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.
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!" ;)
Went back tonight, and it's still great...but it would appear as though word is getting out about my little hidden gem. Tonight, a Monday night (by far the slowest night of the week for restaurants), the place was at least half full, and the parking lot was overflowing onto the side street.
As an indicator, when I've been there in the past on *any* given weekday afternoon or evening, there's been a maximum of, say, five tables in use while I was there. Tonight, there was probably close to a dozen or so in use, including an 8-person table, and I was the only solo diner in the place. The kitchen was non-stop hopping/humming, and the service was a bit disheveled because, as you'd expect on a Monday, they weren't expecting that many people. Service was still plenty good for me, but it was a bit on the slow side, seemingly, for the table of eight. Not that it could be helped, I don't think. They just couldn't have expected that many folks on a Monday.
Perhaps I'm making up excuses for them, but suffice it to say that I'm *severely glad* that people are finding out about this place. There were lots of happy people in there tonight, and I hate going to a really good place that isn't being supported. Maybe that's starting to change a bit, here. It'd be nice if it is...this place deserves a crowd to please.
Monday; lunch was my first opportunity to visit. At 12:20pm,
I was their 2nd customer. Shortly before I left, a 2-top arrived.
I splurged; knowing that dinner would be skipped. Calamari
appetizer was excellent - cooked perfectly. Would have liked
the accompanying sauce to have more zip. But I'm the guy
that LOVES horseradish and garlic.
Decided to skip the cioppino as I was worrield about
wearing my lunch to a customer meeting. I decided on
the seafood spaghetti. Excellent!
The most negative thing I can say is that when my
waitress wrote down the WiFi password, it was illegible.
Gawd; I hope their lunch business improves.
I opt'd for the more expensive appetizer and
lunch. PLENTY of food. Out the door for $26
including a 20%+ tip.
Glad you liked it as well as I do. Oddly, when I was there last Monday, I'd say at least half the tables were occupied, though I think it was a bit of a late lunch (somewhere in the 1-2PM range?).
The cioppino does get on you a bit...hard as I tried, I was doing *so well*, and then the last clam got me, of course. I will say that it was absolutely chock full of seafood, but it wasn't my favorite dish I've had there. I guess I found it a bit too one-note, but all of the seafood was cooked *perfectly*. Now you've got me wanting to try the calamari.
I'm glad you can see why I find this place so darned great.
OMG Exquisite Italian Meals Downriver YEA
Dinner starts encouragingly with garlicky cannellini bean dip, warm and thick, to scoop with crisp, thin crostini. Everything after just keep getting better ai tell you. The trained chef/owner worked for years at a number one Italian eating spot called Bacco as the head chef, he now plates up those same meals for less than half the price. I will state that this place will blow your mind as the very best ever downriver. The reviews around the web off off the chart great, once you visit you'll know why.
Tortellini alla Emiliana is a plate full of LOVE,,Pasta stuffed Ricotta cheese tossed in a light cream sauce with peas,green onions and Italian Bacon,, Whoa I licked that plate clean. Traditional Lasagna Bolognese is a house made pasta with meat sauce,ricotta and Parmesan cheese.
The soup Chicken Noodle was great and the house salad chopped and filled with lots of Love and topped with a this slices of a aged Parmesan cheese Oh Hell YEA. That fabulous hot fresh from the oven bread,,,bring me more please and yes they will. A spotless clean nicely decorated with fast and friendly service with a smile will get me back many times. The prices are lets say half the price of any other quality Italian eating spot, our 2 lunches with tip only $ 20, most meals for lunch are $ 7 to $8 and dinner $10 to $12. Come on folks you can't get a Big Mac combo for lunch at these prices. Give them a try people are driving from 30 plus miles away to try this great place.
Went again on Friday night and tried something new: penne Florentino, which was *so* right up my alley. Penne pasta with beef pieces and mushrooms with a *fantastic* demi-glace that worked perfectly with everything in the dish. Wonderful stuff...and had I not just gotten back from vacation in Tennessee I would have tried his sea bass special, but I just didn't want to spend that much money Friday night (it was $28). I'm sure it would have been worth it, though!
