With a half-dozen or so Italian restaurants on Main Street alone, downtown Pleasanton is fast becoming the Tri-Valley's unofficial pasta capital. Mangia Mi is the newest Italian bistro on the scene, wooing passers-by with its chic black-and-white striped awnings and sidewalk tables.
This is the second Mangia Mi for owner Peter Cedolini, who opened his first Italian eatery in Danville in 2009. Cedolini's entrepreneurial vision of expansion was foiled by an ailing economy, but the deferred dream is back on track. The Pleasanton restaurant opened in August in a welcoming space that melds rustic and industrial elements. An open kitchen anchors the space, while framed prints of Italian fare and cheeky artwork add flair. One showed a corseted woman with the words "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." Chef Chris Wilhelm, who opened the Danville location, heads up this kitchen as well.
Dessert before dinner
Like any respectable Italian restaurant, Mangia Mi offers a host of antipasti, including steamed clams ($15), bruschetta ($11) and burrata with prosciutto ($16). We started with an appetizer of crispy polenta cakes ($10), but I did a double take when it was delivered.
"Is this the polenta?" I asked the runner.
It didn't bear much resemblance to polenta. Rather, it looked suspiciously like an apple galette -- with a temptingly gooey caramel sauce on top. A la mode.
"Are you sure it's polenta?" I asked again.
"Yes. That's polenta," he answered again, with confidence. "Try it."
Which is how we came to have a delicious fall dessert before dinner.
Just as we were licking the cinnamon and sugar off our lips, the real polenta quietly arrived. It was a highlight of the meal: simple grilled squares with a crispy exterior and soft middle, served with a spicy marinara for dipping and verdant microgreens for a pop of color.
Primi and secondi
Mangia Mi has always had a nice touch with its pasta dishes, and the kabocha ravioli ($19) sounded thoroughly swoonworthy. Stuffed with sweet Japanese pumpkin, the tender ravioli were sauced with toasted hazelnuts, sage, black truffle butter and pecorino. The first few delicious tastes met our expectations, but with each additional bite, the dish seemed to grow increasingly sweet.
The Lasagna di Carne ($16) is one of Mangia Mi's most popular dishes, and I remembered it positively from the Danville location. Here, the generous portion included ample Bolognese, béchamel and cheese, but it had spent a few minutes too long in the oven, leaving its bottom a bit darkened and the rest a little dry.
Pizza lovers will appreciate the array of artisanal pizzas, which range from the simple -- a Margherita ($12) and a Formaggio ($12) made with mozzarella and Parmesan -- to the more gourmet, such as a pear and Gorgonzola pizza ($16). Most include a sauce made from imported San Marzano tomatoes. On our visit, all the elements came together beautifully, except for a slightly limp crust.
The Peperone Farcito ($12), a bell pepper stuffed with ground Angus beef, rice, mozzarella and Parmesan and served with a lovely marinara, was just fine but lacked the wow factor to make it a favorite.
What dazzled were the Brussels sprouts ($8) on the contorni menu, which included roasted beets ($8), mashed potatoes with truffle oil ($7) and similar side dishes. The Brussels sprouts were divine, perfectly roasted and gussied up with applewood smoked bacon, a balsamic reduction and grated pecorino. The portion was large enough for four people to share.
Having already had dessert, we weren't particularly interested in a second one, but we fell for the flourless chocolate cake ($9). It was rich and dense but overtaken by a runny whipped cream.
The service was friendly and responsive, although we were left to crunch ice cubes a couple of times when our water glasses went empty. The case of the polenta's mistaken identity did no real harm -- although how one mistakes a galette for a polenta appetizer, I'm still not sure. Still, it underscores the importance of keeping the staff well-versed on a changing seasonal menu.
Noise level will be a consideration. Sound waves ricochet with little to dampen the din. If sound bothers you, the back room may offer a quieter setting.
Meanwhile, here's a toast to a promising newcomer.
Reach Chrissa Ventrelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONTACT: 925-846-2426, www.mangia-mi.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily; 5-9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; and until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
VEGETARIAN: Several options, including a penne pasta ($13), mac and cheese ($14) and gnocchi with Gorgonzola ($15)
BEVERAGES: Full bar; fun, descriptive wine list
RESERVATIONS: Suggested; may be made on the restaurant website
NOISE LEVEL: Loud; the casual back dining room is a quieter space.
PARKING: Street parking; free lot next door
KIDS: Children will enjoy the spaghetti, chicken Parmesan and pizza ($7-$8)
PLUSES: Great location; fresh, flavorful ingredients; the polenta and pizza are particularly good
MINUSES: Overdone lasagna; a few service missteps
DATE OPENED: August
We strive to remain anonymous when we dine. This newspaper pays for all meals.
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