By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Let’s be blunt: If you’re a longtime Palisadian, Modo Mio needs no introduction.
A bedrock of Pacific Palisades’ culinary scene, this cucina rustica is kinda like Old Faithful to Yosemite National Park: reliable, beloved and central to the Palisades’ commercial corridor.
There’s a reason why Pali residents love this Italian eatery … actually, dozens of reasons. Let’s start with the appetizers and salads, wherein Modo Mio offers a nice range of Insalata, from Insalata Di Luna, a kale-based salad, to Insalata di Frutta, pear, kiwi and sweet corn in light lemon dressing.
Our favorite, though, is Insalata Di Carciofi, a heaping bowlful of raw baby artichoke, sliced and diced with pieces of Parmesan perfectly integrated into the mix, plus extra virgin olive oil and a wedge of lemon.
Antipasti Caldi offers hot appetizers, including a hearty Shrimp Scampi—large prawns sautéed in white wine, lemon and garlic, served with a bulbous grilled tomato at its core that packs a seductively smoky aftertaste and arrives topped with a small hill of arugula.
Among the cold choices (Antipasti Freddi), try Carpaccio Fantasia, a nice melding of thin-sliced raw beef, topped with arugula and large shards of shaved Parmesan. Also scrumptious: Salmone Affumicato, fresh asparagus surrounded by smoked salmon, served with goat cheese in a honey Dijon vinaigrette.
Even before we indulged in our appetizers, our host presented us with the starter before the starter: an off-menu plate that is on the house. Depending on which night you dine, your waiter will either offer you a generous mound of mushrooms, wondrously doused in a light, citrus-y dressing, or a dish of bruschetta, exceedingly fresh-tasting chopped tomatoes on perfectly grilled crostini that leaves that irresistibly toasty, smoky edge on your palate as it goes down.
Ravioli and Risotto are two more categories in which Modo Mio excels. Ravioli Dello Chef, little pockets of pasta plump with ricotta and spinach in a pink sauce or butter and sage, is simple, savory and to the point. Risotto Pescatore is a veritable seafood smorgasbord, with clams, mussels, calamari and shrimp in a light tomato sauce.
Valdostana—free-range breast of chicken, spinach, provolone cheese and prosciutto in a white wine tomato sauce—is a highlight in the Carne e Pesce category. Amid the veal options, Scaloppine Alla Griglia, grilled with portobello mushrooms, rosemary and sautéed onions, makes for an excellent supper. Splurge on Scottadito D’agnelo, lamb chops grilled to perfection and marinated with rosemary and garlic.
Now to get down to business. A plate of pasta may be the more solid way to go for guaranteed satisfaction, and Modo Mio does not skimp here. Penne Al Salmone offers small pasta tubes with fresh salmon, vodka and fresh tomato; or try Tagliatelle Capesante E Salmone, spinach tagliatelle with fresh bay scallops and smoked salmon, bathed in white wine with leeks and onion.
We indulged in Tagliatelle Verdi Con Pollo, a hefty portion of tasty, verdant house-made noodles melded with ample chunks of chicken breast. We also ordered Lasgane di Carne because the pasta employed in the tagliatelle, lasagna and gnocchi here are all made on site from scratch—and you can savor the difference with every forkful.
When all is said, done and digested, counterprogram with some Dolce at meal’s end in the form of Modo Mio’s house-made desserts, which range from the broader-appeal Apple Tart to our favorite, Italian Tiramisu, airy and sinfully flavorful, and Lemon Cheesecake, in which the citrus flavor emanated from within, not as a fruity topping. (Kudos, by the way, to the restaurant for its dessert presentation.) Whatever you wind up indulging your sweet tooth in, do not forego siding it with Cappuccino.
There’s a culinary richness to every forkful here, and the comfy, cozy Old World ambiance going on at the upper-floor establishment—from the amber, rustic decor to the sounds of Spanish and French emanating from the back kitchen—certainly adds European flair and authenticity.
Also worth noting: The hospitality and consistency at Modo Mio. Although there are many celebrities too big to name-drop or out in print who frequent this eatery, both venue and menu remain humble and unpretentious. You cannot find a more welcoming staff than owner George Zaoui, a French gentleman of the highest order, and his server staff.
Although Zaoui bought the establishment in 2014, the restaurant opened back in 1985 (one of the Village’s oldest operations still running), and that thread of quality and cohesion is maintained by Chef Arturo Godinez, the restaurant’s executive chef across two decades.
It can be said with bold certainty that in its 90-plus-year history, Pacific Palisades has never enjoyed such an abundance of dining options as right now. Yet sometimes you don’t want to over-think where to go for a prime dinner experience … and that’s when Modo Mio is never a bad way to go. Bravo, bella Modo Mio!