Tried Magdaleno Italian Restaurant in Lincoln Park, MI tonight...
So I've often thought that Jane Slaughter (one of the Metro Times food critics) is either crazy, or just plain the opposite of me. I often think her "swoony" reviews are nothing great at all, and her "meh" reviews can tend to be quite great to me. Let it never be said that I can't admit when I'm wrong: Jane's absolutely on the money with her review of this place a week or so ago. I am not easily impressed, especially when it comes to Italian, but this place gets two thumbs *way* up from this guy based on my first visit. If you can get by the decor/building itself, you're going to be very, very happy that you went.
So let's start with that, then: there's nothing magical or romantic about the place itself. Honestly, as soon as you pull up, you get that feeling that it's another Generic Mexican Food Restaurant, because that's *exactly* what it looks like, even when you walk in. They're doing what they can to battle the effect, but it's there. Don't worry about it...it's not about the decor. Soon, you won't *care* about the decor. Really.
On to the food. Oh, the glorious food, the glorious *dirt cheap* food. I mean, dear sweet merciful heavens, the price structure is budget-friendly. Budget-friendly a la Zayeqa a couple years back.
Every entree, whether pasta or specialty, comes with either a cup of soup or a salad. There's always minestrone, chicken noodle, and a daily soup. When I walked in, the first thing I did when I walked up to the counter and asked to see a menu was what today's soup was. Was I ever pleasantly surprised when I heard the delightful young woman say "It's a carrot/ginger soup, and it's great!" Talk about a surprising soup for an Italian joint, but it sure had me intrigued and excited.
The first thing I had served to me was a nice little ramekin of a bean-type sauce which had some merit, served with a few pieces of toast points with cheese on them. I immediately asked if I could get some without cheese, which they couldn't do, but they did bring me some pretty good bread with some garlic butter as a substitute. Very nice of them to do that, and they certainly didn't have to, considering that it's just a nicety. A nice start.
Then that soup came. It's *always* gratifying when you realize you chose correctly amongst the choices, and I'm absolutely convinced that I did. That carrot/ginger soup was just so, so good. Wonderful, really, and could have been served any time of year, hot during this season, or chilled during the summer, and it would always be welcome on my palate. Always. It was the affirmation I needed that the chef really knew what he was doing in the kitchen. This soup was so good that I got a large to-go container of it for my girlfriend and her family. I'm certain they'll like it...we'll just see whether the whole container makes it to them or not. What a satisfying bowl of loveliness it was.
I wasn't sure of what to have for the main, whether a pasta or a meat course, but since the price structure is just so stinking gentle, I decided to go with Veal Marsala, as I'm an absolute sucker for mushrooms and marsala wine sauce. At dinner, this entree (with soup or salad!) along with some pan-fried diced potatoes, and perfectly cooked broccoli and cauliflower, is a jaw-dropping $12. For lunch? $9. I did not mistype there.
In a thought, this dish anywhere else would have been twice that price, and it would have been worth it. The veal was wonderfully tender, with great flavor, and the mushrooms and sauce were a savory-lover's dream. There wasn't a single thing on that plate that didn't make me very, very happy. I'm sure that those who know me know that I'm able to put away a good deal of food, especially when I'm hungry. I was, and when I was done, I was satisfied. More than that, I was just plain happy. What a great plate, stem to stern, and when I say it's a bargain, you *know* it is.
I was thinking about having some chocolate gelato at the end, but it wasn't made in house, and I was quite full. The tiramisu and cheesecake are house made, though, but I passed on dessert altogether. Still, it's a thought for a future endeavor.
The service was just terrific. VTB would be happy to know that the two servers on the floor were both of the PYT variety, but more than that, they were extremely pleasant, eager-to-serve/please, and they weren't afraid to ask the chef a question, nor to chime in when asked if they liked this or that. I enjoyed my interaction with them, and I tipped well (at these prices, how could you not?), even on the take-out, which I basically never do. My total bill, out the door, with my soup, entree with sides, bread with bean-infused spread, a large to-go container of the soup, tax and tip, was all of $22. I think the pre-tip total was $18.04, and I just upped it to $22. They earned it. The additional large soup was $5, plus tax. Again: bargain!
I cannot tell you how excited I am about this place. The talent level of the chef in the kitchen is so surprisingly high, and the digs are just so low-brow. It's very clean, but it's just about the exact opposite of the type of place you'd expect to find high-quality Italian fare. It's here, though. As I was thinking about it, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to places like Giovanni's, in terms of the quality of the fare. I don't know yet if the pasta dishes will be up to the snuff of Giovanni's, but I guaran-stinking-tee you that I'll be finding out, and hopefully soon!
*Why* do all these great Italian destinations have to be so far from my house in Waterford?
Boy, this sounds like an interesting place. Great write up, by the way. Maybe if this Magdaleno gent makes good money down river he could start a place on the north side, too? (Yes, I gather he's currently living off of scraps.)
I got a kick out of how Jane Slaughter said, "Magdalena doesn't yet have a wine/beer license, but maybe guests might find a way around that." Have I ever mentioned how little respect I have for State licensing bodies? Those who take special interest money and then go shut down home-based unlicensed hair braiding businesses, for "public health protection." At least Michigan is making progress with the recent Cottage Food (license exemption) Law, or whatever it's called.
And see, for me, a guy who hardly ever drinks, the lack of a liquor license isn't any kind of problem at all. I'm not sure if it's forthcoming or not, and I honestly don't care if it ever does. To me, it's all about the food and the talent in the kitchen...and they've got that in spades.
