In searching for authentic Italian food in Fresno and Clovis, there's one thing going against my search. That one thing is that I cook authentic Italian and Sicilian food, and because of that, I tend not to order Italian food at Italian restaurants.
That can make it hard to write reviews, but the past few years, I have made every effort to try Italian food at the restaurants we eat at, whether they are Italian or not. I guess I thought that one day I would write reviews of restaurants and local food. Well, here I am doing just that.
I've talked to other Italians either here or back east, and most of them say the same thing, "it's hard to order Italian food if you cook it yourself. You're always expecting the food to taste like yours. You become hyper-critical of every place you try." They are correct in that sentiment. I am very critical of Italian restaurants. I drive Patti nuts with my food decision and my critique of food served.
What To Order
She'll ask me what she should try, and I can't answer it since I'm not sure how it will taste at each location. I know how my version will taste, but I can't account for each Italian restaurant.
I have explained this to her and other friends when we eat Italian. Every Italian restaurant and its recipes depend on the region they are from, which is typical for all ethnic restaurants.
It's just like when I mention Italian versus Sicilian. Even though Sicily is part of Italy, the food and preparation are different from Rome or Naples. That includes pizza.
Today in part 2, we're looking at two restaurants that Patti and I have dined at in no particular order. These restaurants, like all restaurants, have their signature dish. Italian restaurants pride themselves on a signature dish but what's more important is its sauce or gravy. Depending on where you're from, that's what it's all about—the sauce.
Patti introduced me to Andiamo's. We went there for dinner, and she bragged to me about their food. And rightly so.
I had the ravioli. I am a sucker for homemade ravioli, with nothing else but cheese inside—no meats, seafood, or wild concoction of pumpkin, just plain cheese ravioli.
If they are homemade, all the better, but most of the time, I don't expect homemade in Fresno or Clovis. Most of the time, the pasta served isn't homemade. That doesn't bother me as much as it should.
Their plates of ravioli were to die for. I knew they weren't homemade, but the flavor was out of this world. Their sauce was not too acidy and was just the right thickness to be mopped up with the ravioli and the served bread.
The bread wasn't what I would call good Italian bread, but then again, I haven't found an excellent Italian bread served at most of the restaurants here in Fresno and Clovis. For some reason, Italian bread isn't that important around here. But I can live with that.
Andiamo's in my book is worth a try for everyone reading this. We'd love to hear your reviews of them if and when you give them a try.
Mama Mia was off the beaten path, and I didn't know what to expect. When we went there, they only had one location in Fresno. Now they are in the Tower District and at their original site on West Bullard.
I asked the server behind the counter for a recommendation. He started to tell me about their ravioli and meat sauce. As he continued to describe the food, I warned him that I was from New York, I was Sicilian, cooked authentic Sicilian and Italian food, and worked in restaurants back east.
He stopped short after that and said that the owner and head chef was from New York also and I should love their sauce. I don't think he knew that coming from New York, Boston, or even Italy makes the sauce or gravy good. It's the chef.
My Chef Philosophy
A chef trained in a culinary institute via a teacher and workbooks isn't the same type of chef who grandparents and or parents have taught. Learning from a teacher and book makes a chef a textbook chef in my world.
I don't think it's a bad thing to attend a culinary institute, but growing up, cooking tends to make a better chef. That's what I've seen over the years working and dining at restaurants, Italian or not.
Back to MaMa Mia
After hearing about the owner/chef's background, I decided to try the ravioli with the meat sauce.
The ravioli was a little overcooked. I like my pasta no matter the type to be al dente, not mushy, and definitely not crunchy. It wasn't a deal-breaker, but it could have been. I was in a forgiving mood that day.
The sauce was what I expected. It wasn't sweet, but it wasn't tangy. IT was a bit acidic, but nothing I couldn't handle.
I'm fussy about sauce or gravy. When it comes to the sauce or gravy, it can either make or ruin the dish or pizza.
Mama Mia is known for their pizza, according to their write-up and friends that have eaten there. I asked around after eating there that day, and most of the people I talked with recommended their pizza, not their main dishes. I need to remember that next time.
Patti enjoyed the ravioli and thought the sauce was tasty but a little too acidy, as I mentioned.
Overall I would recommend trying Mama Mia at least once to see if you agree. Maybe give the pizza a try and let us know your take on it. If you're adventurous, go for the ravioli and meat sauce.
Tomato Sauce or Gravy
Tomato sauce is hard to get right. Every chef has an idea of what their sauce should taste like, which makes for some exciting dining and comparisons in the Italian food department.
Some sauces are sweet, sometimes too sweet to the taste, while others are acidy and spicy.
Other sauces are thick and chunky, with tomato pieces throughout, while others are watery and have little taste. You just about can taste the salt, basil, or garlic.
I don't think there is a perfect sauce or gravy. It's all in what you like. The thing is, each restaurant is different, and it makes your dining adventure just that, an adventure.
Back east, like here in California, it's trial and error. You may like a particular dish at one restaurant, but the sauce isn't that great, while at another, the sauce is phenomenal, but the pasta isn't.
It's a mix and match dining experience in some cases, and it isn't just with Italian restaurants.
Tomorrow I'll be writing about another two Italian restaurants we've tried so come back and enjoy.
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