Prix Fixe Perfection at MAMA OaklandDec 16, 2022 12:41PM ● By Fran Miller
BY FRAN ENDICOTT MILLER
It’s common these days that restaurant entrees hover in the $30 and over range, so when an eatery offers three courses for that price, it’s worth taking notice. Especially when the options are as delicious as those at MAMA Oakland, where $36.95 gets you a choice of appetizer, entrée, and dessert, each made and served with heart and soul evocative of the Italian grandmother for whom the restaurant is named.
MAMA honors co-owner Stevie Stacionis’s old-school, Italian-American grandmother Maria Germano Stacionis who emigrated to Illinois from the Abruzzo region of Italy. Mama, as she was known, radiated the same hospitable warmth that MAMA Oakland well replicates. Her welcoming spirit flows through the linear restaurant that’s softly illuminated by Tiffany-esque chandeliers that create shadow-effect art on walls adorned with portraits of Mama herself. (A small parklet out front, warmed with heaters, offers views of Lake Merritt.) The vibe is convivial, and is matched by service that is casually elegant.
MAMA Oakland is the epitome of its Michelin recognition as a Bib Gourmand restaurant— a friendly establishment serving good food at moderate prices. The options may not be plentiful, but between the two selections within each of the three courses, and the varied ‘add-ons,’ most palates are satiated. Chef Priscilla Przygocki’s menu changes frequently, based on what’s in season, and always includes a sugo of braised beef and pork (a Stacionis family recipe), which she creatively embellishes from week to week. On this visit, the rich tomato-braised sauce came in the form of Bucatini & Sugo with burrata and a Calabrian chili oil kick. The second pasta choice (always a vegetarian option) was a delicate yet filling Pappardelle & Mushroom Ragu with charred broccoli rabe, cippolini marmalade and salsa verde.
Starter choices included a Kale & Roasted Parsnip Salad with Brussels sprouts, preserved lemon, focaccia croutons and cacio e pepe dressing, and Mama’s Chicken Soup, rich and herbaceous with bits of butternut squash, theatrically poured tableside from a white porcelain pitcher. For those whose appetites exceed the appropriately sized portions, ‘add-ons’ include House-Made Focaccia, served with mascarpone cheese dip, and MAMA’s Beef & Pork Meatballs, plated on a bed of fresh tomato sauce. Two additional entrees, at supplemental cost, are also always offered. On this visit: Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb, and Cioppino. Dessert options included a decadent Ice Cream Sandwich with chocolate chip cookies, peppermint bark gelato, and marshmallow, and a Sugar Dusted Bombolini with lemon ricotta and orange-saffron agrodolce.
Stacionis, a certified sommelier, and her husband and co-owner Josiah Baldivino, himself an advanced somm, also own Bay Grape wine shop just down the street and in Napa, so it stands to reason that the MAMA wine options are more than stellar. The vast list of by-the-glass, mostly Italian options includes staff descriptions: “Floral and soft. Plush and smooth. Makes your body move,” says Stacionis of a 2018 Davide Spillare, Rosso Giaroni from Venice. Four additional easily navigable pages include numerous selections of well-priced, under-the-radar bottles, each listed with fun tasting notes.
Stacionis and Baldivino opened MAMA during a particularly tenuous time in the hospitality industry, only to close for one full year during the heart of Covid. That MAMA is filled nightly, and that such a professional and welcoming team are so dedicated to their jobs is illustrative of the commitment the duo is making to their endeavor. Mama would be proud.
MAMA Oakland, 855 Grand Ave.
Street parking is plentiful.