I wanted to write this review in the style of Gordon Ramsay, who brought his popular reality show, "Kitchen Nightmares," to Mangia Mangia in August. Unfortunately, British accents are notoriously hard to convey in print. And Ramsay's use of colorful language would necessitate censoring half of the article.
So I'll just have to be myself.
Mangia Mangia is a cozy restaurant with good food and hesitant service. Since Ramsay's visit, the restaurant got a fresh coat of paint, new decor on the walls and new chairs in the dining room, along with a new chef. The pastas are well prepared, and there are small notes in several dishes that set them apart from, and sometimes above, what you would normally expect. Gluten-free bread and pasta are available for an extra $2 charge. That's an on-trend idea, but the Saturday night I visited, they were out.
Our waiter didn't know the menu well, but didn't hesitate to go into the kitchen and get answers for us. The one big inconsistency in the overall experience was the bread, a soft, supermarket Italian that's served with every meal. It didn't come close to the quality of the rest of the meal.
The Calamari Fritti (fried squid, $9) started the meal on a nice note. The squid was cooked briefly enough to remain tender but toothsome, and the thin, peppery batter was light, not greasy. While a good marinara, the "spicy" tomato dipping sauce didn't have any kick.
Things get interesting when you move to the salad portion of the menu. The Caesar ($8) is pared down to the basics of crisp romaine, salty Parmesan, tangy dressing and crunchy croutons. It's tasty, but what makes this dish stand out is the classic Ramsey presentation: An entire romaine heart is halved, lightly doused with the dressing, then garnished with the croutons and shaved Parmesan. It's visually appealing, but it's a lot to eat if you aren't expecting that much salad. Since my visit the restaurant has added the option of a half salad to the menu.
The roasted beet salad ($9) was another artistic presentation. The salad's previous incarnation included salad greens. Ramsay's recipe focuses on the beets. The pile of roasted red and gold beets are topped with pickled red onions and thin discs of radish. The smaller golden beets were tender, but the red beets were undercooked. The tangy goat cheese would have been a perfect foil for the earthiness of the beets, but the tiny, spare, if artistic, dots around the plate were too few to work.
I can't speak about the house salad. One of my dining companions ordered one, and it was brought to the table when we were halfway through the entree. We sent it back.
The veggie Alfredo ($11) is an interesting dish, more true to its Italian origins than an American version. The original dish combined hot pasta with butter and Parmesan, the two melting together to provide a rich coating for the pasta. There is no cream or gluey sauce, just rich, cheesy decadence. The "veggie" portion of the dish is julienned zucchini, yellow squash and halved cherry tomatoes, which all kiss the saute pan long enough to mellow but still retain crunch.
The sausage puttanesca ($17) is more elegant than one might expect. The slices of Italian sausage are sauteed together with tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic, then tossed with al dente angel hair pasta - without additional sauce. The resulting dish is topped with pesto, shaved Parmesan and fresh basil, a filling and satisfying dish that won't leave you feeling overloaded.
The pan-seared salmon ($18) first raised my expectations and then crushed them. The fish is served on a bed of excellent risotto. The rice was still firm, although the overall consistency could have been creamier. On top of the salmon is a tangy spill of grape tomatoes and briny black and green olives. And the fish itself? Some of the best cooked salmon I've had. Flaky and moist, the first half of the fish was delightful. But someone slipped in the kitchen, because one end of the fish was heavily over salted.
If you save room for dessert, treat yourself to the Budino di Ciocolato ($6). The menu calls it "silky chocolate pudding." I call it a dreamy, intense chocoholic fantasy come true. While the portion isn't huge, the intensity is easily enough to satisfy the sweet tooth of three or four people.
For the less decadent, two pieces of pistachio cherry biscotti ($3) make a nice finish to the meal. Although twice baked, these pastries retain their chewiness, making them a pleasure to eat.
If I lived in Woodland Park, Mangia Mangia would definitely be on my list of favorite restaurants, even if it doesn't warrant a special trip up the pass for dinner.
Restaurant character: A cozy restaurant with a cozy menu. The Italian dishes reflect their Italian roots over Americanized versions, while offering something fresh and different. Rating total: 4 out of 5 stars
Food: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 4 out of 5 stars
Service: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Address: 406 E. Grace Ave., Woodland Park
Contact: 687-3400, www.mangia mangiawp.com
Hours: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily
Credit cards: Yes
Vegetarian options: Veggie Alfredo ($14), Penne Pasta Pignoli ($14)
As of Nov. 6:
- 73 percent of 136 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon
- 4 out of 5 stars based on 12 reviews on Yelp
- Active on Facebook; search "Mangia Mangia Wp"