Sadly, the town I live in is the black hole of restaurants. I am still waiting for one to open that is respectable and consistent. Whenever a new one finds it's way on the map, my family and I will try it out, especially if it is a cuisine we all like. In other words, if it's Italian. I prefer Asian eateries, since they give you the most bang for the buck. And by bang, I mean flavor. There is one excellent Asian restaurant in our area (Gaithersburg/Germantown, MD), called Yuraku. If this place were open in the District, you wouldn't be able to get in. They give you a ton of fish in their sushi..and it is beautifully prepared. But my family is NOT big on Asian food, so we invariably end up at some crappy chain restaurant. Italian, we can all agree on.
Well, a new Italian place opened down on Clopper Rd., where there used to be a Chili's. Anytime a chain store gets replaced by a Mom and Pop, it is usually a good thing. Well, not this time! The place is called "MANGIARE BENE", Italian for "We have no idea what the f we are doing". From the moment we entered, it was obvious we had made a mistake. As my daughter, born in Virginia, raised in Maryland, said..."It looks like a Southern version of Italian food". Not Southern Italy, but Southern US. She has spent enough time in NY/NJ, where I am from, to know what a decent Italian joint should look like.
Anyway, fearless diners that we are, we went ahead and ordered. The waiter pointed out the specials, which looked like stuff you'd have on any normal menu. Spinach/Artichoke dip (with traditional Italian Tortilla chips) was one, and we ordered it. Maybe 30 seconds later we overheard another waiter, who turned out to be the GM in waiter's clothes, tell the booth next to ours that they were out of the dip. So we attempted to change our order to appetizer salads. When originally asked what the dressing choices were, our waiter listed the usual 6 or 7....balsamic vin, creamy Italian, Ranch, Blue Cheese. However we called the GM over after eavesdropping on him, to explain that we too, had ordered the dip, and would like to change to salads. I changed to a Caeser, but my daughter asked him to reiterate the dressing list, since she hadn't listened when first it was enumerated, having already ordered dip. The GM then said, Vinaigrette and Creamy Italian. My daughter goes, "And?" The GM stands still and does not respond. My daughter goes, "what about all the others our waiter told us about?" At last deigning to speak, the GM replies "That's it."
Later the waiter told us that the guy was the GM, and that he is mixed up. So my intrepid daughter again asks for the list, at the end of which she realizes she did not hear Thousand Island (we called it Russian dressing where I come from, comrade), so he wrote that down. When the order returns, he said, "Oh, we don't have that, what was it? Island? Here's your salad with Creamy Italian" At this point I asked him if we were being "Punked". He laughed but never actually denied it!!
My main course was Veal Marsala, taught in cooking 101. the veal was sauteed with no flour dredging, so the usual velvety texture was replaced by that nasty cardboard of a poorly cooked cutlet. The sauce had as much in common with a Marsala as Iams mini-chunks has with Chef Ramsey's White Truffle Pizza (check out last night's Hell's Kitchen). OK, it was brown and had mushrooms. An added bonus..they poured this bland bodiless concoction all over the side pasta, just in case you weren't impressed enough with it in the first place. My daughter's Calzone was huge, but just an inside out Pizza, and the mozzarella was tough as nails. My wife's Tortellini in Cream sauce (something most of us could make in our sleep) was flavorless and without any redeeming qualities. We didn't try the Taramisu (sic, is that a dessert in "Gone With The Wind"?), thank you very much.
If it's missing specials, mispelled menu cards, blah food and befuddled wait staff you want, then Mangiare Bene is the place for you. Otherwise....avoid at all costs!