1.15.2013

italian MY WAY: Modomio


RER 1.9.13
Unfortunately, extreme hunger is often times paired with extreme indecision, which only delays satiation. It was hard enough to decide on a place to go in an unfamiliar city, vibrant with choices and history. But the thick cloud of hunger and disorientation made things that much more difficult. Sure we had a late lunch, but thin crust pizza wears off quickly in our bellies, and that time came faster than we thought.

After a quick perusal of an outdated Phillymag.com “Top 50”  in Philadelphia, my travel companion blindly chose Modomio , known for its Turista prix- fixe, BYOB and the excruciatingly unfamiliar “Cash Only.” And a few recalculating attempts via GPS and a few blocked streets later, we finally found our way to the restaurant. A giant wine store across the road helped us with one of the anchoring characteristics of Modomio, but a tiny sign on the door startled us with the last (we had enough cash, whew).

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The menu is small, but dense, and changes with the seasons and availability. Each element is extensive and sounds exquisite from the ingredients and the luxury of technique. There are a lot of words on the menu, leading to lengthy descriptions that would suck all mystery from the dish. Instead, it created fancy images that in the end turned out to be far from correct.

Our server was extremely enthusiastic in helping us in our journey, recommending dishes and friendly conversation. She described what she liked best, showing us “her way” in Modomio, which we really appreciated. It was a kind of honesty and genuine interaction that we do not always encounter. With her guidance, we decided on the Turista tasting, four courses for $35; antipasto, pasta, secondo, and dessert. This gave us everything we wanted (times two). For each stage we picked at and tasted each other’s dish, giving a rounder experience of the chef, the kitchen, and the vision. 

JAR 1.9.13
The mussel appetizer, ordered white and hot, was delicious, the ingredients were fresh and whole. The white sauce was thin and wet, concealing the moderate spice and heat. It was the kind of spiciness that is subtle and sophisticated, present, but enough to ruin your mouth and the entire dish. It kicked at the back of the throat, and blended nicely with the meaty mussels.

The single scallop on the other hand, had no heat, but a richness from both the plump scallop and the heavy potato pancake. Between the perfectly cooked scallop and the dense potato, was a layer of mild radicchio smothered in a balsamic reduction with a thin line of crusty melted cheese. This whole combination was magical. All the different flavors melted into one, creating a beautiful and memorable dish. Although radicchio is bitter and unsavory at times, this usage was intended to break up the richness and add a little bite. The balsamic mildly concealed the abrasiveness, but I could have done with less radicchio, as it almost scars the mouth.

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For the pasta, I tried the recommended lasagna, topped with a perfectly fried egg. The addition of a fried egg adds richness and creaminess to most any dish. The melding of the yolk with the melted mozzarella and the creamy tomato sauce resulted in decadence. The layers of pasta embedded in the meat studded Bolognese, was fresh and limp, porous enough to be inundated with the sauce and egg accoutrement. It was cheesy and meaty on the inside, however the creamy tomato sauce surrounded the nice sized tranche of the classic pasta. This tomato sauce was almost surprising, smooth and chunky at the same time, acidic and cooling.

JAR 1.9.13
The Agnolotti del Plin, was an obvious fresh made rabbit ravioli drowned in sage brown butter. The plate was not pretty, a few ravioli floating in a pool of glistening brown butter. Rabbit, mildly unfamiliar to me, is meaty and gamy, but at the same time stringy and light, a stark contrast to what I am used to. The ravioli were heavy and thick with pasta, drenched in butter infused with sage. The tastes were delicious but it was perhaps too heavy.

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The meat courses, unfortunately, took a downhill turn. The concepts were beautiful on paper and on the plate, but fell short in the mouth. The seared duck leg was striking, draped with a pretty fried egg, on mono-colored bed of goccia and an apricot gremolata. The duck along with the fried egg might have been too rich, especially following a heavy pasta dish. The duck was moist and fatty, but some of the components underneath were superfluous and messy. The apricots, however, broke the fat with tart sweetness, and revived the dish. 

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The Bistecca, also was a little overbearing. The seasoning of the steak was overwhelmingly salty. It was topped by vibrant colors—scallions and sundried tomatoes. Underneath the meat, drowned in its juices and other flavoring was a chickpea pancake, made thin and folded to create mass. Some how not all of the flavors came together nicely, making the magic of the dinner to that moment dissipate.

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Dessert, too, was not at the level of the first courses; scant and almost monotone. The warm apple tart as suggested by our server was a slim sliver, and left me longing more, more tart and more dynamic. The slender slice was packed with apple, not quite sweet, but mostly tart, though not surprising. A dollop of cool rosemary ice cream, which had more essence of the herb than the flavor, topped the tart. It was almost too delicate to stand up to the bold apple, melting all flavors into one.

JAR 1.9.13
The bread pudding, dotted with cherries suffered a similar uniformity. The stiff chunk of pudding slid into obscurity with a healthy spooning of crème angalise. The cream on top only emphasized the creaminess of the custard, inflating that singular flavor, rather than the element of difference, the cherries.

The restaurant was cozy, reminding me of a few restaurants I visited during my stint in Bologna. Maybe it was the friendliness, exhibited by our server’s eagerness, or the little taste of bread topped with a kind of tomato pesto, or it was the complimentary shots of Sambuca, that emanated the warmth. Even the BYOB and cash only policies felt inviting in the small dim restaurant. The food was like comfort food, sometimes too heavy and too salty, but always warm. Despite the fall of the meal, it was really an enjoyable experience, like our own guided tour. 
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RER 1.9.13

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