115 W. Seltice Way
When Mom calls to invite you out to dinner and asks where you want to go, you might as well pick somewhere a little bit fancy. It was pointed out to me lately that I’ve covered multiple Chinese and Mexican joints, but I was totally lacking in the Italian cuisine department. The truth is that Italian restaurants are normally a little beyond the realm of my modest entertainment budget, so it’s fairly rare that I have the opportunity to visit them. So yesterday when my mother asked where we should eat - her treat - the first place that popped into my head was Italian eatery Mangia, one of the more recent entries into the exploding Post Falls fine dining scene.
Sometimes when I’m getting ready to investigate a new restaurant, I hit the internet and Google the name of the place to see what comes up. In the case of Mangia, the results were rather unpromising, even a little grim. The sadly no-longer-updated Spokane food review site “Taste Everything Once” features around a dozen customer reviews of the pasta place back before they relocated to Post Falls, when they had a short-lived stint at the Spokane Valley Mall. Comments range from “The worst meal I’ve had in years” to “For the sake of your stomach, stay away from this place.” Cruelest of all is “I would recommend that everybody avoid this place, save your money and buy a frozen microwavable meal, it will still be far better than what you will get at Mangia.” Ouch.
I like to keep an open mind, so I was willing to think they’d gotten their act together since then. Mangia owner Tim Mitchell, who is a 2003 Post Falls High graduate, decided to relocate the restaurant to his hometown earlier this summer. After enduring the madness of the Valley Mall in an ill-fated location directly between the restrooms and the cacophonous video arcade, the opportunity to open in a quiet, stand-alone building was too great to pass up. Mitchell and co-owners Josh Mitchell and Shawny Normington have transformed the tiny former A&W into a simple but quaint bistro, with rustic wooden floors and walls, dangling silk vines with purple grape clusters, wine-bottle candle holders and Sinatra-esque lounge music swinging in the background.
I was a little nervous about the experience after what I’d read on the web, especially since I didn’t want my dear mother to nitpick the place to death if things went sideways. Fortunately, everything was going very well – we were seated right away, and our amiable server Jessica took our drink order immediately. I was a little worried when my mom ordered a nice glass of Chilean white from the wine list and Jessica said “Um, let me make sure we have that kind…”, but she returned from the kitchen immediately, unflustered, glass of wine in hand. Whew. Sometimes I get too excited by the small things in life, but I was totally jazzed that they had Splenda packets for my iced tea instead of just the icky stuff in the pink packets. Very few places actually give you the option.
We focused our attention on the menu. Mangia features a fairly standard line up of Italian fare like Spaghetti with three meatball choices, a variety of Raviolis, Lasagna, and Chicken Marsala. Some of the more unique dishes offered include the Chicken Picatta with Lemon Caper Cream Sauce, Pesto & Prawn Toretellinis, and Tomato Basil Salmon. Dinner menu items here typically run in the $12-20 price range, but the lunch menu includes a wide selection of tempting Italian classics for well under ten bucks. A full range of appetizers and homemade desserts are available as well, and they serve an unusual selection of European beers with unpronounceable names. The wine list isn’t the most extensive I’ve ever seen, but the selection is interesting enough to satisfy all but the haughtiest of sommeliers.
I have a major thing for Seafood Fettucini. If I go to a place and I see it on the menu, I just have to try it. I’ve eaten Seafood Fettucini in dozens of restaurants over the years and every place does it a little different, which makes it fun since you never know exactly what you’ll get. It took me approximately three seconds to locate it on the Mangia menu and I was ready to order. My mom said she wasn’t really hungry for anything big, but temptation won and she decided the Eggplant Parmesan sounded too mouth-watering to pass up.
When Jessica came to take our order, my mom actually asked her “would you recommend the Eggplant Parmesan?” and she replied perkily “oh yes, definitely!” I think it’s so funny when people do that because what if she’d said something like “Oh God no, that stuff is disgusting!” I mean, of course she’s going to recommended it. “Miss, would you recommend the Chewy Lizard Spleen in Vodka-Bubblegum sauce?” “Oh yes, definitely!”
Our meals were off to an impressive start with our salads, which were brought out immediately and with a smile. These Caesar salads seemed like the real deal, made very simply with crisp romaine bits coated in a dressing that tasted like it had been made on the spot with raw egg, anchovies and all, then sprinkled with coarse tangy parmesan and fresh croutons. I’ll admit I was especially famished when I arrived here at Mangia, but this was probably the most delicious Caesar salad I’ve had in ages, and my mother must have agreed since she finished hers off nearly as fast as I did.
Our main dishes arrived moments later, along with a steaming basket of pull-apart bread. Jessica poured some herbal-infused olive oil onto a small plate for dipping our soft bread chunks and left us to dig in. Alfredo sauce can be tough to pull off well. It’s no good if it’s not white enough, ending up too buttery and thin. It’s even worse if it’s too white, thick and pasty and bland. Mangia got it exactly right, incorporating either a light white wine or a bit of lemon juice to provide the perfect rich flavor and consistency. Also impressive was the variety of sea creatures swimming within amongst the delectable noodles – huge bits of clam, large shrimp, sweet scallops and even round calamari slices.
My mother can be a little on the hypercritical side when it comes to dining out, but happily she declared her Eggplant Parmesan to be fully luscious. It certainly looked good, a massive portion of the main dish accompanied by a pile of curly macaroni noodles drenched in chunky marinara sauce. However, she gave up after just a few bites, saying she really wasn’t that hungry after all. She must have read my mind when she offered to let me take the huge leftover portion home for later.
After I dropped her off, I noticed the wonderful rich aroma of the leftovers was permeating my car and making me totally hungry all over again. When I went to leave again a few hours later, the food scent in my car was still strong as ever, even though I’d tucked the actual to-go box away in the fridge. Even in slumber, the smell continued to haunt my mind. I had the strangest dream that I was hired as the new drummer for a Motley Crue tribute band and I could actually play! We had a gig in (where else) an Italian restaurant and everybody there was gorging on delicious Eggplant Parmesan. I woke up suddenly and blearily went to the fridge, popped the white carton into the microwave and finished the thing off at 3:39 a.m. Even reheated, it was delicious. I’m not usually a fan of red sauce, but it was just the right amount of tangy and really brought out the earthy flavor and meaty texture of the eggplant.
The owners of Mangia must have taken the complaints regarding their Valley Mall incarnation to heart and worked toward avoiding the same pitfalls in Post Falls. Both my mother and I found the food to be fine enough to garner a return visit next time we have relatives in town, and the friendly service gave us nothing to grumble about. If they can keep up the good work, they’ll surely become another distinguished River City destination dining spot.