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Feb 19, 2009 09:52 AM

Fabulous Birmingham Italian-Bambinelli's

I just tried some of the best Italian food there is around. Everyone talks about Gianmarco's but I believe Bambinelli's Italian Cafe in English Village to be much better. For one thing, it is much more casual and laid back. You get the quality of food and a good atmosphere without the pretentiousness. Plus, it is a bigger restaurant so your chances of getting in and getting a table on the weekends without a reservation are very good. They also have a four-star rating.

We came in last night to find out that all bottles of wine are half price on Mondays and Wednesdays. They have a great wine list, about 70 wines, with some really nice wines priced anywhere between $25 and $200. Leah was our server and she was very cool. Everything that she recommended was perfect. We got a great bottle of wine, can't remember the name though, some sort of chianti. She was so knowledgeable about the menu and even did a little presentation for us since it was our first time there. She told us that all the sauces were made made fresh from scratch and all the meats and seafood are fresh.

We had the calamari for an appetizer and it was probably the best that I have ever had. For dinner, I ordered the veal piccata, per her recommendation, and it was the best piccata I have ever had. My friend ordered the trifecta, which was chicken, shrimp and italian sausage over angel hair pasta in a creamy marinara sauce. It was fantastic, especially the sausage. It was so soft and spicy and full of flavor. All the dinners come with a small salad, and they don't use iceberg, with a house vinaigrette. They serve bread as well, but they don't give olive oil like most places, but just butter. It was just a basic white loaf but it was warm and toasty and tasted very good with the butter. We were fine with that because it wasn't a bread that pairs well with olive oil, but I know that some people aren't okay with it. They had some homemade desserts and we tried the cheesecake, which was incredible. She told us that it was the owner's own recipe and it was so good. It is hard to find a good homemade cheesecake at restaurants.

The atmosphere was nice. There are two separate rooms that both have real wood fireplaces in them, which was a nice touch and created a great atmosphere. We liked that it seemed like a laid back family owned place.

I am new to this message board and was surprised that no one has mentioned this place yet because it was really fantastic. I'm going here for authentic italian from now on. The menu is massive with all sorts of stuff that I need to try. They had lasagna, ravioli, ziti, lots of different spaghettis, marsala and parmigiana style stuff, lots of different and seafood dishes, and they also serve pizza and calzones with a dough they make themselves. I will try the pizza next time I go because I saw one at a table near us and it looked great, with a nice thin crust.

Had anyone else been there? I am interested to hear about other people's experiences there because I think it is a great place.

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    1. My experience at Bambinelli's could not have been more different. For a friends going away party one night we ventured there to try something new. To start we split a bottle of Italian Red which was great and resonably priced, I checked for the exact name and price but their menu is not posted yet. We then opted for the Calamari which I'll admit was deliciuos.

      Here's where things got ugly. Since we were venturing for drinks later and wanted a light dinner, my friend and I decided to split the gnocchi with alfredo sauce. I knew this could be a bit risky since gnocchi can be hard to do well. Our other two friends split the Chicken Florentine. When the gnocchi arrived I was definately excited since the calamari had been so good. Instead we were severed a plate where each gnocchi seemed to weigh three pounds not to mention it drenched in a very heavy alfredo sauce. The end result had little to no taste and had the consistency of glue. She and I both ate two bites and pushed the plate away. I'd be willing to forgive this mishap had our friends entree been servicealbe. Instead they received Three frozen chicken fingers!!!!!! drenched in sauce.

      I really wanted to like this place, the service was good and the owners seemed really nice but I"m sorry with great restaurants such as Gianmarcos, Bottega Restuarant and Bettola I'm going to have to pass this one by.

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          1. My husband and I had high expectations and couldn't wait to go check out Bambinelli's. We really wanted to believe the previous excellent review reporting authentic Italian and even likening it to Gianmarco's. Walking up, I found the ambiance charming and loved the patio. I also loved to see that the patio is dog-friendly and that Monday and Wednesday nights are the 1/2-price bottles of wine nights. I couldn't wait to try the food! It was just when I was getting really excited about it that my husband noticed that there was no music playing-- not on the patio and not inside the restaurant.... So that brought my attention immediately to a sort of stark emptiness.... cafeteria-esque.

