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Modo Mio


philadining
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Modo Mio

161 Girard Ave

It's surprising how little buzz there has been about this place. Although it opened in the spring of 07, there have been few mentions of it after a few months, even in the blogosphere.

Maria Gallagher gave it a very positive review in Philly Mag recently, and I have to thank her for hipping me to the place.

After her glowing comments, and my first couple of dinners there, I was about to declare that we might have actually finally gotten that mythical restaurant so many of us dream of: delicious, interesting, affordable food, and hey, you can even park near it! The Philly Mag review calls it "Osteria at a lower price point" and that's exactly what I was thinking - I was eating food that was playing in that same ballpark, but at a crazy price point: $30 for 4 courses!

Why can't the story ever be simple like that?

This has turned out to be the kind of restaurant that makes me crazy. It can be great, in fact, every time I've gone (4 times now) many of the dishes have been amazingly tasty. But it's also been maddeningly inconsistent, flashes of brilliance mixed with mystifying sloppy mistakes.

At my first visit, four of us were just dumbstruck at how great everything was, and I mean everything, all of the appetizers, pastas, secondi, and desserts just had us shaking our heads at how exactly right each thing was. On a second visit, among 20 courses only two of them failed to knock us out, and even those were pretty darn good. We thought we'd found dining nirvana!

Then on the third visit, everything went all to hell. Some things were fine, but we also got pasta so undercooked it was still crunchy. Even after sending those dishes back, they re-emerged from the kitchen oddly no better. Some of the entrees came out visibly burnt, or so savagely over-salted that it seemed like they were adding finishing seasonings by the handful.

We found out that on that night there had been some sort of major equipment problem in the kitchen, which certainly would explain why things would be awry, but it's really no excuse for sending out actually BAD food! Slow down and apologize to me for the delay, or take some stuff off the menu, but don't send me food I can't eat!

Those first two meals were so good that I went back, even after the disaster at meal #3, and found something in-between. Again, several of the dishes were outright spectacular, others were very good but not transcendent, and a couple showed errors that are just perplexing given the obvious skill in the kitchen. There was still evidence of random oversalting, which I'm assuming is a careless hand, rather than a dulled-palate, simply because it's not across-the-board. I got a burnt crespele in my pasta course, and a friend told me of getting a burnt one in a dessert. Not a little more browned than we might like, burnt... black. It's hard to fathom how a kitchen that can put out such delicious food can also not notice that they burnt something. Or that a chef who clearly takes pride in his food would allow that to go out of the kitchen.

The chef/owner, Peter McAndrews cooked at Porcini, and Rembrant's, among others, and then studied and apprenticed in Italy, so the basic execution mistakes are just weird. He's either just not paying attention, or delegating a bit too much to the young guys on the line before they're quite ready to fly solo.

Normally, when encountering burnt, undercooked, oversalted food, I'd just walk away, there are enough good places to eat in Philly. Osteria's not that far away. Sure it costs a lot more, but my food's always been meticulously prepared.

but -

there were these gnocchi...

At the first meal, there were potato gnocchi so light and delicate that they really did melt in one's mouth, a few of us were rendered speechless by them. Other times, they've had ricotta-based ones that were not nearly as transcendent, but were still quite tasty. The ravioli are always a delight, with tender pasta just barely holding-in creamy marscapone, freshly-toasted almonds adding both taste and texture. Frogs' Legs, (OK, consider this for a minute - they have frog's legs!) are tender, with a perfect grilled char. Veal Cheeks are rich and just barely holding together, brightened with a twist of orange zest. The Duck Leg may not quite have the confit texture as billed, but it's delicious nonetheless. A recent porkchop special was not only gargantuan in proportion, it might have ben the juiciest and tenderest one I've encountered in years. The good stuff is SO good, it makes it hard to just walk away!

It's a little pointless to be too specific about specific preparations, because the menu has been different each time I've gone. Sometimes it's small tweaks, other times complete substitutions. Even so, the octopus salad to start has been consistently excellent, as have almost all the pastas. If they have frogs' legs, get them. The desserts have been consistently good, especially the nutella crespele, the cheese tart, the super-dense chocolate cake, oh heck, all the desserts are good.

Despite my whining, I still recommend checking this place out. It's more on than off, the highlights are bright enough to overshadow the problems. And I keep hoping that the mistakes are just temporary skipping of the gears until they get into a groove.

