Thanks to new member Brian O’Brien for attending Friday’s dinner. It was quite fitting, as Mama Mia was throwback Italian, and who can appreciate that genre of food better than an ol’ Brooklyn Boy?

Mama Mia logoWell, after this Friday’s coming dinner, my third week of RR eating in a row, I think it will be time to head back to the every two week rotation. I tried the extra dinner thing because for a bit there it seemed like the dinners after Toro Bravo might be in high demand, and I wanted as many people as were interested to be able to join in. Most of the people who originally RSVPed for the second Assaggio dinner, however, ended up backing out, which I’m not certain was due to people not liking the substitution restaurant so much as not really being certain they were coming in the first place when they RSVPed.

Because of this, I had much stress whether my VISA card was going to be zapped with some threatened charge because I couldn’t fill the large table I had reserved when so many people had RSVPed early. So all you newbies, keep in mind, the general rule for Restaurant Roulette is, don’t RSVP unless you are really going to come, even if it means you don’t RSVP until right before the cut off, otherwise poor old Jackie has way too much anxiety, and you (and only you), will be totally responsible for sending her to an early grave. (It’s so good I never spread it on thick). Just keep in mind this simple rule, unless flakiness is connected to a delicious pie crust or dinner roll, it is highly frowned upon by the draconian ruler of all things RR, and if you back out too many times I might have to send someone to your house to kill you.

RR group at mama miaOn that lighthearted note, thank you to my six co-eatees who joined me to make a lucky number seven at Mama Mia Trattoria (although my groups of 13 have been some of the best ever). And thank you to Mama Mia Trattoria (probably referred from here on out, on many occasions, as MMT) for having such simple, easy to type entree names, and to the three manly boys who all ordered the same thing, thus making my food description considerably easier (writing about those millions of small plates at Toro Bravo and typing those contorted Italian names from Assaggio has taken its toll on my feeble old mind and nonexistent typing skills).

This dinner was a first for the annuals of Restaurant Roulette, a dinner (over three people) where the men outnumbered the women. So thank you David, Michael, John and Brian (such manly names too), for bringing to the dining table the best your sex has to offer, or at least the best of your sex that was offered to me on this particular evening (this is beginning to sound dicey, especially in light of the post bordello vibe the MMT decor radiates).

Thanks also to my fellow womb bearing associates, Marnie and Aruna, for evening out the scales a bit on our side of the table (of course not literally, as you could put Aruna, Marnie, and 25 sparrows on one side of the teeter totter, and me on the other, and my side would never leave terra firma).

Observing the segregation policies at MMT, the men were required to sit on the West side of the table, the women on the East side, and John was our rudder. From what I’m told, the men also had an additional ordeal to cope with in the restroom area, (I mean aside from the usual one), gaudy, blinding light fixtures bobbing on each side of their head in the sink area, making hand washing equivalent to a friendly little interrogation at Guattamo (please excuse the spelling, and the mention, and the actual event itself). I’m not too certain about John, however. several times during the meal he showed signs of withdrawal from a bad LSD trip. How’s that John, now you don’t have to be remembered as the iPhone guy anymore?

Of course all this is coming from the person who insisted water was dripping on the table in front of them, and on their lap, from the big black pipes over their head. And no David, this moisture was not coming from my excessive drooling, despite your cruel accusations, and the fact that I was sitting opposite four single semi-men (sorry, that was supposed to be four semi-single men, in most cases), everyone knows that when I drool excessively, it’s warm moisture, not cold. Ask my good, but often drenched friend, Mr. Pillow.

Anyway, enough of this drool chat and the LSD accusations, and on to the actual restaurant, the food, and its inhabitants.

As bad luck would have it, when I had to relocate our Italian dinner after Assaggio dive bombed on me, I didn’t realize that it was Waterfront Brewer’s Festival weekend, or I never would have selected a restaurant two blocks from the event. Despite warning several people of the parking nightmare that was likely, I found arriving at 7:00 pm downtown was barely time to actually locate parking and get to the dinner in time. So consequently, I was in the tail end of the MMT arrivals, John only trailing behind, being stuck on the 10th floor of the same parking garage as me (I’ve heard the 10th floor is where the drug deals come down).

