Monday, January 10, 2011

mazara

we haven't eaten much italian in st louis, despite our proximity to "the hill." our problem with italian joints has usually been a lack of inspiration and inattentiveness to vegetables besides some tomatoes blended up for a red sauce or maybe some soggy, cheese-logged eggplants. however, clark snatched up a hot sauce deal for mazara after a peek at their menu encouraged us to open our minds (and our mouths).

mission:
clayton

terrain:
located in clayton among a slew of other restaurants, mazara's front does not stand out much. once inside, the bar really catches your attention. it dominates one side of the restaurant, but doesn't feel overwhelming. the dark stain and unfussy woodwork make a statement without being distracting. the art and light fixtures are, shall we say, on the generic side, but they're trying. they're pleasant enough and easy to miss, which can be a good thing. we went on a particularly cold night and were the only customers the whole time. a tv in the corner broadcast a football game (for the thawing valet--i wouldn't have the heart to deny him that little perk on a night like this) and, to complete the ambience, some... classic rock. what? yeah, that's what we said.

personnel:
our waitress was friendly but not overbearing, knowledgeable about the menu, and very understanding about our vegetarian needs (she even mentioned having been one for a while). if she seemed a little eager, we were going to overlook it because, as we mentioned, there were no other patrons. we're thinking this is mostly a lunch venue; at least, we hope so. we did see a couple other people come and go from the back. maybe a gm? an owner? he seemed not to notice us, or just not to care. now that's good business practice, tell you what.

rations:
first things first, clark ordered a glass of wine and we were disappointed to see a pretty scant pour. did we mention we were the only table in the restaurant? it's not like they were trying to ration the riesling for all the other customers clamoring for it. we have a soft spot for polenta fries, being that they were the first dish we ever shared, so we jumped on theirs. they're flash fried so as not to get too oil-soaked, and they were plump, crispy-edged, just right--or they would have been, had they not been rolled in salt. think chinchilla in a sandbath. a shame, really, so if you order these, just ask them to hold off a bit. the online menu describes them differently now, but when we went they were serving them topped with gorgonzola and honey. lois requested them without the honey (for personal reasons), so we realize that we didn't eat them the way they were intended. however, even the honey's sweetness could not have been enough to tame the sodium. for apps, we also ordered the pure di cannellini. the bean dip itself was tasty, as were the rosemary flatbread and the red wine goat cheese. we do like a hard goat cheese, and this one provided a nice contrast to the other flavors in this dish. some kalamatas and cucumbers on the side were a nice addition, but the tomatoes' skins were wrinkled (like our noses when we saw them), so we left them untouched. not to belabor the point of being the only customers, but... we could understand wrinkly tomatoes if the chef were crazy busy, but to send some to your only table seems careless. up next was the insalata mista, which consists of heirloom baby greens, tomatoes, artichokes, cucumbers, chickpeas, and olives in a balsamic parmesan vinaigrette. there's not a lot to say about this salad. it's competent; we appreciated the chickpeas and we would have adored the greens if not for their being overdressed. finally, our entree was the involtini spaghettini, which was our waitress's very enthusiastic suggestion. she even described the sauce as "fire", so we were pumped. we were grateful to have the option of whole wheat noodles, so we definitely took advantage. the involtini were pleasant--the eggplant's taste wasn't masked, they weren't soggy in the least, and the cheese tucked inside added nice flavor in addition to helping keep the dish from being too heavy with it. unexpectedly, the sauce was--we're sorry to say--bland. too thin, too little, too quiet. no fire!

our experience at mazara seemed off from the beginning, but we weren't deterred, and while we weren't wowed, we weren't sorry we'd gone. but maybe this is a place to save for lunch. something tells us that it would be a different story then.

assessment:
c+

vegetarian-friendly score:
b

Mazara on Urbanspoon

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