The customer is always right, or so we thought, during our visit to Mama Della’s N.Y. City Pizzeria, a restaurant recently renovated with the help of the Food Network series “Restaurant Impossible.”
The cosmetic revamping of the restaurant gives it a chic and modern look with endearing décor that helps trigger a subtle feeling of nostalgia, from classic square tables with simple flowers atop, cushioned chairs, and bricked portions of wall to a wonderful semi-circular counter area with stools. The unique artwork and a small outdoor eating space with umbrellas are also welcoming.
That said, the restaurant seems to undervalue a major priority in the service industry: making the customer’s dining experience pleasant and enjoyable both in quality of product and service provided.
For instance, we were denied the privilege of adding additional toppings to any dish on the signature pizza menu, even though we offered to pay extra. After we ordered the downtown calzone ($9.95) with ricotta, mozzarella, pepperoni and a side of marinara sauce, we asked to add mushrooms. We were told that we could not add anything to signature pizzas. I informed the server that one of my guests really loves mushrooms and requested some on the calzone. The server made great efforts to get the mushrooms, but the management refused. I asked if the calzones were pre-made or already prepped, and she responded that everything was made fresh. I then asked if the chef could simply take a handful of mushrooms and sprinkle them inside the calzone while it is being prepared. Another no, and the reason still remains unclear. The doughy crust on the calzone had a pleasing flavor, but the filling was a bit overloaded with thick cheese.
Along with this annoyance, the restaurant’s mathematical logic and portion sizes are questionable. After placing our orders, we were served three small rolls about an inch in diameter, although there were four in our party. We asked for one more roll and were told that the rolls come packaged by threes. After perhaps seeing our looks of dismay, our server was gracious enough to bring us another set of three rolls. I found myself calculating the dynamics of the three roll dilemma. Mathematically, a diner eating solo would always have two extra rolls, a couple would have one, a group of three or any division of three would be a perfect team and the rest of the groups would find themselves splitting rolls as did we. Or does a single diner receive only one roll? And if so, where do the extra rolls go?
As an appetizer, we ordered the Mama Della’s all-beef meatballs ($4.95) served with chef Leonardo’s marinara sauce, parmesan cheese and more garlic rolls (three of course.) The sauce and seasonings on the two tiny meatballs were very bland. If small meatballs are served, big taste is expected and these meatballs fell short. The sauce was watery and tasted like tomato paste with a pinch of salt added. The meatballs also seemed to lack the cohesive element or ingredient that would have given them great texture.
In short, only one food item stood out to us and that was the Mama Della’s traditional pizza ($12.95) with whole milk mozzarella and plum tomato sauce. Per our desire, we added mushrooms ($3.50) and pepperoni ($3.50) to the pizza and, yes, each additional topping on traditional pizzas costs extra. The thin crust pizza had rich flavors and we enjoyed the subtle sweetness in the sauce tremendously.
The rest of the foods we sampled ranged from average, to bland, to confusing. We ordered the Papa Della’s ($10.95), a pasta dish with Italian sausage, arugula and parmesan crème served over pappardelle. The pasta was bland, thick with cheese and forgettable.
For dessert, we tried the cannoli ($3.75) and the NY cheesecake ($4.95). The desserts looked delicious, but their presentations were deceptive. The cannoli was some type of crème wrapped with a waffle cone and sprinkled with mini chocolate chips. The pastry was very hard with a strange and confusing taste. The cheesecake tasted average, but was dry. Our first dessert choice, gelato, was unavailable.
We also tried ordering the margherita as our first pizza choice, and it also was unavailable.
The best experience from our visit may have been the server. She was warm, friendly, helpful and placed great emphasis on customer service. She apologized for the taste of some foods and for not being able to add toppings. Unfortunately for us, she seemed to contradict the entire experience and spirit of the rest of the restaurant because the bad outweighed the good.