Maggiano's Little Italy
10455 NE 8th St
Bellevue WA 98004
A Sure Crowd Pleaser in the Heart of Bellevue
By: Grant Y
Situated on the ground floor of Lincoln Square, Maggiano's claims one of downtown Bellevue's prime locations, while competing alongside neighboring chain restaurants such as Palamino (previously Manzana), McCormick and Schmick's, Ruth's Chris, P.F. Chang's and Cheesecake Factory. Maggiano's lists over 40 locations nationwide on its website and is also owned by the same company that operates Chili's and Romano's Macaroni Grill.
Maggiano's sports a seating capacity of well over a hundred and close to double that if you include the bar area and private rooms. As a result, it's hard not be impressed by the expansive dining area and detail oriented interiors. From the black and white tiled floor in the lobby to the high ceilings, it appears it was designed with purpose [and utility] in mind. Lighting is dimmed, setting off the globes of candlelight atop the red and white checkered tablecloths. Meanwhile, scores of vintage black and white photographs lit by green lamp fixtures add a nostalgic charm. Booths are amply-sized and raised, curved in retro, half-crescent style and feature plush, black leather seating. The only thing that Maggino's lacks is the Godfather soundtrack playing in the background and Uncle Tony and Jimmy scheming at the bar.
The menu of Maggiano's is a varied cross-section of Italian cuisine, with a focus on pastas. A claim made on the menu says that the kitchen makes everything from scratch, which may be a reason for the pasta focus. The menu also presents a list of over a dozen appetizers, with mostly popular items along the lines of calamari, mozzarella sticks and bruschetta. We went ahead with the Crispy Zucchini Frittes ($5.95) and Stuffed Mushrooms ($11.95) for our starters.
The entres consist of large list of salads, pastas, chicken, baked specialties, steaks, and chops. Maggiano's also offers an interesting "family style" format that is one part prix fixe and one part buffet, offering diners a choice of two salads, pastas, entrees and desserts with unlimited refills for $27.95. Robin went for popular the Eggplant Parmesan ($10.75), Steve opted for the Linguine and Clams in Red Sauce ($13.75), Bryan the Chicken Saltimbocca ($13.75) and I decided on the Baked Ziti with Sausage ($10.95). Note: Our dishes reflect lunch menu prices; dinner generally has higher prices as well as larger portions.
Our impression of the food was overall quite positive. The frittes were a bit heavy on the batter, but made up for it with their comically large sized portions. We thought the mushrooms were quite a mouthful, if not a bit rich. Both Steve and Bryan had favorable, if not outstanding reviews for their dishes, while I was happy with my baked ziti, which was a simple but heartily pleasant dish. The only under performer was Robin's eggplant, which was cooked well but didn't stand out particularly. Everyone was in agreement however that portion sizes at Maggiano's are staggering--it's the Claim Jumper of Italian restaurants, if you will.
Service was quick and warm, though rather uncoordinated at times. We had seemingly four to five different servers and runners helping us at any one time, which had us thinking that a shift change had taken place--except that it hadn't. We reasoned the quick pace was necessitated by the short time allocated to most Bellevue workers for lunch. For a slower dining experience, dinner is likely the better bet.
The end result is that we can't help but like Maggiano's. Sure, the atmosphere is a bit over the top, the menu is rather formulaic, the portions come in clown sizes and the service is praised for its Filipino shoe factory efficiency. BUT--and I do mean this in caps--Maggiano's does each of these to such quality assurance standards, that it sets the bar for what national chain restaurants can hope to achieve. What Maggiano's does, it does well, and we congratulate them for that.
With thick pieces of zucchini, deep-fried and breaded, how can you go wrong with this appetizer? Some might say it's a little too greasy, but hey--what deep-fried dish isn't very oily? I was a little disappointed by the lemon aioli as it tasted a little tame, but unlike some of the other guys, I definitely recommend the dish as a starter. The stuffed mushrooms came in a portion of about eight or nine pieces, each containing some breading mixed with herbs and spinach. I wasn't a big fan of the dish as it just didn't seem do it for me. Great as a companion appetizer, but I don't think it's as great on its own.
The linguini and clams was pretty much straightforward with linguini pasta and baked clams in a choice of red or white sauce. I opted for the red sauce as it's not as thick and heavy as the white. Maggiano's apparently believes in big portions and the linguini is no exception. The pasta on its own was pretty good, nicely cut and reasonably fresh. I would have liked a few more clams in the dish as it seemed to be lacking in that department. It was wasn't a heavy meal by any stretch of the imagination, so I would recommend it for people with a lighter appetite.
Maggliano's was a bit of a let-down for me. The grand interior seems to promise grand cuisine, but in the end, I felt like I had been to slightly fancier version of the Olive Garden. The appetizers-stuffed mushrooms and crispy zucchini fritte-were unnecessarily oily and heavy. The zucchini in particular was oily to the point of gross-fried food is fun, but after a few bites it was overwhelming, with far more fried batter than actual zucchini.
The eggplant parmesan was okay, but I found it to be on the bland side and seemingly aiming for a mass-market suite of tastes-ones that yield instant gratification, like salty and oily/fatty from the cheese and fried breading on the eggplant slices. I would have preferred a little more complexity of flavor.
The dish was made with several layers of breaded eggplant and provolone cheese and topped with a simple tomato sauce and bit of chopped basil. The tomato sauce had an almost completely uniform, pured texture, which seemed if anything to only have a slightly oregano-y tinge to it. Too much pure tomato flavor bite after bite is a little off-putting to me. The eggplant was actually cooked very well, which is not always easy to do--to the Maggliano's credit, this one was just right. Lastly, the portion was just enormous-almost too much so, as I could barely finish half even when pretty hungry. I would much rather have been offered half-portions for around half the price, rather than having to get the gigantic portion.
Big is the name of the game at Maggiano's. The zucchini fritte went from tasty to oppressive in the span of five bites. At one point I bit into the fritte and was startled to discover that there was only this tiny thin ribbon of green sandwiched between a batter so thick and oily that it could be confused for some type of carnival fare. I like deep-fried goodness as much as the next person, but too much is too much. On the other hand, the stuffed mushrooms and their combination of parmesan, spinach and olive oil flavors were certainly enjoyable.
For my main dish, I ordered a chicken saltimbocca, a classic Italian dish made of chicken breast topped with prosciutto and provolone cheese and served in a wine sauce. Although the cheese and prosciutto brought many savory flavors to the dish, the chicken was overcooked, dry and tough. And like the chicken, the prosciutto was also overcooked to such an extent that you could easily mistake it for bacon. Sweet like molasses, the sauce carried the flavors of onions and garlic and fortified the chicken with a powerful taste. The side of fettuccini alfredo was decent but it was clear that the pasta was slightly aged [had sat around for a bit]. All in all, the meal was decent but not fantastic.
Like everyone else, I thought the zucchini was a bit too thick on the batter, considering the slices were quite skinny to begin with. Otherwise, execution on the dish was on the spot, with a crisp batter and a choice of lemon aioli sauce that complimented well.
I've had various versions of baked ziti before, but Maggiano's version was made with pasta tubes, Italian sausage and baked with a sweet tomato sauce and mozzarella cheeses. The pasta tubes were cooked al dente and had a favorable chewy texture. I thought the sausage was fatty and generously worked into the dish, while the tomato sauce had a touch of sweetness to it. The mozzarella cheese was enjoyably stringy and added a cohesion to the dish. The baked ziti isn't a complex dish, but it's well done and perfectly enjoyable.
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