Mambo Italiano is less pretentious than other restaurants we have featured in this space, but this bustling Fairhaven spot is very good at what it does.
On Friday and Saturday nights, tables seem to fill up quickly in the high-ceilinged space. Booth tables for two or four can provide a bit of privacy, if not peace and quiet, for those who want it. It’s a festive place with an open kitchen, an important part of the bustling Fairhaven scene that has emerged in recent years.
During our visit, the clientele seemed to be a blend of collegians and gracefully-aging baby boomers like yours truly. For wealthier sophisticates, it’s a bargain choice where dinner for two can be enjoyed for under $70. For the college crowd, that same price range makes it a good place for a celebratory splurge.
The dinner menu is extensive, with six salad choices, eight pastas, five meat dishes and seven featuring seafood, along with numerous pizzas and calzones.
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We started our meal with clams and mussels, as we nearly always do when they are available. Besides the fact that we like bivalves, they also serve as the canary in the culinary coal mine. If they are perfectly fresh, subtly seasoned and properly cooked, that serves as a harbinger of what is to come.
Mambo’s version, labeled in Italian assautee di vongole, $10, came prepared with dry vermouth, crushed chile, tomato, basil, lemon and butter, which set them off nicely. They were fresh enough too, but a bit undercooked, with some of the shells still shut when they were served.
But our meals were otherwise enjoyable.
Pollo cacciatore, $16, was an ample portion of chicken panseared and roasted, with a rich puttanesca sauce featuring tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red bell peppers, olives and red wine. It made a hearty feast, accompanied by sautéed vegetables and a side of rigatoni.
We also enjoyed Mambo’s rustic Italian pizza, available in 10- and 14-inch sizes for $12 and $17. It’s a kalamata olivelover’s delight that also features tomato sauce, pine nuts, oregano, cracked pepper and mozzarella.
Mambo also provides an ample selection of wines by the glass, above and beyond what one might expect in this context. It’s an example that some more elegant establishments might do well to emulate.