Category: Food and RestaurantsYesterday, Sunday April 13, 2008 just before 7PM I pulled into the strip mall that has a relatively new Italian restaurant called Mambo Italiano. It is on Butterfield Rd in Mundelein IL As soon as you walk in, you lose the feel that you are in a strip mall. The lighting was subdued, the walls were a warm brown painted in such a way as to give the impression of old weathered stucco or plaster. Tables were covered in white linen and topped with butcher paper. Salmon colored bread and butter dishes were topped with neatly folded mauve colored napkins.
The hostess desk is set back a bit into the restaurant, so you have to walk past a few tables to get there. I was behind a middle-aged couple who arrived at the same time I did. There were two girls at the hostess stand. They greeted the couple and one of the girls took them away to their table. The girl left behind did not make eye contact with me at all. She was more interested in answering the phone. A moment later a man, most likely the manager or owner came over and said hello. "Just me!" I announced as he was about to ask if I was going to be joined by others.
A lone diner. I threw him off and he didnt' know what to do with me, so he interrupted the girl on the phone and asked her which section was last sat. She snapped an answer at him as yet another girl came to the hostess stand. The man asked her if a certain server was just sat and she snapped back that she didn't know either. It all came across as bickering. I didn't think this was a good first impression, but I decided to stick it out because I was really craving Italian food.
Finally, the man decided where to put me and took me through an empty dining room into another well-seated one. I was given a booth at the window, I thanked him and took my place. I was rather disappointed to be at the window because the view of the parking lot through the white shears reminded me that I was indeed in a strip mall. I believe I would have enjoyed the ambiance farther back in the space. But, I was there for the food. So, I didn't ask to be re-seated.
The manager handed me a menu and removed the extra place settings. As he was doing this I inquired as to what the specialty was there. His answer was, "Everything," which is not what a patron wants to hear. When someone asks me that where I work, I know exactly what to say. Because the truth is, you can't be great at everything, but you CAN be known to be excellent for some special things. So, this was a red flag for me.
I looked at the menu which was a large piece of cardboard with printing on both sides. Much to my dismay, the wines were not on it and there was no wine list on the table. Another faux pas. A solo diner should be treated no differently than a group. A wine list should have been given to me like everyone else.
Seven minutes went by before I my waiter, Mark arrived at the table. I was actually just about to leave, and he got there in the nick of time. When he arrived he asked if I was waiting for someone and he was surprised when I told him that I was flying solo. Then I really through him off when I asked what his favorite meal was there. He said it was a tough question. Why? I wondered.
He regrouped, told me there was bread in the oven for me and then decided instead of answering the question, he would tell me all about the specials. He knew his specials very well and recited the precisely. As he did this, he did happen to mention that the ribeye special was his favorite dinner and that the Marsala was his favorite sauce. He asked if I had any questions. I replied, "No. I'll have the veal parmesian." THEN he asked if I would like something to drink. Silly me, I threw him off again by asking for the wine list.
Five minutes later he brought the wine list. Obvoiusly this kid did not know how important it was to get a drink in the hands of his customers FAST, because once they have one, they won't pay so much attention to the time everything takes. It took way too long for him to check back with me for my selection, but I will say, once I ordered the Ruffino Chianti Classico (Tan), he was quick about getting it to me. Finally!
The entrees come with soup or salad. I opted for the salad and asked for caesar dressing. I was not informed that this would cost me an extra $2.00, which I found out later when I got the check. The salad was fresh, but was tossed in way too much dressing. The bread, which was brought by the bus boy earlier was warm and rather bland. I took advantage of the bottle of olive oil on the table, but noticed that I was not offered freshly grated cheese. No. There was pre-grated cheese in a shaker on the table. This was quite an incongruity for the atmosphere, food selection and pricing. In fac, it was disappointing.
I sipped my wine and enjoyed the salad as I was waiting for my meal to arrive. Bus staff were attentive and took my plate in a timely manner. The waiter brought the entree himself and asked if he could bring anything else. I told him to check back soon as I would be ready for another glass of wine to drink with my meal, and off he went.
The portion of veal almost completely filled the plate which also had a small portion of little penne with marinara sauce on it. The veal was pounded paper thin and was very tender, but the breading was way too thick and overwhelmed the flavor of the veal. The sauce was sweet ans spicy, with the most robust flavor being sweet onion. I could not discern any garlic or Italian herbs. The cheese on top was an excellent blend and very generous. I will say that I was surprised by the penne, as I expected the traditional spaghetti. There was no choice of pasta shape given when ordering.
The waiter took too long to come by for me to order that second glass of wine, but I ordered it anyway. Again, he was quick in bringing it.
I ate about a third of the portion bought to me. When I pushed the plate away, it still took quite a bit of time for Mark to return to the table. he asked if I would like to have that packed up and of course I agreed. He was about to drop my check before offering me dessert and coffee. In fact I had to request the dessert menu and I was never offered coffee. This kid needs to learn about suggestive selling! I asked him what his favorite dessert was after he dropped the menu, and he immediately answered with "Our homemade Tiramisu." I was surprised at the homemade comment and said so, and he said they also make homemade canoli and cannoli puffs. I immediately ordered a cannoli without looking at the rest of the dessert menu.
When he brought the cannoli he also left the check. As he speeded away I said, I hope its as good as Little Italy in New York. He barely turned his head to acknowledge my comment with a laugh. I never saw Mark again. Since the place emptied, I guess he chose to do his side work and not attend to the solo diner that was left in his section.
I put cash in the check presenter, and walked through the now mostly empty restaurant. After I passed the two hostesses and manager who were talking to each other, one of the hostesses thanked me and wished me a good night.
Overall rating on a 1-5 scale: 3.5