this.  I provided a nice relaxing end (ironically) to a good meal.

While the beginning was a little confusing with no one close to greet me when I entered, the service was friendly after I was seated and the food was good.  The food here is not exactly high end Italian, but it is a nice neighborhood joint and is a lot better than Olive Garden.  I imagine that a lot of their business comes from the theater crowd and I think that I will definitely consider it when I go to Steppenwolf Theater or if I am in the area and am interested in a casual Italian meal. 

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