by Matt Steinberg

If you’re craving Italian food, Buffalo has you covered. From Chef’s downtown to Cecelia’s in the Elmwood Village to Lombardo’s in North Buffalo, there are a ton of places here where you can satisfy your pasta jones. This is also community that loves mom and pop places – we are serious locavores. This being said, there is a chain place out in the ‘burbs that you should seriously consider trying. Bravo! is located on the ground level of the Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga, and I had a fantastic lunch there recently. My friend, who is an Italian cuisine connoisseur, recommended that we go there, and I wasn’t disappointed. She started with a delicious tomato bisque, followed by a perfectly pressed mozzarella, tomato and pesto panini, while I had salad and a wonderful plate of lasagna that seemed to be homemade. The decor is a fun, family friendly Romain ruin, and the menu had something for everyone’s taste.

I know what you’re thinking – it’s a chain, and it’s in the mall. But don’t let that stop you – Bravo isn’t your typical mall eatery. It’s definitely worth a trip.

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by Karen Huefner

When an occasion comes about that involves a dinner out, I always try to check out a restaurant I haven’t been to. Buffalo is blessed with a diverse array of culinary experiences and while I have my favorites, it’s fun for my tastebuds to venture into something new. This time the occasion was a friend’s birthday and she was in the mood for Italian. Instantly I’m thinking about Sinatra’s, Chef’s, Ilio DiPaolo’s, DiGiulio’s, etc. but was craving something different. I had heard of San Marco Ristorante but didn’t know much about it. Did a little research online and thought it was worth a try.

You know a good Italian meal is in your future when you can barely make out a lick of English from the gentleman who answers the phone! San Marco Ristorante is located northeast of downtown Buffalo. San Marco’s quiet, understated interior allows diners to fully focus on the stellar northern Italian cuisine. The coziness of your first step into the restaurant is so welcoming, which is a feeling that carries over to the staff as well. Our waitress was the absolute sweetest thing and was so helpful with the menu. She read off the list of specials and San Marco’s had a lobster ravioli appetizer that I couldn’t get out of my head. She knew I was crazy about it, so before I even asked, she offered to turn that appetizer special into an entrée for me. When the plate was set down before me, I was in awe. It was eight very plump lobster ravioli covered in a blush cream sauce and sprinkled with baby shrimp. It was this seafood lover’s dream! Couple that meal with a glass of their house Reisling and I was smitten.

If you’re looking for an upscale Italian dining experience while you’re in town, San Marco’s is worth the visit. Grazie!

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by Karen Huefner

MangiaNo matter what language you speak, your mouth has to start watering at the sound of the word “Mangia!” (meaning “eat” in italian). That’s exactly what happened to me leading up to my visit to Mangia Ristorante & Caffe in Orchard Park this past weekend. Twelve of us made the 15 minute drive south of Buffalo to the town of Orchard Park (Also the home to the stadium for the Buffalo Bills). Complimentary valet parking greeted us at the front entrance to the restaurant. While waiting for our table in the dining room, we stopped at the bar to sip a little vino. With twelve of us approaching the bar at once and all relatively undecided on our wine selection, the bartender set up a mini wine-tasting for us to sample their organic wines. Molto Buono!

We hung at the bar long enough to finish our first glass of Reisling and then proceeded to our seats. The combination of dim lighting, soft music and endless laughter gave the room such a cozy feel. Eager to see what Mangia had to offer, we dove into the menu and started firing our order of appetizers to the waiter. Antipasto Lisa, Calamari, Bruschetta, and the caprese salad all made their way around our table of 12. Grabbing a bite here and there, all were very tasty and not to mention plenty for each of us to all get a taste. The thought of trying to recall the 12 entrees that were served is next to impossible (thanks to that glass of Reisling) but I’ll never forget the tasty choice I made for dinner. I went with the Veal Florentine. Two hearty slices of veal sautéed with artichokes, cherry tomatoes, red onions, & spinach in a roasted garlic cream sauce over rigatoni pasta. The list of adjectives to describe this meal is endless so I’ll resort to one word: Wow.

In fact “wow” describes everything about our experience at Mangia. Their menu is one of the most impressive menus I’ve seen for an Italian restaurant. Take a look at their website. From the atmosphere to dessert, Mangia is sure to please.

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by Karen Huefner

ceceliasThis past Tuesday I grabbed a friend and headed out to Cecelia’s Ristorante in the Elmwood Village. Cecelia’s, known for their martinis and stuffed banana peppers among other things, is a favorite summertime hangout thanks to their roomy patio overlooking the trendy Elmwood Avenue. But on a chilly January evening, their Dinner for Two Tuesdays lured me in. The deal is a drink of your choice from the bar for each of you (that means one of their famous martinis or glass of wine), an appetizer or salad for each and an entrée off their regular menu for each of you…all for $39.99 plus tax and gratuity. There is a minimal amount of entrees that are not part of the promotion, but the best of the best is still left as options. Twenty bucks for such a bundle of Italian goodness is incredible.

After our glasses of wine arrived at our toasty corner table, we decided on the Stuffed Banana Peppers (obviously) and their Caesar salad. The banana peppers are to die for. I first sampled them at Cecelia’s booth at the Taste of Buffalo a few years back over a July weekend and knew I’d have to check out the restaurant for what else they had on the menu. The Caesar salad was the perfect portion too so we didn’t fill up before our entrees appeared. Ten minutes later, what an entrance our entrees made! We ordered the Chicken Bruschetta and the Taste of Italy. I assure you these two selections will never let you down. Dave Barbara, the owner, won’t let it happen either that’s for sure.

Cecelia’s also boasts Midnight Martini Madness on Friday nights starting at 11pm and Live Jazz from 7-10pm on Thursdays. The Elmwood Village is full of quaint shops, trendy bars and great restaurants. Eat up Elmwood anytime!

by Carolyn Batt

spaghettiOn Friday night, my friend and I went to dinner at Ristorante Lombardo, one of Buffalo’s premier Italian restaurants. I would highly recommend making reservations a day or two in advance as it is a popular choice for a weekend dinner. Nestled amidst Hertel Avenue’s wealth of restaurants, Lombardo’s offers free valet parking which is a great feature for winter nights or when parking is less than available on this busy street. Serving Northern Italian fare, this upscale restaurant also offers a full bar with extensive wine list.

For our appetizer, we tried the Caesar Salad for Two, which is prepared tableside by your waiter, with all fresh ingredients and a hand made dressing. I would recommend this as the presentation alone is worth the price.

For our main courses, we tried the Hand Made Lobster and Mascarpone Raviolini and Spaghetti and Kobe Beef Meatballs. Both had light red sauces that were rich in flavor and were very delicious. The portion size was perfect to eat in one sitting without leftovers or being left hungry.

To finish off our meal, we split one of the dessert specials, a Hand Made Cherry Cobbler with Vanilla Gelato which was the perfect way to end this meal. We both left full but not overwhelmed as all of the food was very light. The total for our meal with two glasses of wine was just over $100 which is quite reasonable for a sophisticated dinner in the Buffalo Niagara region.