For Surf or Turf, Marinaccio's is Unpredictable, Intriguing

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Marinaccio's Steak & Seafood
5877 Main St., Williamsville NY 14221
Web: Marinaccio's Steak & Seafood
Phone: 716.633.7755
Rating:    [learn more]

A substantially American restaurant set up as a fine dining establishment, with good overall food quality and friendly service. Some menu items are impressively better or different than might initially be expected.


Some dishes, including gimmes such as soups and salads, aren't executed as well as they should be. Wait staff is seemingly overburdened and service is a little underwhelming as a result. Prices are a bit too high; coupons are seriously recommended.

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"While the overall experience was good, we both agreed that the place merited something between 2.5- and 3-star ratings; given the prices, there should be no disappointments."

During the many years we drove past this place on Main Street, we knew it as The Little White House - a large, imposing, and historic restaurant that we'd never actually visited. But in 2003, the building was renovated and took on the name of its new owner, becoming Marinaccio's, a similarly American fare-focused steak & seafood restaurant. We were impressed enough by the place's Lebanese Shish Kebab with Couscous at last year's Taste of Williamsville that we knew we'd eventually return for a full meal here; this week, we finally got our chance. Updated January 22, 2010: Marinaccio's has closed permanently.

There was a brief initial disappointment: though it was there when we last looked months ago, the Shish Kebab was nowhere to be found on the current menu, which appears to have been pared down. Now, there are 25 choices - plus two specials - spread across a two-column single page that's been split into four sections: salads and appetizers ($7-$14), surf ($24-$32), pasta ($16-$26) and turf ($15-$30). These price ranges are a bit deceiving, as the majority of the salads and appetizers are in the $10 range, and the "turf" has five total dishes, four of them red meats at $27 and up. In other words, while it's possible to eat inexpensively here - Marinaccio's even offers discounted
gift certificates - you can generally expect that a typical dinner for two will be in the $80 range before drinks, putting this place in Black & Blue territory.

Thankfully, we were generally pleased by both the setting and the food. The main dining room is nice enough - a clean but dimly lit space with white tablecloths and nice wood furniture, tableside candles providing much of the illumination. Our meal even started promisingly with a tasty basket of olive and white breads, served with a garlic and artichoke spread that was so nice that we didn't bother with the creamy butter that arrived alongside it. Rarely do we consider a restaurant's breads and spreads to be a highlight, but these started the meal out right.

Unfortunately, it was at some point during this basket that we began to notice that the service at Marinaccio's was a bit off: our polite and generally diligent server was unquestionably overburdened, as he seemed to be handling everything from orders to clearing plates and filling drinks on his own, say nothing of doing the same for other tables. Due not to apparent disinterest but rather to workload, our water glasses ran dry, a second basket of bread was never offered, and visits to check on how we were doing never happened - little things that we would have reasonably expected given the prices were just absent.

Items began to arrive shortly after we finished our bread. First up were the appetizers: the $7 soup of the day was a bowl of Manhattan Clam Chowder, typically served with a thick tomato soup base as a substitute for the cream found in the New England version. Marinaccio's chowder was somewhere between fine and good, served surprisingly hot to the touch in a nice bowl; the broth was a little on the thin side, and the clam pieces were too small, but the end result was still both enjoyable and filling. Oyster crackers, commonly included with clam chowders, were notably nowhere to be found.

We also ordered the Crispy Calamari ($10), which was actually one of the more interesting versions of this classic Italian dish we've had locally: generous in quantity, it had been impressively deep fried in a cornmeal batter such that the baby squid inside was tender rather than chewy, and the outside was nicely salted. A small bundle of greens was located off to the side and would have provided a nice contrast with the calamari, but seemed like it had been placed on the plate almost as an afterthought or a decorative garnish; we were so focused on the bite-sized pieces that we didn't finish the greens.

