Last Updated on Thursday, 07 June 2012 21:44
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Historically, the best restaurants on the West Bank have been invisible. This creates the illusion that there aren't any great eateries over the river. There aren't many, but they have to be sought out. Tony Mandina's is a particularly pleasant such discovery. Much liked by regulars but unknown among others, its food and surroundings are much nicer than one expects.
The menu is tuned to the standard New Orleans-Sicilian-Italian palate, with no surprises in content. It is, however, better than one expects. Pasta with red sauces, white sauces, or olive oil sauces, accompanied by veal and chicken scaloppine (most of it panneed) or seafood. And stuff like lasagna. A large hamburger steak--a nearly-extinct dish elsewhere--is a specialty.
Tony and Grace Mandina opened the restaurant in 1982. Although there's no connection with Mandina's on Canal Street, the famous name couldn't have hurt. The place was popular from the beginning, particularly among West Bank groups who needed a nice-looking place for lunch. As the Mandinas' children grew up and became involved, the restaurant has improved, with a much warmer style than in its early years.
No restaurant shows a stronger contrast between its environs and its dining room. The old suburban neighborhood looks unpromising for fine dining. But crossing the threshold is like passing through an atmosphere warp into a classy hotel bistro. The place even looks bigger than it did from the outside. At dinner, a highly listenable pianist noodles all night long. Service is performed well by bright young servers, some of home are family.
Mini peppers with shrimp stuffing
Mozzarella cheese sticks
»Cream of artichoke soup
Grilled chicken Caesar salad
Meatballs or Italian sausage with pasta marinara
Veal, chicken or eggplant parmigiana
Veal Blake Anthony (panneed veal, fettuccine alfredo)
Panneed veal bordelaise
»Chicken Lindsey Grace (panneed, pasta alfredo)
»Grilled chicken bordelaise
»Eggplant Dominic Jude (layered with shrimp and crabmeat alfredo)
Shrimp Julia Grace (fried, marinara, mozzarella)
»Shrimp Mandina (like barbecue shrimp)
Shrimp fettuccine Alfredo
»Shrimp, crabmeat and veal classico (cream sauce)
»Homemade bread pudding with rum sauce
Strawberry shortcake cheesecake
Italian ice cream
Dark chocolate ecstasy cake
FOR BEST RESULTS
The red sauce is thick, sweet, and familiar, but the cream and herbal sauces are better. If you are fantastically hungry, the braciolone--a dish so time-consuming that few restaurants serve it--will serve you well. Most appetizers are big enough to share.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The restaurant has been packed at every lunch I've had there, and the wait staff is under enough stress to get testy at times.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +1
- Service +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar -1
- Hipness -2
- Local Color
- Live music every night
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The restaurant's slogan is "If you can find it!" Even with the help of a tall sign visible from the elevated West Bank Expressway, navigation to the place--through a neighborhood you are not likely to visit for any other reason--is a challenge. (It's probably best to get on the service road right after coming off the bridge.) A doorman directs you to what will probably be a non-intuitive parking space, and then ushers you into a beautiful restaurant. What the food lacks in polish it makes up for in nostalgic comfort, even if you have a preference for more modern styles of Italian cookery. It's good enough to have you thinking about what you're going to try next time.
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