Maggiano’s Little Italy (4 Columbus Avenue, near the Boston Common) is a chain of Italian restaurants with locations in twelve states. The first Maggiano’s opened in 1991, blending “the tradition of family and the celebration of friends” according to the company web site. This tradition evidently involves gigantic portions, perfectly designed for large section parties. Best to go as a foursome at least, to take advantage of the family-style bargain menu options. This time, however, a fasting/starving party of two reviewers prepared to chow and take copious mental notes (assisted, of course, by Mondavi’s nicely balanced Coastal Merlot).

Upon entering, Maggiano’s interior d‚cor evokes the dark-wood oak-paneled 1950’s era, no faux Philippe Stark or W-style affectations – just pure old-fashioned Sinatra: comfortable, though hardly cutting-edge.

After greeting our host and waitress, who were both quite friendly, we were ushered to our seats without delay. Menus arrived promptly, and we began to select from a broad Southern Italian array: marinara and pesto-based pastas, plus chicken, steak, and seafood entrees devoid of new-age frills.

For appetizers, we chose the Italian Salad, a fresh mozzarella and tomato dish, and a mushroom ravioli with a pesto cream sauce (drizzled in marinara). The Italian Salad (romaine-based with a variety of vegetables) satisfied immediately, with the light vinaigrette providing a subtle taste without intrusion. Needless to say, the portion was so large we scarcely finished half by the time dinner was over. The fresh mozzarella dish was less successful – the mozzarella should have been a more tender and flavorful.

Happily for us, the mushroom ravioli wowed – this dish emerged as the star of the evening: the pesto-cream sauce mingled nicely with the marinara drizzle, without being heavy (as many pestos are wont to be).

The three complimentary breadbasket options nicely accompanied this dish, with a plate of olive oil a step up from the basic butter dish.

The Eggplant Parmesan was the best main course – well cooked and tender, without being too squishy (as finicky Eggplants sometimes become). The marinara sauce could have been somewhat tangier (perhaps offering some bite), but it was successful nonetheless. We also ordered Beef Medallions (served medium-rare) with mashed potatoes.

This dish was the least successful, as the beef could have been more tender for my taste. I have had the chicken entr‚es at Maggiano’s before, and suggest these instead.

For dessert, we ordered the strawberry-topped CrŠme Brulee – nicely done! We could have had something more decadent – the succulent cheesecake comes to mind – but we decided for the lighter fare (lest we eat ourselves into oblivion). A mocha and cappuccino (both topped with whipped cream and cinnamon) arrived to help us finish off the evening.

The final verdict? For larger groups looking for family-style value, Maggiano’s gets it right.