Munch goes to Carbonara's

Dear One of Munch, while generally a reliable, live-in dining companion, was being difficult this week.

Munch suggested dinner at Cocina Mendoza, a Mexican restaurant in Castle Shannon. DOOM, grumbling, agreed to accompany Munch for a free meal, but made it clear that driving to the South Hills was of no interest to DOOM on a Sunday night.

When Munch and DOOM arrived at Cocina Mendoza, in a strip mall on Mt. Lebanon Boulevard, there was a hand-written sign in the door indicating that the restaurant would be closed for a few days for vacation.

Munch sighed and pulled out iPhone of Munch to consult the Yelp app for nearby restaurants. DOOM, too cool for the Yelp app, declined to consult "the rabble" for a restaurant suggestion.

After a bit of non-Yelp iPhone fiddling, DOOM suggested a restaurant called Carbonara's, conveniently located in an adjacent strip mall. Munch confirmed that Carbonara's had four decent reviews on Yelp, not that DOOM cared in the slightest.

DOOM was apparently trying to crash into parked vehicles to express dismay over the 30-minute drive to Mt. Lebanon, and after a few near-misses and two honks to drive about 400 feet, DOOM parked outside of Carbonara's.

The inside of the Italian restaurant is lined with tables and booths and mostly decorated in shades of beige. DOOM declined the booth and instead suggested we sit at the bar. Munch went along with the plan, not wanting to exacerbate DOOM's curmudgeonly tendencies.

The bartender came over to take our drink order at a highboy table near the bar. Munch asked for water and a glass of the house cabernet, DOOM went with the house pinot noir.

While waiting for the wine, we agreed that greens and beans ($7.50) would be a sensible appetizer. Our drinks arrived, and DOOM said, "We'd like to start with greens and ..." as the bartender walked away.

Soon, though, greens and beans were placed in front of us. The bartender wasn't big on communication, but we got our food, so DOOM -- though trying very, very hard -- couldn't really complain.

Sadly for DOOM (but good for Munch), the beans were tossed with little bits of bacon, so DOOM declined. The flatbread that accompanied the beans satisfied DOOM while Munch devoured the bacon-laced vegetables and legumes.

The menu is large and featured everything from pizza and calzones and hoagies to veal parmesan and seafood marinara and salads. For entrees, Munch ordered angel hair with marinara sauce ($9.75) and DOOM, having missed out on the bacon, went with the heart-healthy fettuccine Alfredo ($11.50). Salad and garlic bread came with both meals.

As soon as Munch finished the beans, our implacable bartender delivered the salads and garlic bread.

DOOM declared that the garlic bread was not as good as the garlic bread DOOM makes at home. Munch pointed out that Carbonara's garlic bread wasn't burnt, which was a nice change for Munch.

DOOM, having only consumed bread and lettuce, didn't have high hopes for our entrees. A self-proclaimed food snob (and, in Munch's opinion, an all-around snob), DOOM wasn't optimistic about the quality of food from a strip-mall Italian restaurant.

Our salads were quietly whisked away by the bartender and replaced with gigantic portions of pasta.

Like, laughably huge portions of pasta. Munch commented that Carbonara's either needs to get bigger bowls or serve less pasta. DOOM snobbishly commented that Americans expect huge portions and if they got bigger bowls they'd just have to serve more pasta.

DOOM's snobbery was silenced, however, upon tasting the Alfredo.

DOOM said the pasta was al dente, the Alfredo was delicious and the sauce-to-pasta ratio was appropriate.

Munch's pasta was tasty, as well. We both had less than one-third of our pasta before giving up and asking for takeout containers.

The bartender, in the first legitimate conversation of the evening, chided us for eating so little, but brought us containers for pasta and foil for bread.

DOOM, for all of the grumbling and moaning and complaining, got a great dinner (and the next day's lunch) out of our trip to the South Hills.

Next time we venture south, though, Munch will definitely drive.


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