Mangia Bene features a massive menu, so whether you seek a simple slice or a ... More »
Mangia Bene in Great Neck takes its name from an Italian phrase that means "eat well." This you can surely do, whether grabbing a slice or a hero at the informal pizzeria, accessible from its own entrance, or enjoying a full meal in the restaurant's attractive dining area, a space warmed by a double-sided fireplace.
At the pizzeria, I had a meatball sandwich that was generous in size, the garlicky spheres just the right texture. An eggplant Parmigiana hero delivered down-to-earth satisfaction. I also took home lasagna, a hefty rectangle made with lots of meat and mozzarella. Included in my takeout package were a gratis carton of marinara sauce and some extra cheese slices (for reheating, I was told), along with half a dozen garlic knots. The people here clearly care.
In the full-service restaurant, gracious servers start you off with a breadbasket filled with warm garlic knots and spinach- stuffed pizza-dough pinwheels. You can order a complete fixed-price dinner (appetizer or soup, entree, dessert and coffee or tea), but since desserts are not this restaurant's forte, you may be better off going the a la carte route.
A good way to begin is with the mussels Posillipo, fresh bivalves in a lusty red sauce. Baked clams, all too often a dull and heavy .cliche, were surprisingly good. The meat of the clams, left whole, was tender, not rubbery, topped with a light, garlicky, bread-crumb mixture. I liked the meat-stuffed eggplant crowned with red sauce and melted mozzarella. Only the Gorgonzola salad with walnuts (balsamic vinaigrette on the side) seemed lackluster. But ringlets of expertly fried calamari, with a zesty marinara, were piping hot and very tender.
The kitchen has a knack with fish. Fillet of sole Zingara (sauteed with artichoke hearts) proved delightful. So did a special of tilapia Livornese, the mild white fish enlivened -- not overwhelmed -- by a vibrant tomato and olive sauce. Cappelini frutti di mare (angel-hair pasta with shrimp, scallops, calamari and mussels in a zesty red sauce) featured seafood cooked to the proper degree of doneness, as is frequently not the case at other restaurants.
Chicken Francese, lemony yet mellow, could be cut with a fork. Veal Parmigiana was tender beneath its cloak of tomato sauce and melted cheese. And fettuccine filetto di pomodoro featured al dente pasta in a rich prosciutto-enhanced tomato sauce, simple and fine.
Unless you order the light Italian-style cheesecake -- the only finale made in-house -- you might want to forego dessert. Both the Napoleon and the tiramisu tasted tired. An espresso or cappuccino will probably be all you'll need or want.
This is not a place where you'll find creative culinary surprises. Prices are gentle, portions large. Mangia Bene does nothing more -- or less -- than live up to its name.
Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 2/20/04.