Mama Mia Trattoria was packed when I arrived, something that actually surprised me. Looking at the crowd though, it seems quite the family place, so perhaps this and the somewhat moderate prices have much to do with the popularity. It appears a good place to take the whole biological horde on that special occasion. The people at the front reception podium seemed happy that I had finally joined my group, and the three of us who arrived at this time were shown immediately to the table where our cohorts were already snorfeling bread and gulping beverages. The acoustics in MMT were terrible, but everyone introduced themselves, which was fitting, as no one knew Brian, Marnie didn’t know John or Aruna, Michael didn’t know Aruna or John, John didn’t know Marnie, David or Michael, David didn’t know John or Aruna, Brian didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t know Brian or a single other person in the restaurant except for owner Lisa Schroeder, circulating through the tables and scaring people (the night she came to my table at Mother’s I don’t think she liked my comments, and she’s terrified me since, scary as Gorgonzola (see my last ridiculous review for the terrors of that moldy cheese)).

Mama Mia Trattoria seems quite the well run place, and our server Brandon was a sweetheart (awww), young, cute, personable, and a good waiter to boot (okay, here we go again with these crazy English sayings. “to boot”, where could that possibly have come from? I just used it myself in regard to our waiter Brandon, but he was a nice guy, so why would I want to boot him? Some of those people at Assaggio though, they seemed practically punt worthy). Service was good at MMT, except for an extended wait collecting the final credit card payment, and one rather strange dark serving woman who had the appearance and demeanor of someone recently stunned by a cattle prod. (I don’t want anyone encroaching on my territory. Cattle prod stunned is my special alluring look).

As the lighting in MMT is rather dim, and almost everything in sight black except for gold and velvet maroon ornamentation, I had a hard time reading the menu, so decided to take the easy way out and have a glass of so-so Pinot Gris (I like em or I don’t) thus saving the torture of actually having to make out the cocktail menu. This being old fashioned Italian, wine seemed the drink of choice, exceptions being M’s PBR (he got confused, and thought we were at the Delta), David’s usual tentanus inducing Rusty Nails (I’ll try to avoid mentioning the connection implied when DD always orders these drinks named after a clown,) and party girl Aruna’s refreshing looking Cucumber Mojito (I wish I had had that.) Marnie was doing the unusual white wine with iced tea chaser (you can’t keep that girl away from the caffeine).

Up to this point, I have written this review without having Marnie’s input. I have just received her review, however, and there are some scary coincidences in our reporting of the evening at MMT. Her comments are following, but let me just say at this time, I wish I was the same person as Marnie. Oh to be about a decade and a half younger, petite, with beautiful flowing hair and a lovely face, and work for the LA Times. Oh, and there’s that Leo thing that comes with the bargain as well. She gets L.G., and I obsess over men’s pants. If we are the same person, somehow I’m getting the really short end of the stick. In fact, I’m stickless.

Her crazy tangents are getting a bit more like mine, however, although I would never quite be so whacked out to mention Abba. That being said, I was so happy to have Marnie at our dining table once again, and to have her share her unique input on the events that unfolded.

Here’s what Marnie had to say:

I’m pretty sure that Jackie is trying to pull a “Single White Female” on me, or maybe it’s the other way around. I’m not sure. We’ve both just finished the same book, went to the same beach, this weekend, have the same political and religious leanings and are a member of the same restaurant group. I’m pretty sure we’re not the same person, since we’ve been seen in the same place, at the same time, but it’s hard to say.

With that tangent done, let’s move onto the next.

