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Mama's Meatball--Oceano

toodie jane Dec 6, 2008 10:13 AM

While i've had good luck with takeout items from the SLO location of this restaurant, a recent dinner at the Pier Avenue Oceano location left us underwhelmed. A bit more attention to the small details that derailed this meal might turn things around. Nothing was glaring, just little bits that added up to a 'meh?' meal.

The curb appeal is welcoming, the menu extensive, the wine list allows good choices, but our dining experience there was lackluster. The atmosphere is casual, befitting a restaurant just yards away from the breakers at Pismo Dunes State Beach.

The dining room is painted and tiled in, well, 'ocean colors': turquoise and frothy silvery white; the effect is both "cool" and cold at the same time. Even the servers were overheard complaining about how cold it was in the room. The tiled floor was very cold. Music from overhead speakers filled the space but pretty much defeated our attempts at conversation. OK, if you are a fan of full-volumed pipes in the Andrea Bocelli style, but tough on conversation.

The menu: extensive choice of 'tradtional Southern Italian cooking', pasta & risotti, salads, meat and seafood, pannini, desserts. I chose a risotto with fava beans and mussels ($12), and Mr tj chose 'Spagetti Meatball' $10.Our dinner choices were al a carte so I also had a 1/2 ($5) beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts and he had a baby spinach salad ($5) . Both were very fresh; the dressing could be a bit thinner, no drizzling with this thick but tasty paste. Lightly dressing the salad in the kitchen would eliminate the need for the diner to attempt to toss it over a salad plate.

My risotto used the favas pureed into the cooking liquid which gave it a bit of a gritty texture. The fava flavor was very subtle, and the predominant flavor in the rice came from the whole cloves of roasted garlic. The mussels were pretty tiny--3/4"?-- and not particularly flavorful. The bam! of parsley around the plate looked as if it had prepped yesterday. Mr tj's pasta dish came with a mound of very thick spaghetti, a nice light Bolognese sauce and two softball-sized meatballs; tasty, but the addition of lots of breadcrumbs made the meatball texture almost mushy. The pasta was refreshed, not freshly cooked (open kitchen); I wonder if my risotto had been made ahead as well; it was fairly dry.

Hubs chose a glass ($7) of Botromagno Primitivo 2004 and I had a semi-dry Italian Pinot Griggio ($7) . Both were ample, served at below room temp in large glasses and were excellent. Going to hunt some down.

The dessert we shared was a white cake with fresh pineapple/rum filling; neither flavor was very evident. The cake itself was very fresh and moist, but the overall effect was pretty bland.

Service: A server came to take our drink order before we'd decided on our dinners; the room was near empty, so I'm not sure why the rush. When she came back to take our dinner order, she forgot to take our drink order, so we called her back. Another server then brought our meals and wine, refreshed the bread 'bites' basket , and was efficient and friendly (Amanda?). Because the room was near empty (two other parties), with an open kitchen, every word of the extensive reparte between the cooks and servers was audible, even over the music. I'm just not crazy about it to being a part of my dining experience. I like to concentrate on my meal and cocmpanions; do others feel this way?

I'm not attempting to 'pick apart' this meal, just trying to define what kept it from being as good as the SLO experiences we've had. Bu the truth is, I'd rather make the drive into SLO than try this location again.

  1. KenWritez Jul 2, 2009 10:19 PM

    The Sturdy Wench and I just returned from dinner at MM Oceano and our experience was utterly opposite yours, TJ. I'm not sure why, maybe each of us got them on a bad/good day.

    One word review: Excellent! I plan on coming here again.

    There were only two empty tables when we arrived around 6:15 Wednesday and the noise level was lower than average. There was no music and the room temp was comfortable, not too cool nor warm. Being a guy, I didn't notice the decor, other than to say it didn't offend me. Go figure.

    Prices were reasonable: We got out for $48 for two entrees, two appetizers and a glass of wine, + tax and tip.

    The service was friendly, attentive and quick. There were two servers, Brian, a tall, light-haired young man, and a shorter, dark-haired young woman whose name I didn't get. (My bad.) Both were interested in us and in our reactions to the food.

    The atmosphere is indeed casual. Shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops are fine, but if you show up in khakis, Hush Puppies, and a dress shirt you'll not be out of place, either.

    The SW ordered bruschetta w/ artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes (5), chicken Valdostano (12), and the "DA Red" wine, which she graded as merely "meh" i.e., forgettable. I didn't drink any of it so have no opinion.

    I ordered the personal steak pizza (8) as an app and then the braciole w/ orecchiete pasta (14).

    The bruscheta came in 4 pcs attractively served on a bed of dark salad greens and carrot peelings. I don't enjoy the taste of artichoke hearts but I tried a piece in the name of research and it was good! A nice brine bite but not too acid, on a crunchy baguette, topped with shaved Parmesan, s.d. tomatoes. B.

    I had the steak pizza, substituting goat cheese for the mozzarella. This was my least favorite dish but it wasn't bad. This was an extremely thin cracker-like crust, much too thin to support the weight of the pesto sauce, steak bits and fresh tomato chunks, so the dough became soggy under them, so I used my knife and fork. The steak bits were well-cooked (a bit over done but I like my meat medium rare) and had a nice flavor. The SW quite enjoyed the pesto. A piquant tomatillo sauce was served on the side and it matched the steak and tomatoes perfectly and gave the pizza a marked boost of good flavor. I tried to order jalapenos as an additional topping, but the kitchen had run out of them. Overall, a good idea for pizza, just need to match the crust with the topping: Either that crust and drier, lighter, fewer toppings, or those toppings and a more robust crust. The crust by itelf tasted a bit sweet and otherwise bland. I would probably order this again, but not until I tried other MM pizzas first. C+.

    The chicken Valdostano (14) was excellent. Worth returning for. A chicken breast half pounded or trimmed to a uniform thickness of about 1/2", topped with pancetta, mozzarella, served in a demi-glace with carrots, broccoli, zucchini and a turnip-shaped cake of baked potato with a delicious thinly crispy exterior. The veg were crisp cooked and tasted fresh. The SW thought the demi-glace a bit over-salted and we both enjoyed the potato, although inveterate garlic lover I am, I would have doubly enjoyed garlic mashed. A+.

    The bracciole with orichette was delicious, perfectl cooked and seasoned. No one flavor (tomato, beef, cheese, herbs) drowned out the others. The beef was tender, cut easily with a fork, and the pasta cooked perfectly--soft but not mushy, still some pushback in your mouth. The SW asked me why I was so quiet during this portion of the meal. I responded, "Because I'm having a good time eating." A.

    During a slow period I spoke with the cook, Nicola, a friendly young man from Bari, Italy. He trained in hotels, restaurants, but has never gone to culinary school. He said all the food served was homemade except for the orechiette, penne and another pasta because he didn't have the machinery to make these three forms. His middle and older brothers run the SLO version of MM. I communicatd in my pidgin Italian (courtesy two barely-remembered years of it in college, my equally pidgin Spanish, and some English. He was quick to pick up what I was trying to say and was obviously more comfortable in Italian than English, but he soldiered on and we had a lively conversation.

    I'm definitely returning here.

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