Big City Chic in Pleasanton
Mangia Mi: A clear concept carries through in vibe and cuisine.
I settle on a hard molded stool at the L-shaped marble counter that connects Mangia Mi’s bar with its kitchen. As I wait, I take in an atmosphere that seduced me from the start: a torn-away ceiling exposing steel I beams, warm accents of reclaimed redwood, and raw wood tables set with white napkins.
But my upbeat reaction comes more from the energy of the staff and guests. The beaming smiles at the hostess stand, the flurry of white coats in the kitchen, the happy hum of diners and click of silverware—it adds up to an urban sophistication that’s somewhat rare in the Tri-Valley.
In just a few minutes, two abundant platters of antipasti affirm this impression. The first is a hunk of creamy Burrata slick with delicate pesto presented with thick-sliced prosciutto and char-grilled toast points.
Next come meaty last-of-summer watermelon slices laced with firm ricotta, more prosciutto, and a syrupy drizzle of balsamic. It’s sweet and salty, tart, refreshing, and satisfying.
In 2008, owner Peter Cedolini opened the original Mangia Mi in Danville as a grab-and-go deli/café. It soon expanded into a full-service restaurant that’s still going strong, powered by its homey neighborhood sensibility.
Growing up, Cedolini spent his days in his Italian grandmother’s kitchen, learning about “backyard-to-kitchen” cuisine. This soulful upbringing, and a life eating out in San Francisco, is the backbone of Mangia Mi’s compelling personality. Cedolini found this space—a “raw shell”—and designed the entire restaurant himself. The dining room may be new, but it has the well-worn feel of your favorite blue jeans.
It’s hip, good for dates or a girls night out. It’s also great for parties, with an attractive back room of white-washed brick designed specifically for wine-centric rehearsal dinners.
I can attest, too, that Mangia Mi’s homier qualities are suited for families. On a second visit, my brother, mom, and I—catching whiffs and glimpses of saucy lasagna—opt for pizza and pasta.
The gamberoni scampi brings firm linguine in a buttery lemon-garlic broth with ocean-sized shrimp. The pasta con vongole is treated similarly, but with whole clams and a pinch of chile flake. These are pristine, straightforward dishes that are both comforting and indulgent. Chris Wilhelm, the chef since Mangia Mi’s opening day in 2008, provides consistency—an often-elusive restaurant attribute.
But Wilhelm and Cedolini aren’t perfect. Our puffy mushroom pizza arrives with a thin sheen of oil, and the mac in the mac ‘n’ cheese (made with flavorful Italian cheeses) is overcooked.
A special of king salmon, however, is outstanding: crisp on the edges with a still-translucent center. It rests on garlicky just-wilted spinach.
Since 2006, when the Afghan restaurant Oasis came to town, only one other Pleasanton restaurant has offered this sophisticated vibe: Lokanta, a sleek Turkish-influenced bistro that opened last year. Oasis and Lokanta have clear concepts carried through in the atmosphere and cuisine. Mangia Mi achieves that same ideal.
Having a well-staffed dining room is also unusual. They work as a team, with runners devoted to bringing just-plated dishes hot from the kitchen.
At first, sitting on that hard stool, I didn’t fully appreciate their professionalism. I had just ended a relationship and was in no mood for what I perceived as an endless wait for my server. (It was probably three minutes.) But when the waitress did spot me, she held my eyes, apologized, and quickly got to work.
After I clean my platters and am revived by vino, I ask her for dessert and about the music. Soon, she swings by the exhibition kitchen and delivers a voluptuous tiramisu and the name of the song: “Hang” by Matchbox 20. So I hang—marveling at the wine-barrel chandelier overhead, sipping a superior cup of Illy coffee, and eyeing the shadow of a pizza peel twirling on the back wall as the dining room settles.
I chat with my waitress and discover it’s her first night on the floor. An impressive start. New beginnings are at hand. I leave feeling restored.
At a Glance
What makes it special: It’s a sophisticated place to hang out. The space: Homey-industrial: exposed ceiling, reclaimed wood, exhibition kitchen. When to go: Dinner after dark. What to order: Appetizers (get the Burrata) and the lighter pastas. Bonus: Back room is ideal for big parties (especially rehearsal dinners).
Contact: 234 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 846-2426, mangia-mi.com. Hours: Lunch and dinner daily. Price: Appetizers $8–$16; pastas $13–$21; entrées $12–$18. Alcohol: Full bar.