It's a BYOB, the prices are ridiculously reasonable, and you can actually park on Girard Ave (or get off the El a block and a half away) so it's worth taking a risk. Portions are small-ish, but all are priced surprisingly low, so if you just feel like a starter and a pasta, you could be out for about $20. But the real bargain is the special menu that offers a starter, a pasta, a main, and a dessert for $30, and that offer includes specials.

I'm really charmed by this place, and it has the potential to be really great, it's just a little inconsistent right now... I say we go, and offer constructive criticism.

I can still taste those gnocchi.

Give it a shot. Let us know, and let THEM know what you thought!

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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BTW, the light has been just a bit too dim to get decent photos, I keep meaning to get there earlier and take advantage of some daylight! In the meantime, here are a couple of teaser shots that somehow turned out OK...

Ravioli - always a highlight

gallery_23992_4872_91166.jpg

Frogs' Legs

gallery_23992_4872_93478.jpg

More to follow, I hope...

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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That inconsistency -- some dishes sublime, others obvious miscarriages that should never have gotten through the pass -- was a hallmark, if you will, when McAndrews was at Rembrandt's. Last time we ate in Rembrandt's main dining room while the kitchen was still under his supervision, I had a wonderfully savory cassoulet-like concoction which warmed me up all over; She Who Must Be Obeyed sent her absolutely awful calves liver back -- twice ! Finally the owner intervened and presented her with a steak, instead.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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James/Jeff, is the special tasting menu available every night or just weeknights?

I used to always enjoy Porcini but mostly one of the Sansone brothers was in the kitchen. Not sure if I ate there when MacAndrews was there or not.

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James/Jeff, is the special tasting menu available every night or just weeknights?

I used to always enjoy Porcini but mostly one of the Sansone brothers was in the kitchen. Not sure if I ate there when MacAndrews was there or not.

It's not a tasting menu: the $30 prix fixe covers the entire menu, so you order four courses, a la carte, and you pay a surprisingly low price.

I was with Phil on two of those meals, and have been there a few more. I never had an experience as poor as the one really negative one he had, though one meal wasn't as good as the others. When that kitchen is on, though, it isn't just good, it's wonderful.

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Yeah, and Jeff, it's every day. I don't know if they intend to keep this going forever, it's a special page slid into the menu, so they could stop it at some point.

But it's a real deal: choose one appetizer, one pasta, one secondo and a dessert, $30. You can add things to that it you want, but the time we ordered "contorni" we felt they were a bit superfluous. They have been offering complimentary sambuca as a digestif.

A la carte is almost as affordable. The servings are not huge, but more than fair for the prices being charged.

and in the end, I'll risk getting the occasional bad dish in order to experience some great ones!

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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Yeah, and Jeff, it's every day.  I don't know if they intend to keep this going forever, it's a special page slid into the menu, so they could stop it at some point.

But it's a real deal: choose one appetizer, one pasta, one secondo and a dessert, $30.  You can add things to that it you want, but the time we ordered "contorni" we felt they were a bit superfluous.  They have been offering complimentary sambuca as a digestif. 

A la carte is almost as affordable. The servings are not huge, but more than fair for the prices being charged.

and in the end, I'll risk getting the occasional bad dish in order to experience some great ones!

Thanks. For some reason, I thought mrbigjas contributed to this thread but looking again I was mistaken. Anyway, sounds like it might work for a midweek meal. I'll post my experience.

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Portions were a little small-ish, but even then, by the time I got to the duck (is anyone surprised that I ordered the duck?), I couldn't finish it.

I hope they do continue the $30 prix-fixe. One of the best deals in town.

Everything we had that night was delicious. I think they ran out of the veal cheeks the night we went, so I guess I'll have to go back again.

Karen C.

"Oh, suddenly life’s fun, suddenly there’s a reason to get up in the morning – it’s called bacon!" - Sookie St. James

Travelogue: Ten days in Tuscany

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  • 4 weeks later...
The place is not very large, so it's probably a good idea to make a reservation. 215-203-8707

That said, we've sometimes just dropped by. I think they do get crowded, but not always...

I have tried to get into this place twice, with no luck. Admittedly, they were both Saturdays and the first time I called on a Saturday. This week, I called on a Weds. afternoon and they were already completely booked. Are they really that good? Thanks.

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They really can be that good.  I'm sure the Best of Philly for new BYOB is making it even harder to get in.  Try a weeknight if you can.

And report back!

Thanks. Weeknights are difficult but I'll just call further in advance. I will report back when I finally get a reservation.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just called for a reservation sometime this week, having noticed that LaBan is reviewing them on Sunday. Alas, they're closed all month! They don't re-open until September (4th, I think.) Now I'll never get a chance to try it. Boo!

