Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mandola's Italian Market

(512) 419-9700
4700 Guadalupe St
Austin, TX

I’ve been meaning to post a review of Mandola’s for a couple of weeks now and haven’t gotten around to it, so here it goes. I went there for a family dinner a few weeks ago. Its nice and centrally located making it a great location of you want to meet up with people who are dispersed all over town. My dad works waaaaay north, I live and work waaaaay south, my mom and brother work pretty centrally, so we decided to meet up at Mandola’s and give it a try. Its in that new (well new to me) Triangle complex around 45th and Lamar/Guadalupe. There are all sorts of new places going in there. A Flying Saucer (yeaaaaahhh, who wants to do the beers of the world tour with me??), a Mama Fu’s (review to follow when I get to it), a Flipnotics coffee space (or whatever the hell that place is called), and a couple of other places that I can’t remember now. First let me say the parking situation sucks. My girlfriend Elena lives there and it’s always a bitch and a half to go to find parking at her place. But I’ll let you in on a secret - park at the Office Depot (Office Max, Staples, whatever), then you can casually stroll down to Mandola’s while everyone else is cursing and fighting for a space. Second, I’ve only been there once, but I have it on good authority that the place is always packed. So be prepared to wait, but the wait turns out to be a rather reasonable – around 20 minutes.

When you get to Mandola’s the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s not a normal sit down restaurant - its part restaurant and part Italian market. You stand in a long line to place your order, but the 10 or so minutes you wait in line you can look at the market wares that happen to be within arms length. Elena, who is from Italy, says they have a good selection of Italian products (even some ones that are hard to find it Italy). They literally have 50 different kinds of olive oil. So if you’re an olive oil snob and you’ve worked your way through the selection at Central Market this is your place. There is a deliciously stocked pastry and dessert counter also, so make sure to save room.

When you finally do get to the front of the queue, you place your order at the register, and find a seat. If you come with a large group, as we did, strategize, and have half your group place the orders while the other stake their claim on a table. There is a separate (and shorter) line if you just want dessert and coffee. The selection is pretty good as far as Italian “fast food” goes. They have a nice selection of bruschette, paninis, pizze (pizza if you’re not too smart), pasta and insalate (salads).

Since there were 4 of us and I was hungry we opted for the Bruschette al Finocchiona as an appetizer. It was delicious! Crisp fresh bread topped with a really tasty salami, creamy goat cheese, arugula and nice big shavings of parmigiano. The ingredients were all fresh, crisp, and the pairings of all were a hearty way to kick off the Italian dinner. I highly recommend it. My parents both opted for the ravioli of the day. I believe it was a butternut squash ravioli in a butter sauce. It was excellent. Not the usual pre-made ravioli nightmare you find at most restaurants. You could tell these were made recently and the dough was fresh (having labored to make ravioli by hand before, I consider myself a minor ravioli expert and in the future will leave ravioli making to Mandolas). I went with my current Italian favorite, the Gnocchi al Sugo. I measure Italian restaurants by the quality of their gnocchi. Is it hand-made, is it fresh, is it tender and not too tough (or worse yet chewy). And Mandola’s lived up to my expectations. The gnocchi were prepared and cooked to perfection and came smothered in a light tomato cream sauce. I can’t speak highly enough of their gnocchi. It is really good. My brother went with Spaghetti Carbonara and I have to say it was my least favorite dish. It was fresh but far too rich for my palate. The cream egg sauce was just way too overwhelming. One bite and I was done with. I was more than happy to go back to my gnocchi. The table next to us had ordered a pizza and it was a work of art. Large and oblong (in the Sicilian style I am told) it was covered in fresh looking cheese and surprisingly salami. I’d like to give it a whirl sometime. I’ve never had salami on my pizza before..

We didn’t stay for dessert, but I wish we would have. Their dessert and coffee counter had some truly delectable looking treats. Oh well. It gives me an excuse to go back.

Bottom Line: Great Italian food if you can find parking and don’t mind standing in line

Mariah - 9