MARCO POLO: It’s La Dolce Vita Downtown at this Italian eatery

 

It’s La Dolce Vita Downtown at this Italian eatery

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It’s always good when you have a nice authentic Italian restaurant in town. This is one of life’s simple axioms; when there’s a good Italian restaurant in town, life is just a little better. It relieves the ever-present worry of where to eat. Good Italian restaurant nearby? Problem of where to eat solved.

And what makes an Italian restaurant good is just as simple; a small menu with fresh ingredients. Nothing fancy, but the ingredients must be fresh and all the dishes must be prepared with care. Julia Child said it best; “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”

Oh and this restaurant must also have exquisite Cannoli. Cannoli that will transport you to southmp4ern
Italy where la dolce vita is the norm and Federico Fellini films play on a non-stop loop.

This simple philosophy of fresh food and sublime cannoli is the driving force behind one of Ocean City’s newest restaurants; Marco Polo Ristorante Italiano at 1151 Asbury Avenue. A clean, pleasantly-appointed eatery with good fresh pasta and a welcoming vibe. And excellent cannoli of course.

“I am here every day and I make everything fresh,” said Chef Franco Raimondo in an accent so thick I thought I may actually have been
transported to Calabria, Franco’s home town. “Pasta, pizza, meat, veal, fish, everything every day is fresh. And I hope to make happy people here in Ocean City.”

The explorer Marco Polo is often credited with bringing pasta to western civilization. Whether that’s true is debatable, but I, for one, am glad that Chef Franco has brought his menu to the OC.

mp6Chef Franco is almost as well travelled as Marco Polo, having left Italy at age 16 and travelling to Poland, and Amsterdam where over the course of almost three decades he owned and operated a number of restaurants. He arrived in Philadelphia 15 years ago and opened nine more restaurants before discovering Ocean City and deciding to open something here.

“I like it very well here and I hope that I stay here forever,” said Franco with a laugh.

So there we were; the whole crew including myself (Tony Stark), Captain Steve Rogers, Dr. Bruce Banner, Godzilla and the always awesome Pepper Potts. We’d heard about this new place in town from a friend and we wanted to check it out. We’re glad we did.

Right away we felt welcomed. That’s always a good start. First impressions count and our server Kay was polite, helpful and got us seated quickly. We were inside for this meal since the breeze in the OC was ever so brisk, but I couldn’t help notice the totally adorable al fresco scene. Twinkling lights, a warm summer breeze – that’s what summer in the OC is all about. But the inside of Marco Polo is warm and cozy so we settled in and eyed the menu.mp5

First up was garlic bread. And let me warn you, do not fill up on this delicious offering. It was so warm and fresh and buttery and yummy. We asked Kay to go back for two or three more baskets. The crew loved it.

The conversation flowed as we tried to decide on our meals. Another server, Sabrina, stopped by to offer her thoughts on the menu.

“The penne alla vodka is my go-to dish,” she said. “And I also like the chicken parm. But really, I think everything on the menu is good.”

Pepper Potts decided on the chicken parm. Kay offered any kind of pasta available as a side so Pepper chose the lemon pappardelle (pappardelle being a broad, flat noodle).

“The pasta is truly the star in this dish,” said Pepper. “That’s the first time I ever had a pasta with a lime zest and it was very good, very refreshing. The chicken was good too, but the pasta really shined.”

mp7Captain America ordered the spaghetti con polpette, which is spaghetti and meatballs. Meatballs seem simple, but they can be overlooked. The meatballs at Marco Polo had delicious flavor. The spaghetti was excellent. I like it when chefs combine the spaghetti and the sauce as opposed to ladling the sauce over the pasta. I think when it’s combined the flavor is better.

I ordered the tortelloni della nonna which was a truly tasty tortelloni with chopped tomatoes, asparagus, chicken and mozzarella topped with rucola (rucola is Italian for arugula). Tortelloni is the same as tortellini, but bigger. These were stuffed with cheese and finished with olive oil. The chicken was slightly overcooked, but this didn’t distract from the overall tastiness of the dish.

The Hulk ordered pizza and why not? Hulk is not an adventurous eater so he went with a Margherita pizza which is simply tomato, cheese and basil. Hulk gave it a thumbs up (although he was already quite full from the garlic bread). You’d better have good pizza if you’re going to operate in OC and we took this home and had it the next day for lunch. Winner.

“This pizza is a little different somehow – It’s hard to say how, but it seems to be a different style than what I normally get in Ocean City. It’s very good,” said Hulk.

And finally dessert. And here’s what Pepper Potts said – Pepper, who grew up in South Philadelphia and who knows Italian food better than most said that Marco Polo’s cannoli were possibly the best she ever tasted. Let that sink in. mp3

“The filling is so light and fresh,” said Pepper. “And the shell is perfectly crispy. And I’m from South Philly – I’ve had some of the best cannoli there is.”

While Chef Franco seems obsessed with the entire menu, I’m guessing he’s almost crazy about his cannoli. Because his cannoli are crazy good.

A very pleasant experience with reasonable prices, outdoor seating and superior cannoli. I’ll definitely return. Marco Polo was imprisoned, wrote a book, was released, and became a wealthy man when he returned to his hometown. I just want to return and get some more cannoli.

Buon Appetito!

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