Still love this place to death.
Stopped by again this afternoon, and I loved every bit of what I had, *again*. This time it was a perch special he had served alongside a baby arugula salad with grape tomatoes and onion, with an olive oil dressing. Exquisite. The sweet butteriness of the perch was greatly enhanced by the bracing acidity of the arugula, and the housemade tartar sauce was great as well. $12 plus tax and tip, and served with soup or salad and bean dip with crostini. The only way it could have been better would be with the soup on offer being that wonderful carrot/ginger they have on occasion (they just had it over the weekend, apparently). Still, the minestrone was just fine by me.
It's worth noting that the menu has changed a bit. Prices have crept *just* a bit higher than they were, very justifiably in my mind (and you folks *know* how frugal I am). The steak prices went up $2-3 each, and several mainstays went up $1-3 depending on the time of day. From what I saw, no entree went up more than $3, which is completely reasonable...I think he was practically giving the stuff away. The stuff that went up $3 was the most surprisingly inexpensive stuff on the menu (steaks, seafood spaghetti, etc.). Most pastas only went up $1, or not even at all.
Still love this place. Had a chance to talk to Ernesto (I was there between 2-3PM) and apparently he's been getting bigger crowds, which makes me very happy. Be sure you support this place, as it's worth your time and money!
Wait...*what*? He's moving down *there*? Now? In two weeks? What's precipitating this move?
Wyandotte is...well, it's *further*. It's 10-15 minutes further. I can usually talk myself into going to Ernie's place if I'm down in the Dearborn area or whatnot, but Wyandotte is dead square in the middle of "Downriver And Not Easily Accessible To Freeways".
Any idea why this is going down? It's bad news for Budro, and bad news for Blank.
from their FB--
"We are so pleased an excited to inform you that we have a brand new address and will be moving shortly!! Our new address is 152 Elm St.,, Wyandotte (formerly Michaelangelo's) We finally have a beautiful building
to showcase our fabulous food!!!"
I agree with boagman! Ick! Further, and not convenient to eways-- or anything else. :-(
The WHY is the really outgrew the place and still can;t get a liquor license in Lincoln Park,,, Wyandotte's DDA has been working hard to get them in this former Italian place called Michelangelo's that just closed 2 days ago. They'll double their clientele overnight in Wyandotte which is truly the money pit of downriver. I'll be happy to drive a little bit further down the road. I think it's a great move for them.
Okay! So I stopped by Magdaleno at their new digs in ::cough cough:: Wyandotte. Here's the lowdown:
1. This is, quite certainly, a far better atmosphere for the food that Ernesto serves. This place is much, much nicer in terms of venue. This cannot be overstated enough. It's far better.
2. The talent in the kitchen is still the same. My veal marsala was, once again, terrific.
3. That same veal marsala is no longer a bargain. Remember less than a year ago when the same entree was $12? And then when the price went up to $15? Hope you enjoyed those memories, as it's now $17, which is decidedly higher. I'm not mad at them or anything, and yes: the new digs need to be paid for, but the fine-dining-for-a-pittance thing is now clearly behind them. Fair's fair, though: lunch prices are still significantly lighter/gentler, as the lunch version is $12. Still, prices on the menu overall are raised a good 20% across the board at dinner, and lunch is higher, too.
4. The service needs work. Perhaps I was just asking too much, but at the previous venue, my water glass never went empty, and courses arrived in a more timely fashion. I'm not even going to go into the problem they had taking my credit card (they had a new CC machine, and it was going bonkers on them, apparently)...but they've got far more waitstaff now. You'd think they'd be filling water glasses with regularity.
5. This is just my opinion: this new incarnation has Ernesto sequestered in the kitchen, which is no longer visible from the dining room. There's a loss of intimacy there, and I barely was able to let him know that I'd come to see him at his new digs. On the plus side, this location seems to be far busier than his previous one, as when I did a head count during my meal, there were about 35 paying customers inside, and that's quite busy for them, I'd say. Still: it was always nice speaking to the chef, admiring his handiwork, and talking a bit of shop with him. That seems to be going away, here. It's too bad.
