Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The newly minted cousin to Modo Mio, Monsu is on the opposite side of the city in the heart of the Italian Market, but right up there with it's predecessor in terms of food. You get a familiar feel when walking thru the doors at Monsu - the fresh baked bread being sliced by the servers (some of whom also work at Modo Mio), the olive oil served with a dallop of sweet cream butter for dipping, and the low din of a dinner crowd anxiously awaiting what the chef has in store for them.

The rustic elegance of a menu that is huge on flavor and simple ingredients but lacking nearly any pretension is a welcome respite from the trendy center city spots charging $17 for seared scallop(s). Peter McAndrews knows how to run a restaurant that keeps people coming back. You always feel like you got more than your money's worth. Monsu is an ode to the intensely flavored cooking of Sicily. They feature seafood liberally - grilled octopus, mahi, whole shrimp, cured tuna, swordfish, anchovy & muscles litter the menu. A deft hand in the kitchen knows how to get the most out of these without overcooking or ruining their fresh from the sea flavor. The grilled octopus appetizer was some of the best I've had in Philly (the original Dmitri's not withstanding). It's served with slices of fennel, green olives, walnuts and sundried tomato that redefines seafood salad. The piquant flavors of the various ingredients are like a window into what Sicily is all about.
Polpo - grilled octopus

The pastas, like those at Modo Mio, are all house made with care and love, and make you understand why Italy is one of the great food cultures in the world. Spaghetti carbomare with shrimp, crispy pancetta and a barely cooked egg that leaks the runny yolk to mix with the sauce makes your mouth sing. Gnocchi made with ricotta instead of potato makes for an incredibly soft and complexly flavored pasta that is elevated by the hunks of lump crab and tomato cream with pistachio.
Spaghetti Carbomare

There are also the meats - short rib ragu, rib eye, braised pork shanks, crispy duck leg and lamb that would make the Godfather weep. The bistecca siciliana, breaded rib eye, served with thin sliced sporessetta, provolone, lemon capers and a fried egg (why the hell not?) was earthy and intense. The caballo finto - lamb served "in the style of the horse" (apparently horse is a big thing in Sicily) with oregano, olive, lemon was almost a Greek dish and illustrates the many rulers that have influenced Sicilian cooking.
Bistecca Siciliana

Other highlights were the grilled mozzarella with watercress & prickly pear puree that should be required eating for anyone sitting down at the restaurant; the seared sea scallops with spinach and almonds, and surprisingly the battered cauliflower with anchovy and pecorino. Readers of this blog might recall that cauliflower is one of my few dislikes, but if you mask it with enough other good flavors (and deep frying always helps) even Food Baby can learn to like it.
Scamorza Grigliata - grilled mozzarella...mmmmm

We dined at a huge table for a friend's birthday, and got special menus with some additions not normally served. I will definitely be back to see what else the standard menu has to offer and am looking forward to more of that Sicilian ambiance. Did I mention they continue the tradition of Sambucca shots after the meal An offer I can't refuse. Salute!
Free Sambuca!

Food Baby Rating: Twins!

  • BYO - Cash Only
  • 901 Christian St 
  • Philadelphia, PA 19147
  • (215) 440-0495

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