Went back tonight, and while it wasn't as absolutely out-of-the-park an experience as it was on Thursday night, it was still plenty good. Very recommendation-worthy.
When I was there on Thursday, the place was pretty empty...almost worrisomely so. Only myself and a few other tables were occupied, sparsely. Tonight? *Wow*...what a difference two days can make! When I arrived tonight, the place looked pretty occupied through the windows. When I walked in, it was probably 90% completely full. There were gobs of people of all ages, including a very, very large party of what had to be 25 or so people taking up all the tables in the center of the room. Not that that's a problem for me, since I was able to snag the only remaining bussed booth, but for the kitchen? It had to be a major challenge...it's just not that big of a kitchen, and I'm sure that there's only so many staff. The large party certainly weren't the only customers, either. That place had to have had 50-60 customers in there when I got there. It was pretty chaotic, and they were dealing with it as best they could. I can tell you this: there wasn't a single customer in there that wasn't smiling and having a good time. They'd *enjoyed* themselves.
Still, the kitchen had obviously been deep in the weeds, and I was told that they'd run out of the housemade meatballs by one of the fellow customers. I was coming in at the tail end of what had been an obvious huge rush for the whole place, but everyone there was in a good mood. I did temper my expectations a bit as a result.
I started off tonight with a salad instead of the soup. The house salad I had was quite good, but had a bit too much dressing on it for my tastes...a lighter hand with the dressing would have been better. It also came with a slice of gorgonzola cheese on the top of it though I'd asked for it to be left out, and there was none of the crispy panchetta or egg in there, either. Not sure if they'd just run out, or what, but I was disappointed in the lack of panchetta. Still, it needs to be said: the salad was good, the ingredients were fresh, and I didn't have any problem polishing it off. It just wasn't on the same level that the carrot/ginger soup from Thursday was.
For my entree, I really wanted to give them a shot to impress me with their pasta. In general, I don't often order pasta as an entree because it's usually a one-shot deal wherein you receive a pasta with a sauce, and that's it. If you want something else to offset the taste or give your mouth a break between bites of the same thing every time, well, that's too bad for you, unless you order a side item a la carte. I find that frustrating, and it also prevents me from exploring menus very well.
Enter Magdaleno, and their Bis Di Pasta! Basically, it allows you to have two completely different pastas/sauces on one plate, effectively allowing you to traverse the menu. This is *especially* welcome if you're having trouble deciding between two different pasta dishes...why not both? That's exactly what I did, and I was again very happy with my choice. My two pastas were the Cavatelli Funghi and the Gemelli Norcina, both of which were very good, and very different from each other. I'll be the first to admit that the plating of the two isn't anything to write home about: the two pastas were just put on the plate divided by the middle of the plate. They actually touched each other, and the plate wasn't exactly pretty, but the tastes and textures were both very good. The pasta itself was plenty good, but it wasn't up to the standards of Giovanni's ethereal pasta. It would be shocking if they were that good, but they're still quite capable of producing their own very good pasta. It's just not a new benchmark or anything like Giovanni's is.
Afterwards, the place had cleared out significantly, and I decided to try the housemade tiramisu dessert. This was the only real disappointment. The flavors were all there, and they were quite good, but the texture of the thing was really wrong. It was just way too wet, and while I did eat the whole thing, each bite was just too, too saturated with liquid. Had the cake been drier, it would have been much better, but as is was, it needed some help. It wasn't bad enough to send back, but I would hope that future batches would be much better than this one.
The chef came out and introduced himself to me and another table or two nearby, and he was very gracious and accepted both compliments and critiques very nicely. I was still very happy with my meal tonight, but it just wasn't up to the home run standards of the first visit. Including dessert, my total bill with tax and tip included was $20 out the door, which was fine by me. I still liked everything I had to some degree, but the pastas were the winner tonight.
I really look forward to going back again...the service was good again, and I really think the kitchen has lots of talent. For these prices, I'm willing to drive.
Guess the secret is starting to get out on this place, no more waking right in on a weekend night. Glad they are starting to get busier even if it means a wait now.You can not find this quality of food at this price point elsewhere. Love this place seeing that it is a 5 minute drive from me down Outer Drive.
Went for lunch Monday afternoon. For $12 *out the freaking door*, I ate some stinking excellent food. And that's tipping at 25-30%, approximately.
I wish I could go there every week. I'd get *massively* fat.
So now I've been here four times, last night with Donna. Still awesome...even Donna thought so. She had her ricotta ravioli with side salad, and I had the veal chop Milanese, with carrot/ginger soup. Total bill out the door was a dead even $34. And yes: the veal chop is the most expensive thing on the menu at $18, and it was great. Donna's pasta made her very, very happy.
Can't wait until my brother comes to town and we can all go there. Even my *very* picky eater SIL will be happy here, and that's saying something.
Have I mentioned that I like this place, that the food's to die for, and that it's ridiculously inexpensive?
I've always been willing to drive a decent distance if the fare is worth it. It's safe to say that Neehee's in Canton is about the same distance from my house in Waterford, at least in terms of time in transit, but consider as well that Slows or Green Dot or myriad other places are well over 30 minutes from me...45 minutes one way just isn't that hard to talk myself into.
However, you're certainly right, VTB: it's much easier to justify a trip there if I'm already a goodly bit south on the map of the metro Detroit area...just like Bucharest Grill, Giovanni's, Mudgie's, and many others not already mentioned.
And GG: for heaven's sake, you *do know* that the first rule about eat club is "You Do Not Talk About Eatclub!" ;)