Mamo may have just celebrated its one-year anniversary in its SoHo location, but the successful eatery has been a staple in the French Riviera for over 23 years.
With its casual elegance, thoughtful dishes and dedicated staff, it’s easy to see how seamlessly it translates.
The restaurant’s interior is homey, clean and relaxed. Fresh-cut flowers line the table tops and the marble bar on the first level. A mix of Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and D’Angelo plays in the background and adds a sultry, leisurely atmosphere to the lunchtime hour, even with light pouring in from the front window and over the creamy white walls on the first floor.
It was early to dine, so we started out our meal with some La Colombe espresso as an aperitif, accompanied by a bottle of Pellegrino and a plate of fresh bread and grossini.
Photos of the Mamo NYC owner’s father with various celebrities line the walls. Rihanna plants a kiss on the man’s cheek in a glossy framed photo that hangs over the back booth. Vintage Italian movie posters in large frames show sultry women and pinstriped men with serious gazes. Each table has a full bottle of imported olive oil, still spicy with freshness.
Faced with one too many good options, we trusted our experience to the restaurant’s manager, Jon Rugova, who asked if we had any preferences (my dining partner was pescatarian) before tailoring a divine tasting menu to suit.
The menu is seasonally sourced, and tantalizingly fresh. We started with pepperoni dolce— Italian tuna wrapped in bright, fresh slices of bell peppers over a bed of crunchy arugula. Topped with capers and drizzled in olive oil, it had the brightness and crunch of Spring on a plate.
Mamo feels somewhat like an Italian-American restaurant, but breezier. Lighter. Perhaps it can be explained by the history of the eatery.
Owner Mike Mammoliti comes from a line of restauranteurs. His grandfather left the South of Italy for the South of France, where his father grew up and opened the original Mamo in Antibes. Mike grew up working in his father’s restaurant, and his desire to follow in his family’s culinary roots brought him to New York. He spent nearly ten years working in the industry before deciding to bring Mamo to NYC in May of 2015.
Mammoliti brought in the renowned, Michelin-starred Italian chef Massimo Sola, who previously worked for Eataly in Rome, to spearhead a seasonally sourced, fresh menu that perfectly marries classic Italian and Provençal styles.
Our second dish was a rice croquette, a lighter, meatless cousin of the arancini. The perfectly crisp exterior gave way to red rice surrounding melty Chantal cheese. The hearty dish was balanced out by fresh radicchio, an olive, and a slice of tart-sweet orange.
Mamo is not showy because it doesn’t have to be. The food and the experience speak for themselves. The dishes are expertly prepared and the young staff, most in their mid-twenties, are committed to making sure each guest feels luxurious and at ease. For Mamo’s staff, this isn’t just a job—it is a passion, and they are eager to share their excitement about the experience with willing guests.
The third plate was a simple, balanced pasta dish with morsels of succulent lobster in a rich tomato sauce. My dining partner ordered a light and refreshing passion fruit cocktail. Although the dishes were seemingly dense, each hit the palette with a lightness that left us wondering what was coming next.
Between both of its locations, Mamo has a dedicated celebrity clientele, which allegedly include Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Adrien Brodie and George Clooney as repeat customers. Jon told us that a few loyal customers, who have frequented its French counterpart, have come to the New York location to dine for the first time already knowing the menu.
Our hosts made note of my friend’s preference for fish and prepared not one, but two delicious fish dishes— Branzino and wild-caught salmon. Jon brought out Branzino over a thick slice of roasted potato, dressed in a sauce of breadcrumbs, tomato and onion. He described it as the chef’s take on a traditional comfort food.
“This dish should be like sitting down to dinner with your grandmother,” he said, with a smile.
The fish was buttery and meaty, dressed in a stewed sauce. We were getting full, and Pierre and Jon teased us about not being able to finish the contents of our plates, like my Sicilian neighbors used to do when they invited me over for “sauce” with thick slices of homemade bread on Sundays.
The main course drew to a close with wild-caught salmon over a decadently creamy cauliflower purée, seasoned with a pinch of cinnamon that was noticeable only as an after-note.
We finished out the meal with dessert. A second round of Americanos preceded tiramisu and panna cotta with fresh cut berries and crushed biscotti. The tiramisu had layers of fluffy whipped mascarpone, hugging mouth-watering ladyfingers and dusted with a thin layer of bittersweet cocoa powder. Despite how full we were, we could not stop our forks from reaching for one more delectable bite.
We were not at all rushed as we we finished out our meal and prepared to be on our way. Jon insisted that we should come back during the dinner hour, when the upstairs dining room is open, changing the ambience and making for an even richer experience. Won over by the restaurant’s incredible food and charmed by the atmosphere, we promised we would.
Photographs by Hilary Ribons.