Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Restaurant Review: Maggiano's Little Italy

So, as Friday is my 42nd birthday, my fellow woodland creatures and I are entering a sort of insane Carnivale period as I try to celebrate with as many people as possible. Tonight, the Roo, the Otter, the Tiger, and I all went out for some Italian food. As I'm half-Italian on my Mom's side, Italian food is kind of my soul food. (My Dad's side of the family is French, English, Scottish, and Irish...we never had a soul food through them, exactly.) So, especially with chances to have dinner with the Tiger rapidly dwindling as he prepares for deployment in Afghanistan, I wanted to take the opportunity to hit one of the few chains of restaurants I actually think is excellent food: Maggiano's Little Italy.

We discovered Maggiano's in Philadelphia originally, where we were attending a furry convention. The joy of family-style restaurant servings was well known to us, but the quality of food was new. We feasted well, and the memory of that meal stays with us and reminds us to visit our local Maggiano's now and then, when my ursine soul calls for pasta. Tonight, we ordered family-style again, and I do not regret it...though I might when I next stand on a scale.

Maggiano's is, to borrow a Patton Oswalt quote, "a gauntlet of angry food." The family-style menu lets you choose 2 appetizers, 2 salads, 4 entrees or pastas, and 2 desserts. There are tons of choices for each level, and we've never had anything we don't care for.

We started with the fried calamari and stuffed mushrooms. The mushrooms were decent...I've definitely had better. The calamari, however, is some of the best and most flavorful I've ever had. It was tender, light, and had a great tangy marinara on the side.

For salads, we chose the Caesar and the chopped salad. The Caesar was absolutely delicious, with a great dressing, crunchy croutons, and shreds of excellent parmigiana cheese. The chopped salad was definitely decent, but it was only decent. The bacon was too chewy, and the lettuce was a bit wilted (and not in a good way).

We tried to balance our entrees across various lines. For pasta dishes, we chose the veal and mushroom raviolis as well as the classic spaghetti and meatballs. The rich raviolis were dressed in a fantastic, creamy Forno sauce, garnished with basil and pimento. The spaghetti and meatballs was about the best spaghetti and meatballs I've had, in a restaurant or not. The sauce was thick and meaty, and the meatball was extremely flavorful.

As non-pasta entrees, we chose a chicken marsala and seared pork medallions. The chicken had a great, rich flavor, and it was complimented with mushrooms and onions in the wine sauce. The pork had a fabulous sear on it, and it was soaking in a very flavorful sauce. Every bite was dynamite and given a little kick by capers. If I had any complaint, it's that there weren't enough capers. I love the lil things, and I rarely get enough.

For desserts, we had an excellent tiramisu, creamy and rich, and a chocolate zucotta cake. This cake was incredibly dense, with a light flavor of anise that actually went very well with the chocolate. All in all, we walked out incredibly full and contented.

If you want a quick bite, this is probably not a great choice, and service can be a little slow. If you want a big meal to celebrate with friends and family, this is a great place to eat. Just be prepared to walk out stuffed.

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