“Ready to take a trip to Italy—my way?” I asked Stasha.
“What is your way, Chris?”
“My way is Modo Mio.”
“Modo Mio?” She looked at me blankly. “What does that mean?”
“’Modo mio’ means ‘my way’ in Italian,” I explained to her. “It’s the name of that charming Italian restaurant we’ve seen—“
“Yes, yes,” Stasha interrupted me. “The one in Crystal Cove Promenade.”
“Exactly,” I nodded. “The owner, Gian Franco Bertolino, prepares dishes that are true to the culture of his hometown of Modena, Italy.”
“Then I think a little Italian cuisine is in order,” she stated.
“Going my way?” I grinned.
“Nope. I’m headed to Modo Mio,” she laughed.
We arrived after the lunch rush and were seated at a table near the window. General Manager Alina Kalakoutski told us about the restaurant as we perused the menu.
“We’ve been here over six years, and were one of the first restaurants in the Crystal Cove Promenade. We put a big emphasis on the quality of our produce. We use organic products as much as possible, and we combine that with providing a high degree of customer service. We’ve developed a very loyal following.”
“I recall reading that you specialize in cuisine from Northern Italy. How does that differ from food of other regions in Italy?” I wondered.
“Our focus is on fresh flavors and seafood. Of course we have pasta and lasagna, but we don’t rely solely on those. We feature a more traditionally, authentic Modena-style menu and not so American style. We have a lot of veal dishes, and make our own pasta. We also have seasonal specials that are very innovative.”
“I noticed you offer quite a few seafood dishes, which is unusual for Northern Italian restaurants,” commented Stasha. “I gather the proximity to the coast influences your menu?”
“Absolutely. And you’re right – most Italian restaurants do not focus on seafood, but being so close to the ocean, we try to offer a large variety of fresh fish dishes.”
“You have a very extensive menu,” I noted. “If we wanted to order three dishes that were representative of your restaurant, what would they be?”
“The Involtini di Pollo, which is pounded free-range chicken rolled with zucchini, carrots and ricotta, sautéed in lemon sauce, is a favorite. Also the Pesce Bianco con Verdure – fresh seasonal whitefish sautéed with artichoke hearts, sun dried tomato and peas in lemon and white wine.”
“Those sound wonderful, and very light,” remarked Stasha.
“They are,” agreed Alina. “ I also like the homemade spinach Tagliatelle with fresh bay scallops, shrimp, and calamari.”
“I’m hungry – let’s have one of each,” I said jokingly.
“I think you should,” said Alina. “And you can even go into the kitchen and watch Chef Juan prepare the dishes.”
“I like that idea – we watch him make it, then he watches us eat it,” I said, making my way to the kitchen with Stasha and Alina close behind.
“These are very simple, very good dishes,” said Chef Juan. “First we make the Involtini. Take the pounded chicken breast and fill it with a ricotta-vegetable medley of finely diced celery, onions, zucchini, and herbs. Wrap the ends around the mixture, place in a shallow pan with a little chicken broth, and cook in the oven for six minutes. Now, the whitefish we coat with flour and lightly pan fry on both sides. We then add sautéed onions, peas, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, some white wine, and a little fish broth, then put it in the oven for six minutes.”
“Everything takes six minutes? That’s better than most fast food places,” I marveled.
“Next, the seafood pasta,” Chef Juan continued. “We take shrimp, calamari, scallops, garlic and onions. Cooking the shrimp first, we add some basil, white wine, some fish broth, the rest of the seafood, then sauté. When the spinach pasta is ready, we pour it into the pan, add tomatoes, and—“
“And bake in the oven for six minutes,” I stated.
“No. We serve it on a plate and we’re done,” Juan chuckled. “For the Involtini, slice the breast at an angle and fan out on the plate. Pour the sauce, made of white wine, lemon, salt and pepper, and a little butter, over the chicken. For the white fish, we simply drizzle it with a little butter and some fresh lemon. We garnish with sides of sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes. That’s it.”
“Chef, you make it look easy, but you’ve certainly had a lot of practice,” noted Stasha.
“And I’ve had a lot of practice eating, so I’m ready to dig in,” I said, making my way back to our table.
“The whitefish is delicate and yet full of flavor,” said Stasha after a few bites.
“The seafood pasta is perfect,” I added. “So is the chicken. I guess they’re right—the best way to enjoy Northern Italian food is indeed My Way.”
“Indeed,” she nodded. “The Modo Mio way.”