Run of the pasta mill

The pesto at Mamalaya’s is the chunkiest in town, and the portions are big.

The pesto at Mamalaya’s is the chunkiest in town, and the portions are big.

Photo By David Robert

Prolific film critic Roger Ebert, when asked which were more difficult to review, good films or bad films, replied something to the effect that, in fact, the most difficult movies to review are the mediocre ones. Good movies inspire, bad movies disgust, but mediocre movies simply pass the time. They might inspire a casual smile and probably satisfy all the basic requirements, but they won’t be remembered six months later.

Once again, dinner and the movies aren’t all that different. The best meals inspire a nearly religious sense of ecstasy, the worst meals usually end in illness, and the truly mediocre meals are pleasant and forgettable.

My dinner at Mamalaya’s Café Siciliana was just slightly better than the dreaded middle mark. The service definitely helped. Everyone was casual and personable. The servings were nice, really big and well-presented. The pasta was perfectly al dente. Prices are reasonable—the lunch bargains especially. A big plate of spaghetti with meat sauce is a good deal at $5.95. And Mamalaya’s is one of the few places in town where you can still get a bottomless cup of coffee for less then a buck (well, 95 cents). The décor, heavy on the checkerboard, was minimal but comfortable.

From the menu, you can choose the pasta of your liking, and there are a number of different sauce and meat options. I had the Pesto Funghi Pasta ($9.25, with soup or salad), mushrooms and pesto, with chicken over spaghetti. The pesto was fresh and chunky, but it tended to overwhelm the other, less remarkable, flavors. The chicken was especially lackluster.

My dining companion, Miranda, had the same problem. She had rigatoni with the Ligumi Alla Veneziano, Venetian-style vegetables, zucchini, cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, peppers, onions, lima beans and carrots with garlic and other seasonings. But that long list of vegetable flavors was overwhelmed by the seasonings.

“I like to be able to taste each of the individual vegetables,” she said, “and none of these vegetables taste very distinct.”

In a number of ways, décor especially, Mamalaya’s reminded me of Papa Joe’s Kitchen in South Reno, but Mamalaya’s doesn’t quite capture the charm of Papa Joe’s. The friendly, comfortable, home-cooked, family-run vibe is the same, but Mamalaya’s has less character, and the food isn’t quite as memorable (though the servings are bigger).

A serious problem with Mamalaya’s is that it does not serve alcohol—presumably because it is a new restaurant and does not yet have a liquor license—but the menu does boast that beer and wine will be “coming soon.” This will no doubt help raise spirits and further intensify the good-times vibe, as an Italian food place without wine is like a cake without icing, or a movie without popcorn.

Mamalaya’s is centrally located on Victorian Square, right next to the Sparks museum. So if you’re hanging out in downtown Sparks, and craving Italian food, you will do well to get your itch scratched at Mamalaya’s—and at a pretty good bargain—but I certainly wouldn’t list it as required Truckee Meadows dining.