For this month's installment of Bites by Design, we venture into a French Riviera gem that has put down roots in New York City.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in Antibes, France, there is a now-legendary eatery called MAMO Le Michelangelo. Opened in 1992, the upscale establishment has since become a jewel of the French Riviera, and a favored hotspot for the many celebrities who flock to the area for the Cannes Film Festival. After 23 years of European success, the restaurant set its sights on New York.
This May, a South of France inspired MAMO outpost opened doors in SoHo, offering the same authentic Italian cuisine and exceptional service of its counterpart.
“I fell in love with this space because it’s a little townhouse,” explains Mike Mamo as we cast an eye around MAMO's airy reception area. Mike, the son of MAMO Le Michelangelo founder Herve Mammoliti, moved to New York specifically to open the Big Apple eatery. “As much as a townhouse is historical of SoHo and New York, you’ll also find them in the South of France,” he continues, leading us towards the first floor bar.
It was important to Mike to find ways to imbue the space with that languorous feeling of dining at home. Having grown up in the restaurant business and learned the art of hospitality from his father, Mike says he recognizes how far being convivial goes towards making guests want to return.
The downstairs seating area reflects this ethos, providing an enticing balance of rich, warm hues and bright, cheery accents. Dark wood floors are juxtaposed by white walls and ceiling beams, and a row of mirrors has been strategically placed along both sides of the space to open up the lounge area and reflect the smiling faces of patrons. Below the mirrors, supple chestnut-tone booths sprawl from wall to wall, and are complemented by a series of Italian marble tables that are staggered to delineate seating sections. Framed between the booth setup is a small bar with reflective shelving and marble countertops.
“I wanted everything to be clean and light and inviting,” Mike tells us as we make our way towards the stairs. Here, hand-painted tile mosaics brighten the walk to the upper dining area while drawing the mind to faraway coastal locales. A series of mirrors also lines the staircase, an effect Mike says helps to take diner minds off of the back and forth trek.
Upstairs, we're immediately greeted by a picnic style wooden table that has been decorated with a bouquet of aromatic lavender sprigs. It stands out from the rest of the dining area as it lacks the formal white table clothes and cream-toned, custom-built leather chairs that surround the smaller seating clusters. "I like to do presentations here,” Mike says, indicating to the lavender-bedecked table. “I do pies, bread and sometimes flowers and fruits.” Fittingly, a freshly-cut flower arrangement or basket of home-baked bread is just the kind of thing we’d expect to find in someone's summer beach home.
The actual table settings establish a similar tone, with fresh bunches of cherry tomatoes and jaunty lemons making colorful (and edible) centerpieces. “This is service to me,” Mike says of these seemingly small efforts. “It's when you have the top quality of olive oil and pepper at the table, these are things people appreciate. If you’re waiting you can just get some tomatoes and olive oil and pepper, and that’s done.”
Yet even with the goal of fine dining level hosting in mind, Mike says that he believes in balance, and it shows. For every decadent detail, there is something warm and comforting that brings the space back down to earth, and prevents it from alienating guests with too much grandiosity. For instance, the upstairs bar is made from one of the finest Italian marbles on the market, yet above it, intentionally aged wooden beams inject a sense of rusticity.
Further warmth is provided by the presence of white-washed, exposed brick--a very New York touch--and patinated Venetian plastered walls. Mike, who is also an amateur collector of old movie posters, has strategically placed some of his most treasured antiquities throughout the restaurant. It's a charming touch that works to transport guests to another time and place.
MAMO's Italian influenced menu follows in the same vein as the restaurant's design sensibility. Though it emphasizes classic dishes, many of which are adapted from Mike's own family recipes, there is always a curveball; some unexpected addition that brings a guilt-inducing level of richness to the fore. The man responsible for such palette pleasing plates as the nearly $40 truffle and foie gras burger is none other than Chef Massimo Sola, who counts stints at Eataly in Rome among the highlights of his resume.
Let's just say neither Sola nor Mike is afraid of truffles. This is evidenced in yet another dish we were all too happy to sample: the Raviolini al tartufo. So truffle-heavy was this plate, the actual pasta was buried under what can only be described as a mushroom mountain. Starters like the Calamari alla provenzale do bring things back into perspective, once again playing into the idea of decadence juxtaposing comfort. For its part, the dish is light, flavorful and cleansing--especially with a splash of lemon and olive oil.
Perhaps most representative of MAMO’s family spirit is the portrait of Mike’s grandfather, which hangs prominently over the hostess station. “When you see that photo,” Mike says, “that’s how I grew up: simple and with authenticity. That’s what this restaurant means to me."