            It is quite a stretch, perhaps even a huge leap, to compare Bambinelli's to GianMarco's. The meal could be best described as "meh" and there were way too many cut corners to be considered even upscale casual dining-- examples are the rectangular packets of Land-O-Lakes butter served with a greasy breadstick and the styrofoam bowl of marinara sauce that accompanied the calamari. These details really set the scene... low-quality establishment, little thought to detail. Well, I thought, that's no big deal if the quality of the food makes up for it! Ok, so let me start with the calamari since I've already mentioned it... I normally skip the calamari because, unless something is unique about it, I typically find it bland and rather boring. But they were out of my first choice of a first course, the oyster artichoke soup. I would have loved to have tried that! But in its absence, I remembered the glowing review above about the calamari, so we ordered it. And nope, nothing special... ho hum calamari..... sigh. My husband's remark was that it was overbreaded, overcooked and just "not fresh". Agreed. We were also presented with a very small side-salad-- mixed field greens (yay) in a bowl that was clearly pre-assembled and pulled straight from the fridge (boo) with a small carry-out-style-container of vinaigrette (consistent with the butter packet and styrofoam bowl of sauce). To my surprise, the vinaigrette was indeed tasty.

            To get a true feel for the food quality, we thought it would be best to order our entree from the Bambinelli's specialty section on the menu. Afterall, what would better represent their best dishes than their specialties, right? So, with that in mind, we shared a combination plate that included eggplant and chicken parmesan, ravioli and meatball. Not surprisingly, we were disappointed with this order.... It arrived indistinguishably drenched in marinara sauce and covered with a thick layer of cheese. While this meal would arguably be fantastic for a hangover, it lacked the flavors of eggplant, fresh pasta, or anything else fresh for that matter. Nowhere did the thought "Yum" cross our minds during the entire meal.

            By the way, we were finishing our meal somewhere around 9pm when we noticed that some music had started to play... I'll give you a moment to guess.... soft music with an Italian flare???? no..... jazz? nope..... Frank Sinatra? great guess, but no..... classical? huh uh.... it was (are you sitting down for this?) the Beach Boys! While the Beach Boys certainly do have a time and a place, it wasn't working then and there. It may as well have been the Beastie Boys. A perfect time to pay our bill, slug our remaining sips of wine, and head out.

            Bambinelli's? I say BambiNOlli's.

            Of course, I may still be inclined to return to try the oyster artichoke soup. If that changes my mind about the place, I'll certainly let you know!

            1 Reply
            1. re: katiei

              I agree that the favorable comparison of Bambellini's to Gian Marco was somewhat over the top.
              Bambellini's comes in a distant second to Gian Marco in quality of food, service and atmosphere.
              Having said that, Bambellini's is a decent mid-priced restaurant that is both family friendly and date friendly. The food is your basic "authentic" Italian-American, but what we had was good for the money.
              I had the linguini with clams and red sauce. It was good, with plenty of clams in the shell (although I got two that did not open; duds should be removed in the kitchen) and a servicable marinara sauce. I can't say much for the gnocchi with cream sauce my wife got. The sauce separated and looked too unappetizing to try, although she ate most of it.
              Service was decent although the kitchen was way slow (It was Mother's Day brunchtime), and we had to wait a long time for bread (not great with two hungry children, ages 4&6). The waiter explained that someone had dropped a pan in the kitchen, but in the time we waited, they could have blended, kneaded, risen and baked fresh dough.
              We're going back tomorrow (my son won a gift certificate in a hula hoop contest), and it will be interesting to see how the meal goes on a Friday evening.
              Bottom line from my first visit: Don't go with huge expectations, but it's worth giving a try.
              Want fancy and truly authentic Italian? Go to Gian Marco's, Bettola or Bottega.
              But I'll take Bambellini's over Brio's any day (and not just because the former is locally owned, versus a chain).