So thoroughly have the three Varchetta brothers re-imagined the relocated Mamma Melina their own mother would hardly recognize the place even though that's her name above the door
So thoroughly have the three Varchetta brothers re-imagined the relocated Mamma Melina their own mother would hardly recognize the place even though that’s her name above the door.
At the old Mamma Melina, which flourished for two decades on Roosevelt, Mamma worked the floor and Papa sometimes entertained the guests with arias. Both retired years ago to the coast of Lazio.
The new Mamma Melina, occupying the south end of the Corydon Apartments near University Village, has more in common with the Varchetta’s stylish Barolo downtown.
On a summer day you’d think it was Rodeo Drive and not the Burke-Gilman Trail that runs alongside the broad front patio. Amid shallow pools holding silver globes that glint in the sun, beautiful people in oversized sunglasses sip wine on thickly cushioned sofas or sup on house-made pasta under canvas umbrellas at white-clothed tables.
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There are tablecloths inside, too, but the red and green Alessi salt and pepper grinders on each table wink at formality and the décor plays with incongruity the way dreams do. Mirrors create the illusion of vastness. Crystal chandeliers suspend above concrete floors.
Gilt-framed old-master reproductions hang not on the walls but on ceiling baffles. They don’t do much to muffle the din. Seated at a deuce adjacent to the bar and lounge, my guest and I were practically lip- reading.
This sleek, contemporary ristorante and pizzeria suits a neighborhood bound by U-Village, U-Dub and tony Laurelhurst. It’s open every day. Lunch flows into dinner without a break in service or much difference in the menu, which ranges from pizza and pasta to scampi and scaloppini, ensuring wide appeal. Price points are moderate and the cooking is assured.
The abundant antipasto misto is a good way to start. A large square plate held good quality prosciutto and salami, assorted grilled or pickled veggies and a mini Caprese salad that — like the larger version ordered on another occasion — incorporated pale, hard tomatoes. (I longed for the riper looking cherry tomatoes atop my neighbor’s bruschetta.)
Move on to a pair of hefty fork- tender meatballs in a pepper-spiked marinara, or cheese-filled spinach ravioli similarly sauced, or carpaccio dotted with capers and a bit of grated horseradish. These appetizers are also on the bar menu, which is offered at half price during happy hour. Given its length and variety, it’s one of the best bargains around.
At happy hour you can also have a margherita, marinara or pepperoni pizza for just $6. The pleasantly salty crust has a just-right char and satisfying chew. There are many other combinations worth considering. (I’ll try the sausage and sautéed rapini next time.)
Having greedily consumed a citrus-kissed salad of mixed greens and charred octopus, I promised myself I would not eat the entire portion of penne with smoked salmon and crab, right up until I chased the last noodle around the bowl. There was just enough cream sauce to coat the pasta and lots of briny salmon and sweet lump crabmeat amid a flurry of fresh parsley and chive.
Tender veal scaloppini with crimini mushrooms disappeared too, the last of the marsala-rich gravy mopped with rosemary-scented bread that comes with a bowl of seasoned oil and vinegar.
The same lusty marsala sauce minus the mushrooms worked equally well with “branzino,” lush chunks of sustainably harvested Chilean sea bass. A brown sauce studded with green peppercorns flattered excellent beef tenderloin. The scampi’s white wine and garlic sauce had some peppery heat, too, tempering the salty kick of the prosciutto-wrapped jumbo shrimp.
Fat roasted asparagus, slender baby carrots and a starch accompany each entree. With all due respect to the potatoes, I’d put the crisp, fried polenta cubes on every plate, with or without the dab of marinara.
From the enticing roster of sweets I can recommend the chiffon-light lemon ricotta cheesecake and the darkly delicious Belgian chocolate cake. Mamma might have offered espresso, or suggested an after- dinner Sambuca, but these swift young servers just dropped the check with dessert. By then the lights had dimmed and the music throbbed. It was time for this mama to retire as well.
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