From the moment we walked into Mamma Zu's, I knew it was going to be good. I just got that tingly feeling - you know the one. The one that tells you you're in a local Richmond favorite. The one that starts your mouth watering just from reading the menu (which, by the way, is written on a chalkboard and is as little detailed as possible). Yeah, if you're a foodie, you know the feeling. Especially is you're at Mamma's.
When my friends Vicky, Dan, and Dana suggested going here for dinner a couple nights ago, I eagerly took them up on their offer. I've been hearing about this place for ages and never remembered to go when given the chance to pick a place I hadn't tried. Maybe it was the fact that the last couple of highly acclaimed restaurants I've been to here haven't been up to par. I was due for a goodie...
The restaurant is small and nondescript - an orange exterior next to some residential houses. You walk through a screen door with the ADT Security sticker on it and on the other side the smells of an Italian home await you. We went at 7:30 and the place was PACKED...which isn't hard considering how small it is. I bet they've been asked to build an addition a hundred times, but I'm glad they haven't. Like a lot of Richmond favs, it's small size gives it character. We waited a loooong time to be seated, but to be honest, I didn't mind. It was wonderful catching up with friends (because, let's face it, one shouldn't only see their friends in class - right Vicky?).
While we waited they brought out some white pizza for us to try. It was GOOD. I mean, really good - good olive oil, lots of garlic, and Asiago cheese. We ordered a bottle of wine and toasted while waiting for a seat. In the meantime we read and re-read and re-re-read the menu because it was impossible to figure out what to get. When reading failed us, we started looking at the tables because, let's face it, they were right in front of us. Steaming bowls of zuppa de pesce and broccolini tempted our tastebuds. Orechiette pasta with meatballs, lasagne, and a number other dishes pranced out of the kitchen. It was magical. So much so, in fact, that Dana had to grab me off the bench when our table was ready.
Here's a breakdown of what we ordered:
To start, the broccolini with lemon, LOADS of garlic, and pinenuts. This was not your average veggie, my friends. Side note: the bread is served with olive oil AND balsamic for dipping. They got it right - that's how we ate in Italy.
The entrees should be shared, so that's what we did. Dan ordered the squid ink noodles with shrimp and crab marinara. My favorite dish of the night. Spicy, flavorful, and the noodles were perfectly cooked. Another side note: not one pasta dish was overcooked. I was highly impressed.
Dana ordered the calamari with a wine sauce. This was an awesome, awesome entree. I mean, look at all that calamari. Not fried, but cooked in the white wine sauce. They do use wine in their cooking for sure, and it really elevates the flavors of their dishes. This had lemony undertones and the parsley made it bold and flavorful. And the broth... man that stuff should be sold by the bucket.
Vicky was excited to try her first ever osso bucco. To be honest, it was my first too and it didn't disappoint. The meat was soooo tender and flavorful - and there was a lot of it. It was served with a side of plain penne with marinara. If I were them, I'd nix that or do something else with the pasta... it didn't hold a candle to this beauty. As far as flavor goes, you could taste wine and a little tomato-y acid. The giant carrot slices made for a nice accompaniment as well.
So...me. I got the sweetbreads, per a fellow blogger's suggestions. I've never had them before and I admit I had to Google "sweetbreads" to get an idea of what I was getting myself into. I'll let you do that on your own...
They actually were really good. But I felt super guilty eating them because they were fried and I'm pretty sure not the healthiest thing on our table. Who cares, though? I tried the best sweetbreads in town. I liked them (and so did everyone else). And, to top it off, I was able to boil some pasta and turn them into dinner the next day. After breading the sweetbreads, they serve them in a mushroom wine sauce. It was good, guys. Really good. If you want to be adventurous, try these and surprise yourself by your reaction of "yummy!"
I gotta love Dan and Vicky because, unbeknowest to me, they ordered dessert: cannoli and tiramisu.
The tiramisu was soaking in espresso and alcohol. Oh my gosh if I'd eaten he whole piece, I'd have been a goner. It was good, but a little too strong for me. You could barely taste the cream and that was the best part (especially since here they don't use whipped cream, they make pastry cream).
The cannoli (or "cannolo" to be correct) was to die for. It tasted EXACTLY like the cannoli I got in Italy from the shop around the corner from the train station. I lived for that cannoli and now I live for this one. At $4 for one, this must be where they make their money...but it's worth it. The cream was fabulous and there were no stupid chocolate chip morsels on the side adding to a sickly sweet interior. The shell was fresh and I loved the addition of cinnamon to the cream. Okay, now I've done it... I've got craving. Mamma Zu's if you're reading this...PLEASE share the recipe!
The evening was one of the best I've had in Richmond. I think I've learned through visiting these restaurants that a bustling, lively ambiance can be better than a pristine, sterile one. So many people think you can only get truly good food from the latter, but that is not the case here in Richmond. A place with character is going to make you the happier diner - it brings out the best in you, your friends, and it honors the reputation of local RVA.
Thank you Mamma Zu's for recreating the true essence of Italian food and of Italy.