The beauty of living in the heart of a city like Philadelphia is that you can walk to almost any destination, and I take full advantage of this by walking to almost all of the restaurants and bars I visit. Unfortunately, restaurants that fall outside of the 2.5-mile radius from my house (what I consider walkable for dining) will probably never be visited, even if they are at the top of my "to-do" list.
Modo Mio, the raved-about Italian restaurant by chef and owner Peter McAndrews is just such a restaurant that has been on my "to-do" list for years, but the Girard Ave. restaurant is a bit of a hike, and getting in a car to go out to dinner in the city is against my constitution (plus someone has to abstain from drinking if driving, and that's no fun).
That's why I was very excited when McAndrews opened Monsú, a Sicilian restaurant located in the Italian Market at the location of what was his former sandwich shop, Paesano's (Paesano's got scooted down the block to 1017 S. 9th St.).
I guess McAndrews had such great success in having a second location of Paeasano's (original is on Girard Ave.), he decided to bring Italian fine dining in the line of what he's doing at Modo Mio to South Philly.
Whatever the reasoning for opening up Monsú, I certainly appreciate not having to walk from South Philly to Girard Ave. for McAndrew's Italian cuisine.
Not much changed to the bones on the corner building at 9th and Christian, but the interior got a little spiffier with plush, burgundy banquettes lining the walls, and linen-topped tables set with large chargers. I'd like to see the chargers removed, as they barely fit on the small tables, stealing valuable table-top real estate. Incongruous with the formal table setting, there are paper napkins.
Seating is tight in the small room, so be sure to make a reservation, as McAndrews and his restaurant ventures already have a good reputation. And bring a bottle of wine and cash, because Monsú is byob and cash only.Nothing on the menu is over $20, but if you don't eat meat, your entree will be considerably less. Monsú is not a vegetarian haven, but there is at least one, if not more, vegetarian selections in each menu section.
Dinner is started with a basket of bread and a tasty, if not oily, classic Sicilian eggplant caponata. Not normally a pre-dinner bread eater, I had a slice just to try the caponata, then just ate the sweet and savory caponata straight out of the dish with a fork, oil be damned. The only vegetarian selection in the antipasti section was grilled smoked Mozzarella topped with a dressed watercress salad, plated with prickly pear puree. The crispy crust on the Mozzarella gave way to warm, melted cheese with a compelling, savory smokiness. I don't think I've had Mozzarella I liked better.
We headed to the sides section of the menu to find another vegetarian starter. Curious about sweet and sour pumpkin we placed our order, and were a bit surprised to have a cold dish of pumpkin arrive. Delicious, nontheless, the cold slices of roasted pumpkin were not overly sweet or sour, but seasoned subtly with orange zest and topped with grated cheese.For my main, I went with the creamy, ricotta-filled ravioli topped with zucchini, hazelnuts, and mint. The sauce was only the bit of oil from the sauteed zucchini and hazelnuts, so no heavy oil slick here. Simple, with each component's flavors distinct but harmonious. Fabulous.The semolina cake was described as flan in cake-form, and the description does the moist, grainy, dense cake with sweet, caramel crust justice. A good, and well executed dessert, but, for some reason, did not endear even the flan-lover at our table.The vanilla cream-stuffed profiteroles with chocolate-hazelnut icing could have been great, but the pastry was a little crispy and the icing hardened in spots, tasting a bit day-old.
Overall, a pretty good first go at Monsú, and I'll certainly be back.
Menus at Modo Mio and Monsú are different, and I probably still should check out Modo Mio one day, but, dang Monsú is much more convenient for me.
Monsú also does a daily brunch which has the obligatory French toast, but skews more Italian lunch, so could be just the thing you're looking for if, like me, you are thoroughly bored with most eggs-and-French-toast brunch menus.
901 Christian St., Philadelphia, PA 19147