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Mambo Italiano serves traditional fare with gusto

The zuppdi pesce boasts shrimp squid mussels clams atop atop bed linguini. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Mediphotos

The zuppa di pesce boasts shrimp, squid, mussels and clams atop atop a bed of linguini. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media photos

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MAMBO
ITALIANO ★½

748 S. Butterfield Rd., Mundelein

(847) 281-9100;

themamboitaliano.com

Prices: Appetizers, $8-$11; entrees, $16-$29; pasta,
$13-$19. Desserts: $4-$7. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday;
4-10 p.m. Sunday

Try: Four-cheese pasta appetizer, zuppa di pesce and tartufo classico.

Tips: Reservations requested on weekends or for groups of five or more. Live entertainment on Fridays. Family friendly. Full bar service. Free parking.

In a bite: Mambo Italiano offers north suburban diners exposure to a wide selection of traditional Italian dishes in a comfortable setting.

KEY:
★★★★Extraordinary; ★★★Excellent;
★★ Very Good; ★ Good;
Zero stars: Poor

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Updated: January 31, 2012 8:05AM



Given Italy’s widespread culinary influence, it goes without saying that finding a restaurant in this neck of the woods specializing in the cuisine is a snap. The trick, of course, is locating a good one with a kitchen where quality trumps convenience.

Mambo Italiano, in north suburban Mundelein, is worth noting — and not because of any cutting-edge to its menu. Rather, the eight-year-old restaurant, owned and operated by Salvatore and Briana Cardone, offers diners a broad menu of classic Italian fare and a staff that recognizes the importance of conscientious service.

Tradition is a common thread on the menu, where diners encounter appetizers such as bruschetta, fried or grilled calamari and Pizza alla Margherita and entrees (pasta, veal, chicken and fish) that include homemade lasagna, chicken cacciatore, veal limone and seafood risotto.

The food is fairly priced, with entrees, which come with soup (minestrone or soup of the day) or a house salad and a choice of pasta or potatoes, ranging in price from $16 to $29. There’s full bar service and a diverse wine list heavily skewed toward Italian vintages.

Mambo’s four-cheese appetizer featured three fried ravioli stuffed with a delightful blend of Fontinella, asiago, ricotta and mozzarella and topped with a tasty tomato sauce. Another popular and decidedly shareable starter available was arancini, fried breaded rice balls the size of billiard balls with a filling of prosciutto, peas, ground beef, mozzarella and romano cheese.

The restaurant turns out a decent zuppa di pesce, a Neapolitan specialty that brought together shrimp, squid, mussels and clams atop a bed of linguine. The seafood was sauteed in olive oil, white wine and garlic, and the dish was fine. Add a little more garlic, and it would have been perfect.

Slightly less interesting was the vitello Marsala. Despite good texture to the pan-fried veal medallions, they were swimming in Marsala wine sauce; it was too much of a good thing. The flavorful roasted potato wedges that accompanied were a bright spot.

Looking for other options? Among alternatives were parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant topped with meat or marinara sauce and baked with mozzarella), chicken or veal vesuvio, tilapia in a lemon-butter sauce, and grilled New York strip steak.

The dessert menu held no surprises, its range encompassing tiramisu, cannoli, chocolate cake and spumoni, among other familiar confections.

With our coffee we split a tartufo classico, chocolate gelato embedded with a zabaglione center coated with crushed hazelnuts and dusted with cocoa powder — a pleasing, if predictable, treat.

Though the 150-seat Mambo Italiano is tucked in a strip mall, its decorating scheme — that of an Italian villa with textured arches and artwork reminiscent of Italy’s rich culture — effectively creates a Mediterranean mindset. Lighting is soothing and the white linen-covered tablecloths topped with butcher paper further enhance the atmosphere.

Thomas Witom is a local free-lance writer.



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