Well, living in South Philly does have its perks though...

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I just called for a reservation sometime this week, having noticed that LaBan is reviewing them on Sunday.  Alas, they're closed all month!  They don't re-open until September (4th, I think.)  Now I'll never get a chance to try it.  Boo!

Well, living in South Philly does have its perks though...

Darn! Thanks, though, I was thinking of trying again for this weekend. I guess after the review, I will have to call weeks in advance.

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  • 2 weeks later...

LaBan's review in the Inky here>>

Only two bells, but it's one of those fond two-bell reviews. He seems to have similar concerns about consistency as some of us had (hmm...didn't like the crunchy pasta...) but overall likes the place.

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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  • 2 weeks later...
LaBan's review in the Inky here>> 

Only two bells, but it's one of those fond two-bell reviews. He seems to have similar concerns about consistency as some of us had (hmm...didn't like the crunchy pasta...) but overall likes the place.

I finally got a weekend reservation! Any suggestions as to what to order? Anyone been recently? Thanks.

One more try. Thanks.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Called up on a recent tuesday, and they could only squeeze us in at 9pm, but we took them up on it, and I'm glad we did.

None of the problems that we run into before, everything was very carefully cooked and quite delicious. The menu's been tweaked, as it often is, but has the same basic array of offerings, just slightly different preparations. I really like that, although one has to embrace the fact that your favorite dish might not be quite the same next time you go.

The octopus app is gone, but there's a grilled squid salad that features perfectly tender rounds of squid, fresh greens and a solid chile pepper kick in the dressing. Bruschetta is served with fresh mozzerella and roasted peppers on two of the toasts and a gorgonzola dolce and fig on the other two. Simple, but satisfying. Crab cakes are a little different, unfortunately they got inhaled before I managed to sample the new sauce.

Chestnut pappardelle had a surprisingly delicate texture. The earthy wild mushrooms had a little bit of grit, but a wonderful deep, dark flavor that melded smoothly with the nutty pasta. Gnocchi were impossibly light, kept from floating off the plate only by the rabbit ragu on top. I have no idea how this chef manages to make lasagne light, but he does, even this version with crumbled sausage in it.

The veal cheeks have been replaced by braised shortribs, which had developed an intense flavor and melting tenderness, sparked-up with a little citrus and horseradish. There's also a skirt steak, sliced atop a cool bean salad and doused in an herby sauce that reminded me of chimichurri. This was pretty freaking awesome... Catfish was very moist and tender, accented with tomato and chile.

Chocolate budino, a minty creme brulée, a zabaglione, all the desserts were quite nice.

They're still offering the $30 4-course menu and it remains a ridiculous bargain. I think the portions have actually gotten bigger, so although they warn you that each course is small, they are actually lying. I can handle that kind of deception.

It's pretty loud in there, but other than that, I have few complaints. Except that the good reviews have made it hard to get in. Sorry to add to that syndrome...

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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  • 3 weeks later...

Finally made it to this place last night. Wow. Sorry I waited so long. Everything was delicious and the service was very pleasant and well informed. I had the four course menu and had a baby octopus salad with white beans, the "little hats" pasta dish which was squash filled, the veal cheeks which absolutely melted in my mouth and were a highlight, and the nutella crepe for dessert. My dining parter ordered a la carte and had an arugula salad, the chestnut pappardelle with mushrooms and the crab cake and helped me with my dessert. Brought a nice bottle of Argentine Torrontes and a Barbera. A truly lovely dinner and Modo Mio will be seeing me again very soon.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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The four of us enjoyed...

Amuse: Radicchio wrapped tuna with balsamic.

Homemade bread (a huge loaf!) with ricotta and olive oil.

Apps:Two had Bruschetta with figs, goat cheese, red peppers.

Octopus and white bean salad.

Whipped Cod on toast.

Pasta: Pappardelle with scallop and brussel sprouts.

Pasta stamps with duck liver and dried cherries.

Lasagna with bolognese.

Agnolotti with almonds, and more? Can't remember.

Entrees: Steak with a fried egg on top.

Skate wrapped in Prosciutto.

Veal Cheeks.

Zuppa di pesce.

One side of roasted beets.

Dessert:

3 nutella, banana crepes.

One tiramisu.

$30 per person, they gave us a Sambuca at the end. Had a Gundlach Bundschu Zinfandel with the mains and a Tircaud white graves to start.

Philly Francophiles

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