At first browse of a directory listing Santa Fe restaurants, the entree “Mangiamo Pronto!” (an Italian term which translates to “Let’s eat now!) might elicit the impression that the City Different has an eatery offering Italian fast-food: post-haste pasta, accelerated antipasto, insalata al instante. You get the picture.
At Mangiamo Pronto! you certainly won’t find desiccated pizza slices seared to a leathery sheen under heat lamp infernos just waiting for the next drive- or walk-up victim, er…customer, nor will you see a nattily uniformed wait staff running amok trying to fill orders even as new ones come in at a breakneck pace.
Mangiamo Pronto! is, in many ways, the antithesis of a fast-food restaurant–even though entrees are prepared in advance then heated upon order. In fact, one of the first things you see as you walk in is a glass case displaying the gustatory bounty d’giorno. It’s almost as if the Roman deity Bacchus himself laid out a sumptuous feast of engorged panini sandwiches crafted on crispy crusted focaccia, artisanal piadini arrayed with gourmet ingredients, diet-devastating desserts, soul-comforting soups, crisp salads and so much more.
True to its name, Mangiamo Pronto! won’t keep you waiting long. Only scant minutes will elapse from the time you place your order at the counter until it’s delivered by one of the restaurant’s amiable waitresses. The wait only seems interminable as you lustily await certain appetite sating succor.
Mangiamo Pronto! is one of those rare gems which delivers explosive flavors belying a Lilliputian size. It might be generous to compare the size of the restaurant’s kitchen to the kitchen of an average sized American home, yet from that tiny kitchen are crafted those explosive flavors. The restaurant’s sole dining room is about the size of a dining room in an average sized home and fittingly, you’ll be treated like a very welcome guest at a warm family home. Even the patio with its European cafe style sun-shielding umbrellas and inviting alfresco dining is relatively small. Fortunately Mangiamo Pronto! has a robust take-away business because getting a table may not always be possible.
Mangiamo Pronto! more than lives up to its motto of “a little slice of Tuscany in Santa Fe.” While it doesn’t offer spectacular views of Tuscan hills and it doesn’t face magnificent Medici villas, it’s situated on a tree-lined street with venerable stuccoed homes. Despite its proximity to the bustling Santa Fe plaza and the heavily trafficked Guadalupe district, it imparts the sensation that it’s a restaurant on a quiet residential area–again, very European.
Since its launch in the late fall of 2008, Mangiamo Pronto! has earned accolades from every local publication. The New Mexican called it “a small, bright, cheerful new cafe offering exceptionally good fresh “fast food” at fair prices.” Local Flavor magazine proclaimed it “chic and casual with seriously good flavor.” According to Entrepreneur, “For exceptionally good, fast food at a very fair price, you can’t beat Mangiamo Pronto!.” Pasatiempo said it served among Santa Fe’s “best meals of 2008.”
The kitchen is in the supremely capable hands of Enrique Guerrero, whose impeccable credentials include a four-year stint as personal chef to the president of Mexico. Before partnering with Fritz Holland in launching Mangiamo Pronto!, he served as executive chef at the Ó Eating House, a highly regarded gem in Pojoaque. Previous to that, he was head chef at the distinguished La Mancha restaurant at the world-renown Galisteo Inn. During his tenure there, the restaurant was named one of the 82 best restaurants on the planet by Conde Naste Traveler magazine. While serving as executive chef at Scalo years before La Mancha, he guided the restaurant to recognition as “the best Italian restaurant in New Mexico.”
The bright and blissful Italian bistro or espresso bar ambience includes photos and memorabilia from Italy. Largely from Italy is an impressive wine list featuring offerings in the categories of Spumante, Bianco, Rosso, Il Vino De Aceto and Dolce. The menu reminds diners that there are five reasons to drink wine: ”the arrival of a friend, one’s present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason.”
There are even more reasons to eat at Mangiamo Pronto! than there are to drink its terrific wine (but savvy diners will do both). Those reasons include a breakfast menu featuring frittatas (a type of Italian omelet with a variety of fillings), Pane Dolce, baked in-house in the aforementioned tiny kitchen and a house granola and honey yogurt. You can also dispense with dining conventions and have lunch entrees during breakfast hours…or why not mix and match breakfast and lunch entrees.
