On a beautiful Monday evening in August, my dinner companion and I decided to cap our day in New York City with the well-regarded flavors of one of Antibes, France’s most popular restaurant. Mamo — short for Mamo Le Michelangelo, which originated 24 years ago on the French Riviera — came to SoHo a little more than one year ago preceded by a reputation for savory dishes and stellar service.
Mamo bills itself as a “purveyor of affectionate Italian and Provençal dining experience.” We had read that the flagship eatery is regularly frequented by celebrities, especially during The Cannes Film Festival. So, naturally, our curiosities about whether the SoHo branch could justify that status were piqued. We made reservations for 5:30 p.m., and arrived ten minutes prior to soak in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area.
In a burgeoning neighborhood featuring a variety of restaurants, pubs, retail establishments, and apartment complexes, we wondered aloud how this particular eatery would stand out. From the exterior, Mamo’s size lent itself more to that of a bistro, and yet, it was still hard to miss. A charming dinner table, complete with a white tablecloth, was situated outside and served as a warm invitation for patrons to make their way inside. It was a subtle addition to the facade, yet impossible to ignore.
My companion and I were the first patrons of Mamo’s reopening for dinner service (the restaurant closes at 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays and weekends, respectively, until 5:30 p.m.). As soon as we entered, we were greeted by the wide and welcoming smiles of a man and woman, whom we told about our reservations.
We were immediately walked to our table on the first floor, and opted to sit next to each other on a comfortable, tan leather row of seating that spanned the length of each side wall. Across from those rows were square tables, and lavish white chairs that tastefully complemented the tan tones. The tablecloths were also white, as were the walls and ceilings, which we particularly noticed. Throughout our experiences, we have come across too many restaurants that left the ceilings unfinished, with piping or structural elements exposed. We have always felt that that sort of detail does nothing to help ambiance, which we place a premium on.
Mamo was not an offender. Its ceilings were not only painted perfectly white to match the overall décor, but also detailed with intricate designs that — for anyone who briefly gazed upward — appealed immaculately. Such attention to details paid by the restaurant lends itself to patrons’ expectations that other aspects of the dining experience will follow suit. That ambiance was rounded out by white lighting that illuminated the dining area calmly and cozily, and fresh-cut flowers at each table.
Upon being seated, we were welcomed by our server, Pierre, who would go on to speak to us with as polite a tone as one can expect for the entirety of our experience. He explained items on the menu, offered recommendations as per our requests, and exuded a genuine desire to accommodate us wholly. Pierre spoke clearly and articulately, respectfully and knowledgeably. If the overall service was to be judged solely on Pierre’s hospitality and attentiveness, Mamo aced it even before we had ordered a single item off the menu. But, of course, service isn’t based on one person alone.
And at Mamo, it was not. Throughout the duration of our meals, Pierre would be flanked by a team of helpers who assured that we were not only tended to as completely as possible, but also made to feel important. Our water glasses were never empty; if we used our tissue-cloths to wipe our hands or mouths, they were promptly replaced; fresh, clean utensils were provided at our table with each successive course that made its way from the kitchen. Such aspects are what any restaurant patron expects during their visit, and it was refreshing that Mamo had seemingly underlined, bolded and italicized its importance in its handbooks to all staff, because we felt it.
And from the looks of it, parties that followed did, as well. Shortly after we had arrived, two women — who seemed like mother and daughter — were seated next to us. Soon after, two couples entered, one of whom elected to sit at the bar. Then, a party of six women was led by the hostess to its table. We observed the interactions between Mamo staff and patrons, and they were premised on the same level of service we received.
My companion and I put in orders for a couple of choice cocktails that Pierre prepared himself behind the marble bar. I ordered the Mamo Negroni, comprised of Aperol, Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth and orange-infused gin; she ordered the Al Pachilli, made up of passion fruit puree, pineapple juice, chilli liqueur and Absolut Elix Vodka. Both drinks were neither strong nor light — so they were both quite easy to go down — and each contained a significant fruit base that paired exceptionally well with the bread and olive oil at the table.
Upon observing Pierre concoct these cocktails, we realized that the television screen that overlooked the dining area and faced away from the bar was a bit too large for the space. In our opinion, for a restaurant as ambient and chic as Mamo, such a large television screen would actually take away from experience. We feel that those who would prioritize watching a game or event at a place as such would probably prefer to do so at a venue that would not be as pricey or founded upon the roots of fine dining. The patrons we observed were not watching the television; they were engaged in conversation, reveling in personal moments and enjoying each other’s company. For us, that’s what the atmosphere lends itself to. A small television inside the bar in the corner, solely for patrons seated at that bar, would perhaps be the better bet at salvaging the classy environment afforded to diners through most of Mamo’s other aspects.
As patrons trickled in, we also noticed that, based on the arrangement of tables and their relative proximity to each other, unaffiliated parties were a bit too close. In breaks of conversation between my companion and I, I was able to perfectly listen to the two women seated next to us. Of course, this is to be expected in a crowded restaurant, but a little bit more space between tables would be welcome.
My companion and I were looking forward to the masterful creations of Michelin-Starred Executive Chef Massimo Sola and his team. To start, we decided to share the margherita pizza, priced modestly at $16. I’ve had more than my share of margherita pizzas in the past, and I would absolutely rank this one as the best without hesitation. Each slice contained the ideal amount of cantal cheese, which perfectly complemented the bed of mozzarella cheese underneath. The basil and tomatoes that rendered the pizza unmistakably margherita were garden-fresh and plentiful.
For entrees, I was immediately intrigued by the Mamo Burger, a $44 creation containing wagyu beef, fresh truffles, foie gras, and smothered sufficiently with Mamo gravy. As a self-proclaimed burger addict, I expected otherworldly flavor crystals — especially for that price. And in all honesty, it was one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. The beef was thick, juicy and bursting with deliciously-seasoned flavor. The meat was a little bit pinker than I usually prefer, but I absolutely understand that the quality of beef being used does not lend itself to being any more well-done than that. I’m not usually a huge fan of gravy, but it certainly worked here. It was an incredible burger. I do believe that a burger on an Italian cuisine menu does have its own place, but perhaps at a lower cost.
My companion ordered the $19 Spaghettoni all’ Amatriciana, which was a spaghetti-based dish that mixed crispy bason, tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. The lady loves her pasta, and she raved not only about how well the flavors blended together, but also how authentically Italian it was — and trust me, we have been to our share of restaurants that claim that they’re the real deal. This was. I gave it a try myself, and it was incredible. The pasta was not dry, the sauce was very flavorful, and there was even a generous amount for two people to share (of course, a requisite staple of authentic Italian cuisine).
We completed our meals and sat for some time to discuss our experiences with each other, and at no point did we feel rushed or interrupted. As we wrapped up and made our way to the exit, we received warm goodbyes from every staff member who was on the dining floor. Pierre himself took the lead, opened the door for us on our way out, and gave me a handshake, urging us to visit again soon.
Aside from the couple of aforementioned preferences for the television and spacing — and based on the exceptional service of Mamo staff, the delicious works of culinary art that Chef Sola and his team created, the ambiance of the restaurant and how we as patrons felt revered and prioritized — I absolutely recommend Mamo to others without any hesitation. Our expectations of the French Riviera staple’s New York City branch were surpassed, and I will be going back.
By: Vikas Girdhar
Check out the published review on the Daily Meal!