Mangia Salinas

Truffle infused gorgonzola cream sauce.

It’s an arresting line to see on a menu. In the wrong hands it could become a knock down drag out match with the two hard punching flavors tag-teaming to pummel everything else on the plate before turning on each other.

Yet there is a narrow and teetering space where all are content to live in convivial harmony. Over al dente cushions of gnocchi, truffle oil and cheese lend a sharp yet earthy and muggy savor that is at once luxurious and fundamental—a combination that speaks in a comforting tone.

The dish is Gnocchi di Andrea at Mangia on Main Street in Salinas, a restaurant that opened quietly in November and quickly became a sensation by adhering to a basic but (for many) elusive mantra.

“Everything is better when it’s made right,” explains Anna Altomare, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband and chef, Nuccio.

Nuccio Altomare can so readily find those slots where flavors come into tune thanks to his expert hand with sauces and soups, where layering of flavors is so important. But the technique carries over to other dishes throughout the menu.

Even a classic bruschetta, so often bullied by tomatoes, is orchestrated deftly. Behind—but in step with—the juicy fruit comes a hiss of garlic, the spearmint and pepper tone of basil measured by olive oil and the sweet charisma of balsamic vinegar.

There is a lot going on for such a basic plate.

“We’ve always wanted to do a simple menu based on fresh ingredients,” Anna Altomare says.

It’s a familiar and comforting list, from rustic garlic bread to a salad of roasted beets and ricotta to paninis and entrees like chicken parmigiana. They offer daily specials and try to take advantage of seasonal ingredients. In the spring and summer the menu will change up a bit as new items come available.

The couple sought out old family recipes from mothers and grandmothers, aunts and cousins to form the core of the menu.

“We’re just doing food we grew up with, the way we were taught,” Anna Altomare points out.

She grew up in the restaurant world. Her family has owned the popular Gino’s for something like four decades. Nuccio Altomare was more intent on playing soccer in Italy until the couple moved to Salinas and he went to work in the family restaurant.

“Now it’s his life,” Anna says with a laugh.

They’ve escaped the opening hiccups—almost. The outside sign to help people locate the place still hasn’t arrived. However, even that hasn’t been an issue. Mangia tends to be packed, lunch and dinner.

“Downtown is so positive,” Altomare observes. “It’s been a great response.”

Mangia—Eat On Main is at 328 Main St. in oldtown Salinas. 256-2170

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