Our salad course was a mixed bag. Marinaccio's entrees generally include mixed green salads, but we decided to upgrade one to the Classic Caesar Salad when we were told there would be only a small upcharge - instead, we were billed the full $8 standard price, a surprise we discovered only when we received the check. Initially, we would have been impressed by the Caesar, which came topped with pieces of fresh, salty anchovy on top, the fish that classically gives flavor to a hearty, authentic dressing. Here, the fish was simultaneously the only noteworthy part of the salad and a bit of a disappointment, akin to ordering a lobster bisque and finding a small lobster tail atop a bowl of utterly plain broth. It might have worked had the anchovies, which we like, been integrated into the salad, but the dressing was weak and plain, the croutons were small, straight from a box, and the lettuce was chopped with a precision that made the salad feel pre-packaged and bland. Neither of us cared for it. The mixed green salad included with our other entree was fine, with a small collection of cucumber and cherry tomato slices, field greens, and raspberry vinaigrette, all atop an attractive square glass dish. We would have been better off getting two.

The entrees were pretty good. We thought we knew what we were getting into with the eight-ounce Pepper Crusted Filet ($30), the name of which suggested a steak that would arrive dry and either partially or substantially black. Instead we got a tender, nicely cooked filet mignon cut that had been drizzled with a balsamic vinegar red wine reduction and lightly garnished with broccolini; the plate also contained fat finger-shaped Fingerling potatoes, simply baked and modestly seasoned. One of us really liked the juicy, wine-soaked slices that came off the steak, but the one who ordered it found it a little disappointing, good but different from what she'd expected, with not enough starch relative to the meat.

Similarly intriguing were the Diver Scallops ($24), a plate with five large, tomato vinaigrette-soaked scallops that had been placed atop a bed of orzo, chopped pancetta, and bits of sauteed spinach. The scallops get their name from having been hand-picked by divers in a manner that typically results in a less gritty consistency and a better size. These were clearly good examples of the genre, though they were cooked in a style that might scare some patrons: their centers only a hint more than rare, while their outsides were wonderfully browned with the light tomato sauce in abundance for dipping and mixing with the nice orzo bed. We enjoyed them, but wondered whether we'd have a stomachache due to the undercooked centers - thankfully, we didn't.

Our rating of Marinaccio's is a little nuanced. While we'd describe the overall experience as a good one, we both agreed that the place merited something between a 2.5-star and 3-star rating; we ultimately opted for the former based primarily on the fact that given the prices, we shouldn't have experienced the service gaps or small but not trivial disappointments in the items we ordered. This is a legitimately fine restaurant, with the right general mix of menu options, preparation, and ambience to attract a high-quality clientele; that said, a little more polish, spice, or better pricing would help this place attract even more interest.

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Comments (3)

Kelvin :

I've been coming here a few times a year for the past several years, most recently two weeks ago. I was looking forward to trying the shish kabob with couscous after reading your review but they changed their menu. We opted for two of their specials - sea bass in soy saucy type broth with soba noodles, I'm not usually a fan of sea bass but the fish seemed very fresh and did not have that typical strong oily sea bassy taste (maybe from freezing?), broth was a bit salty though; I dont remember exactly what the other special we ordered was, I think a veal shank, but it was excellent. Their menu changes at least once or twice a year so there's always something new to try. I think they usually have a band in the bar on weekends. Food and service has been consistently good for us. We usually eat earlier, 5:30-6:30, when its not as crowded so we may not have had the chance to experience our servers and kitchen under fire like you have.

Jim :

I had the worst steak in my life @ Marinaccios.

...this place was aweful. Rude staff, rubber steak... overpriced and not very clean. (Bathroom was disgraceful)

Sara :

Just went to the restaurant yesterday and they have gotten all new management who seem to have things going the right direction. New executive chef from Hell's Kitchen, food was great! Not a huge fan of the current menu but according to manager the new chef's menu will be out soon and will not be changing as often as the past. New bar menu too! You could feel the changes already, can't wait to see what they turn it into!

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