So! To sum up: food's still great, prices are (again) higher, staff needs some work on pacing and observation of empty glasses, but overall, it's a good step up in terms of *where* you're eating. It's a nice place, and I'm hoping that it can do well, even if I can't be as regular a customer as I used to be. It's a *long* drive to get there, now...I'm not sure I'll be as motivated in the future.
Time will tell.
Adapted from a recent Yawn review I posted:
It's not as good as it used to be. I wish that what I've just written was simply a person being an old fogey rattling on about how much better things were in yesteryear, when a Coke was only a dime, and you could get an entire gourmet meal for a dollar. I'm not that old, and my reviews for Magdaleno's at their old Lincoln Park location were 4-5 star reviews...and they *earned* them.
Now, they're in Wyandotte, in much better digs, for certain. I'll be the first to spot that the now-far-more-appropriate facility does, in fact, need to be paid for. Fair is fair, and in order to be realistic, prices did need to rise a bit in order to compensate for this fact. It's a much, much better place for Ernesto's food. That they've raised prices three times in the last couple of years does take a bit of the "It's a bargain!" out of the equation, but again: better place to eat, higher price to pay. I'm willing to spot this.
What I'm not willing to wash over is that the service has declined significantly. The waitstaff at this new location, quite frankly, are pretty lousy, especially in comparison to the young-but-hard-working folks who used to be at the old location. It seems to me that Ernesto hired on a bunch of the staff from the prior incarnation of the building, and basically they're just not a very hard-working bunch. Requests for refills go unfilled. They won't come back and ask how things are. They don't know the menu very well, and if you ask questions, you're spoken to in a way that indicates that you're annoying them, when they clearly just plain don't know. Heaven forbid that they go to the kitchen and ask. So the waitstaff, in the four-five times I've been to the new place, just isn't up to snuff.
The other major issue (and I'll admit, that this is probably just *my issue*, and that it may not apply to everyone, or even most people) is that the bread now brought to the table used to be accompanied by a *wonderful* cannelloni bean dip, which was an *excellent* way to start out the meal, and only served to hint of the joyous things to come out of the kitchen. Well, that wonderful bean dip is now gone, replaced with a nigh-inedible garlic butter dip that I detest. From what I'm told, it was a change that was done to accommodate the majority of diners who'd been asking for something like a garlic butter to go with the bread, so while I applaud their desire to appeal to those folks, I think that they did those same people a disservice by replacing that wonderful bean dip with something as patently ordinary (and, quite frankly, lousy) as this garlic butter whatever-it-is.
When it comes to the entrees, though, Ernesto still serves up very, very good food. His veal marsala still absolutely hits me where I live, his soups are still very, very good, and his penne Florentino still makes me very happy. The mains are still the mains, and even if they're pricier than they used to be, they're still very, very good, or at least they have been when I've visited.
I'm quite unhappy to have to relegate Magdaleno's to three starts at this point. While I know that three stars is nothing shabby at all, when they were in Lincoln Park, I was willing to drive from Waterford straight down there for their fare...and loved every bit of it. Now, it's 15 minutes further south, it's more expensive, the service has taken a hit...and it's a lot harder to justify driving a full hour when I distinctly remember how it was "back in the day".
I have not given up on them yet...not in the least. That being said, it's going to take some hard work on the part of the waitstaff and management team to earn back a fourth star. Ernesto is still pulling off some pretty decent magic (perhaps a half step down from before...but I'm probably picking nits because of the bean dip) in the kitchen, but I'd rather have young, inexperienced, eager, and hard-working waitstaff than basically lazy people who've been doing it long enough that they know what they can *try* to get away with, work-wise.
I haven't been in six months. That should say something. Perhaps another visit is due...but I used to dine at Magdaleno's in Lincoln Park at least once a month. Here's hoping that they give me a good reason to return sooner rather than later.