Calamari alla Provenzale
I’m not going to lie. I had high hopes for the opening of MAMO in SoHo. I mean it’s hard not to get excited about a glamorous French Riviera import taking root right here in New York, and a wildly popular one at that. So I dragged a crew down to the newly minted eatery on a recent Friday night. It’s a chic and breezy space, sprawled across two floors with colorful hand-painted tiles that manage to evoke the European seaside. There’s brown leather banquettes, white leather chairs, lime-washed brick walls and a gorgeous white marble bar. The walls are trimmed with vintage movie posters and a few family photos with celebrities who frequent the French Riviera flagship.
The 23-year old flagship, Mamo Le Michelangelo, located in the city of Antibes has a much more cozy and cavernous feel than its younger Manhattan sibling, but it’s been drawing Cannes’ rich & famous for over two decades now. MAMO Manhattan is overseen by the owner, Herve Mammolito’s son, Michael, who used to spend the off-season in New York waiting and bussing tables at the now, sadly defunct Pastis. You might say that Michael did his homework before planting a flag in American soil. While there may not be a ton of celebrities in the SoHo dining room, it’s nonetheless a pretty spot with pretty people and a small, well-edited wine list with some good French and Italian offerings.
Linguine ai frutti di Mare
As for the menu, it reads like an album of Italian greatest hits with oodles of comfort food fare, the likes of Eggplant Parmesan, Spaghetti Pomodoro, Rigatoni with Meatballs, and Pizza Margherita. In fact, there’s several pizzas on the menu as well as Focaccia with Fontina and Truffles. The menu is peppered with luxury ingredients, like Risotto with Truffles and a fancy Burger crowned with foie gras and truffles, though I’m not sure a burger has anything to do with Italian or Provencal cooking. It’s one of those highbrow lowbrow dishes high falutin restaurants throw on the menu to lure big spenders with a proclivity for over the top ingredients.
To me, the sighting of that burger was a bad omen that MAMO was more about the scene than the food. I wish my gut was wrong, but sadly it wasn’t. It’s pretty hard to mess up eggplant parmigiana, but they did just that. Out came an overcooked, oversalted eggplant dish offering up little in the way of comfort. The pizza was just as bad; a frisbee devoid of char, bubbles or any of the delicious results of time spent in a scalding hot oven weighed down with much too much cheese. The Calamari Provenzale was a greasy, sad version of the kind of seaside dish you conjure up when dreaming of summer.
Lemon Meringue Cake
Oversalting seems to be an epidemic at MAMO, inflicting a flurry of dishes, including the Rigatoni with Meatballs and Sausage. I love salt, but the kitchen takes it too far and everything is worse for it, especially the Linguine Mare, with perfectly fresh shrimp and mussels marred by someone with a heavy hand and a salt shaker. Did I mention the Baked Sea Bream was fishy in a bad way? Sigh.
Really, the only serviceable items on the menu were the Artichoke Salad with shaved Parmesan, olives and greens. Even dessert was a wash; the Baba Rhum was dry and so was the lemon cake though I did eat the meringue off the top.
It’s too bad about the food at MAMO because the space itself is such a sunny, chic one, but I guess it’s one of those eat before you go, “see and be seen” spots with an overpriced, underwhelming burger for A-list suckers and middling Italian.