I didn’t have high hopes for a place called, Mama Mia’s. The Abba song of the same name, has been boring a hole into my sanity, for the past few days, and conjuring flashbacks from my summer at an, ostensibly, pre-professional ballet program. Let’s be clear, though, I was never “pre-professional,” but they weren’t going to pay the rent with the 10 students who were, so they let the schlubs in too. Each week, all the students would perform a variety of ballet and non-ballet pieces, many of which were classics, but a few of which were student choreographed. 5 of the more talented (and less than amiable) girls decided to do a self congratulatory number to Abba’s Dancing Queen and my loathing of all things Abba was cemented. Yes, this was reason enough for me to seriously consider not going to the restaurant.

However, I’m glad I went. Not only did I get to meet 3 new(ish) members of the group, who were all really fun dinner companions, but the food was delicious and unpretentious.

I was the first to be seated and pleased that, despite my early arrival, there was a table already waiting for us. Once everyone was seated, drinks were ordered, as well as some Pabst Blue Ribbon. I haven’t figured out why someone would opt for PBR when there was actual beer on the menu, but there’s no accounting for taste, is there? Of course, this same person also wondered if IKEA offered a Scandinavian Hooters, so perhaps he is not the cultural and culinary compass of the table.

Since I was driving myself home, I stuck to a single glass of Pinot Gris, which was fine, though I was pining away for Aruna’s Cucumber Mojito, which looked delicious. Jackie had the same wine as I, more proof that she wants to be just like me, even if she ordered her wine before I did. I think Jackie’s must have been stronger though because, by mid-meal, she was inquiring about Michael’s pants.

Was this a restaurant review? I think I’m supposed to talk about food at some point. Ok, here goes. The waitstaff brought out a couple of baskets of garlic bread and a dish of softened butter, for each end of the table. The bread was good, well seasoned and soft, but nothing to stop traffic for.

I decided to forego any appetizers, but the salads looked delicious and word is that the soup was good.

Chicken piccataFor my entrée, I had Chicken Piccata and it was some of the best I’ve had, to date. I am a fan of the lemon and this Piccata did not disappoint. There was a nice smattering of capers, plenty of sauce and the whole dish was set off well by the pasta aglio e olio. I do wish it were traditional to serve this dish with veggies of some sort. Knowing, now, that it’s just meat, sauce and pasta, I’ll probably start with a salad, in the future.

Leo couldn’t join me but I wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily. I asked the waiter what he’d recommend for a person who loves veal and he recommended two options he considers excellent. I opted for the Parmigiana, topped with their fresh made mozzarella. Even cold, Leo reported that it was fantastic. Early the next morning, he finished what he couldn’t that night and was ready to go back that evening, though we decided to postpone for another time.

Michael's dishI didn’t get to try many of the other entrees, though Michael’s Chicken Marsala was a nice, somewhat richer alternative to the Piccata. Both of us agreed that the Piccata was a slightly better choice, but not by far. Considering the rather tepid response to the red sauce, most of the rest of the table ordered, I’m glad I went another route.

The various dessert offerings looked good, though I polished off my meal with no room to spare so I treated myself only to a single espresso that was as dark, bitter and strong as a girl could hope. I’m pretty sure it burned a hole through my intestines but it was absolutely worth the pain. While I did have to ask for my twist of lemon, the waiter didn’t miss a beat and returned quickly with a freshly skewered bit of rind for my sipping pleasure.

Once the bill came, Leo’s meal and mine (his to go, of course) came out to less than what we spent, the next night, at a cheesy Mexican restaurant in Vancouver. For the money, the meal was really a good deal and absolutely worth another visit, someday.

But hey, what’s wrong with showing interest in someone’s pants? I suppose as I’ve seen Michael many times in the past, always wearing darkish pants, the khakish pantaloons did throw me off, but I was really just trying to figure out if they were para-educator pants or poet pants. My guess was teacher’s trousers. Poor Michael, it seems like he’s taking quite a beating in this review. He’s probably thinking he’s sorry he took a deviation from his summer of vacations to rejoin us for a dinner. Don’t feel bad, Michael, my old restaurant friend, at least no one accused you of being on an LSD trip (at least in this review). And at least you weren’t seen traipsing home with a big bag of balls and weenies like the other three men. These reviews are getting brutal though.