In the June edition of Santa Fean magazine, food writer non-pareil John Vollertsen published his “bucket list,” a compilation of twenty Santa Fe restaurant dishes he wants to devour before he “kicks the bucket.” The article’s title page included an oversized photograph of a piadini from Mangiamo Pronto!” Piadini resembles a smaller, thinner pizza or more accurately, an Italian flatbread. Contrary to what might be your initial impression, it’s not cracker crisp. It’s chewy and pliable. Also unlike pizza, it is leavened with baking powder or soda.
Perhaps in deference to visitors who might not know the difference between piadini and pizza, the menu does refer to this fabulous flatbread as Pizze del Giorno or Pizza of the day. Stacked atop the daily bread is a toss of parmesan sprinkled mixed greens which you can pluck off and consume like a fresh salad or which you can incorporate into each savory morsel of your palate-pleasing piadini.
While more embellished offerings may be available on any given day, even a plain (although you can hardly call it that) quattro formaggi piadini rises to the level of exquisite under the chef’s inspired interpretation. Perhaps because of the crust’s waifish thinness, but more likely in combination with superb ingredients, the intensity of the cheese blend is the first thing that will grab your rapt attention. Each bite is like an orgiastic experience for your taste buds.
The restaurant’s selection of panini may be limited, but their deliciousness might be unlimited. Take for example the Albacore tuna panini (roasted tomato, capers, pepperoncini and sun-dried tomato aioli), so very different from the hundreds of tuna grinders I consumed in Massachusetts, but like them uniquely wonderful. The crispy focaccia sandwiches the best prepared tuna I’ve had in New Mexico–tuna that isn’t encumbered by mayonnaise dominated conventions and which isn’t served “just off the boat” cool. My preference is for heated tuna and Mangiamo Pronto! accommodates very well. The capers and pepperoncini impart a tangy contrast to the briny tuna flavor while the roasted tomato gives the panini a sweet and slightly acidic quality.
Panini is accompanied by a garbanzo bean salad in a small cup. Garbanzos are among the world’s most diverse and appreciated legumes, grown on every continent except Antarctica. Uniquely flavored and with a texture unlike other legumes, they really are an acquired taste. Some people won’t ever eat them unless they’ve been ground into hummus. The garbanzo bean salad at Mangiamo Pronto! might make a convert out of them.
Panini perfection can also be found on the pastrami and sauerkraut offering. Pastrami, as I’ve chronicled repeatedly on this blog, is something to which I was introduced in Massachusetts back in the late 70s. Like George Costanza, the “short, stocky, slow-witted bald man” from the television comedy Seinfeld, I consider pastrami “the most sensual of all smoked meats,” though unlike the irascible Costanza, my appreciation isn’t carnal.
It’s almost a certainty that the source for Mangiamo Pronto!’s pastrami isn’t local (we can thank vendors and importers from San Francisco and New York for the quality of many ingredients on the menu). This is excellent pastrami, smoked to perfection with the optimum brininess. It’s sliced into thin shreds and has nice marbling for flavor. The sauerkraut doesn’t have the lip-pursing qualities of strong pastrami which is good because this panini includes a smear of coarse grained deli mustard, the good stuff. A better pastrami sandwich can’t be found in New Mexico.
Zuppa del Giorno usually includes two choices, one of which might be Italian Wedding Soup, an Italian-American soup so named because of a mistranslation of the term “minestrata maritata” or “married soup,” a reference to the fact that meats and green vegetables go well together. Mangiamo Pronto!’s rendition starts with a base of clear, chicken broth to which is added tiny meatballs, small round pasta and kale. It arrives at your table steaming so that the aromas waft upwards to excite your nostrils. This is a delicious, perfectly seasoned soup!
Pane Dolce offerings also vary daily. As with the restaurant’s other high-quality offerings, it’s astonishing to comprehend that these delectable desserts were created in such diminutive digs. It’s a testament to Chef Guererro’s talents that his pastries are of bakery quality–fresh, moist and absolutely delicious.
The pan dolce pictured below is a moist, dense pineapple cake punctuated with tangy orange zest and topped with piñon. It is a fitting way to finish a fabulous meal.
Mangiamo Pronto! is one of those restaurants to which you should head pronto. Never mind its diminutive size, it’s simply one of the very best Italian restaurants in the state.
228 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 13 June 2009
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Albacore Tuna Panini, Pastrami & Sauerkraut Panini, Quattro Formaggi Pizza, Pane Dolci, Italian Wedding Soup