“ Several locations throughout Mexico. „
Mexican food, proper Mexican food as opposed to that Tex Mex stuff, is not all that vegetarian. That's how I justify the fact that I live in Mexico and, um, eat Italian food. A lot. Italiannis is a restaurant chain here that is owned by WalMart, which is a little random, though WalMart own quite a few places here including another supermarket chain, some clothes stores, and VIPS restaurants. As the name would suggest, Italiannis is the Italian Restaurant part of the "family".
~~ Ambience ~~
"Buongiorno", chirped the hostess as we arrived last night. As my 4th language of the day, she just got a muttered "Buongiorno" in return before I go into Spanish. She then asked my name, as she or her colleagues have every time I've been to any of the local branches. I try to spell it for her "Zeta, oh ay" and she things I'm called "Shazay". Whoops. Then another hostess shows us to our table in the back, and hands over menus. One is, as requested, in English, since Big Sis doesn't speak a whole lot of Spanish. Every Italiannis branch has English menus, but I'm not sure how many they stock.
Knowing that I will be writing this, I make Big Sis look round and tell me if she could imagine she was in a real Italian trattoria, since she's been to Italy more recently than I have. Green and white, and red and white tablecloths, check (though in an authentic place, these probably wouldn't be plastic). Cute little wooden balcony, check. Trailing green plants, bringing the outdoors indoors, check. Yes, they've certainly tried, and they've done a good job too. It's a sweet little place that doesn't feel too much like a chain. The only thing missing is....forks. We just don't have them on our table, a sign that they've cleared and re-set in a hurry. We solve this by stealing from the (unoccupied) table next to us, since just at that moment I cannot seem to catch our waiter's eye. And also because I don't really know the Spanish word for "fork"...
~~ Service ~~
Once we're seated, our nominated waiter for the evening comes over. He picks up the card the hostess left and greets me as "Senorita Zoë" (Spanish...not Italian), which he maintains for the rest of our meal. He brings over bread and starts to prepare the standard Italiannis offering of herb infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar, though having been here before I ask him to skip the latter, since I prefer my olive oil virgin. The bread basket includes three slices of focaccia, and one slice of farmhouse bread. Interestingly when I last came here, on my own, my bread basked was fuller, with three slices of each. In most places in Mexico bread (and often tortilla chips) are free, but here there is a cover charge, of 13 pesos per person for this, which seems a little unfair since they don't give you more if there are more people. Unless, note to self, they don't expect you to necessarily eat it all and I've given British girls a band name by devouring the lot on my solo visits.
We order drinks, and then food. Because we're pressed for time, I ask for everything to come together, but the waiter explains Big Sis's pizza will take at least 15 minutes, so we decide to have the garlic bread first. This arrives after 10 minutes and is warm but not hot. The main courses come about 10 minutes later, so service is good. The only thing I don't like is that after I've gobbled my food and Big Sis is still chewing carefully, they come and clear my pasta bowl and side plate away, so I'm left with nothing in front of me and it looks like I'm just watching her eat. When I used to waitress we had a rule that you must never start to clear a table until everyone had finished.
~~ The Food ~~
Italiannis has a good but not overly extensive menu that includes antipasti, salads and soups, pizzas and pastas. They also have puddings to die for but I never have enough room left, so one of these days I will be making a trip exclusively for chocolate cake and diet Coke (which, like a Big Mac and diet coke, cancel each other out calorie-wise, y'know?) They have a reasonable vegetarian selection, but don't have a "Mexican" corner of the menu as many places here do, so if you're trying to stick to local cuisine during your trip, do not let anyone talk you into coming here.
The warm-but-not-hot garlic bread was massive and could easily have fed 4 people as a side dish. It reminded me of the sort Deep Pan Pizza used to serve, but was one long baton rather than several smaller pieces. It's rare to find garlic bread in Mexico, so I had to try it, and it was nice and garlicky but not so over powering that no one would sit next to us in the cinema an hour later. My pasta was beautifully cooked, which is not always the case here since lots of non-Italian places try to offer pasta on their menus, but don't do it well. It reminded me of Bella Italia at home, another chain Italian restaurant, but one that serves up good food. I was especially pleased to get fresh parmesan, grated for me at the table, since this is a rarity here, and last time I came I didn't even get offered cheese. Big Sis's pizza was, "not Italian, but very nice. Kind of like a nicer version of a UK frozen pizza. But you could definitely taste the 4 cheeses on it". On the table we had a pot of herbs (identical to those you get in Pizza/Pasta Hut) and also rather randomly "Salsa Inglesa" (aka English sauce...actually Worcester sauce).
Drinks here include all the usual named brands, and for soft drinks cans and fountain drinks cost the same which is unusual for Mexico, but also unusually they don't offer free refills on the latter. They offer a range of wines, and the wine list comes in rather a novel way, wrapped round a bottle of wine that's sitting on your table when you arrive.
The prices are reasonable for ex-pats but sorta high for Mexico where you can eat a full meal from a street stand for 70p. However, you always pay more for sitting in a restaurant, and I do like this place. Since I arrived each month they have been running a variation of the same offer, which includes a soup or salad, plus pasta or pizza, plus a soft drink, for 99 pesos (£5 currently). Last night this offer wasn't on (it's week-day only) and we paid 211 pesos (£10.50) in total for two drinks, a pizza and a pasta, the garlic bread and the two cover charges.
~~ Verdict ~~
I'm not quite sure how to classify this place, since it is a sit down restaurant than has all the characteristics of a general nondescript pizza chain, but somehow is a nice place to eat. The food has been excellent every time I've gone but then my definition of excellent may have changed after 5 months here, and 8 years since I lived in Italy. The staff here are great, if a little over-eager with the whole plate-clearing thing. I like to request my pasta in a special way, and they've never had any problem accommodating me. The setting is nice, and the prices are fine for the odd, ok, monthly trip. Recommended should you ever find yourselves craving Bella Italia in Mexico
Italian pasta, pizza and wine.