Anyway, back to a few more uncalled for food remarks from me. As I was starving when I arrived at MMT, I went right for the bread basket. I was initially confused, as I was munching garlic bread, but I saw that it came with a dish of butter. What kind of hedonists delight could this be, garlic bread served with a side of butter? It turns out there were several kinds of bread in the basket, but through my hoggy luck I had just managed to grab all of the crunchy garlic bread pieces. This garlic bread is okay, not dripping in garlic artificiality like so many cheap and sleazy garlic breads, but wasn’t half as good as the absolute best garlic bread in town, at the Savoy Bar and Bistro, and none of the selection was a quarter as good as that fig stuff at Assaggio.

ravioliMy house salad wasn’t bad, it had some usual things like cheese and nuts, but the dressing was pretty average vinagrette. I didn’t hear an opinion of the caesar, which I had read earlier was pretty lifeless, but John praised his minestrone as excellent. When the entrees were delivered, everyone gasped is alarm, as they were hugeagigantic. I gazed with longing at Marnie and Michael’s chicken dishes, as everyone always taunts me for hitting the meat selection so hard, I had made a vow at both Italian dinners to have pasta, something I usually prefer without meat anyway. I knew, however, having had it before on some manicotti, that I really didn’t really care for MMT’s marinara sauce, too thin, tomatoey, and acidic for my palate (and digestion.) I decided to try it on “grandma’s ravioli” though (my grandma’s ravioli would have been chef boyardee, she was a fried chicken and pie woman), large round pillows of decent cheese ravioli. Once again though, I would have preferred a richer sauce, and sad but true, the sauce on Pastini’s house ravioli is far superior. This was a sentiment echoed by the boys with their gigantic plates of pasta, tennis ball sized meatballs, and high quality Italian sausages, that the red sauce (or as Lisa calls it, her “sunday gravy”) was the low point of the dishes, it was lacking richness, zing, and probably spices, although it was still probably acidic enough to eat through the pasta bowls given time. That being said, the men were all happy to take home their gigantic helpings of leftovers in their big brown bags, their entrees weren’t great, but they were good enough, saved by the superior ground meats. Aruna had a very large bowl of Gnocchi, with what looked like pesto, and over the incredible din, I think she said it was good. She was the only one of us girlies to take a brown bag of leftovers home, although in this case, a girlie bag of leftovers was the manly way to go.

In the past, at the happy hour I had experienced at MMT (a good deal with some yummy cocktails), I had splurged afterwards and had the cannoli, as it had just looked too delicious going by the table all night, and I’d only had cannoli maybe once or twice in my life (after all, I’m from the West Coast, the uncannoli coast). I told everyone it was really good, but these silly other people at the table had tiramisu, cheesecake, coffee, or nothing at all. I tasted the tiramisu, and to me it seemed pretty average for Portland tiramisu, although Brian was very discouraged by excessive sweetness. I think Aruna liked her cheesecake just fine, and after many taunts little Aruna finished all of big cheesecake. Naturally, my cannoli was the star of desserts, I think everyone had a bite but the bean queen, and seemed to find it delicious. In this version the big round cookie tubes are made just right, golden brown, crunchy but not unchewable, filled with just barely sweet, rich, creamy marscapone cheese (I think), and drizzled with high quality chocolate. So whatever else I might have to say about Mama Mia’s Trattoria, their CANNOLI RULES!!!!, and for me, dessert is always the item of major importance.

So this was a good dinner, a pleasant atmosphere (except for those glowing orbs in the men’s restroom), good service top to bottom, and everyone relatively pleased with their food selection, all at a decent value. Not every restaurant needs to wow with how spectacular it is, Mama Mia Trattoria is more like that turtle in that famous tortoise and hare fable, slow and steady often wins the race, and maybe that’s why Mama Mia is so popular.