In the heat of the Italian Market, Peter McAndrews’ latest venture Monsu — a twist on the French “monsieur” — brings Sicily right to your plate.
This BYO’s European portions and rejection of the Americanized menu are refreshing. Ladles swinging from the ceiling pipes in the L–shaped dining room are reminiscent of a nonna’s farmhouse kitchen. Bronze curtains descend from a ceiling the color of tomato sauce — perchance to avoid clean up if a waiter sends a pasta dish flying — and vintage Italian photographs lean, Pisa–like, to the right. Consistent in both decor and fare, there is no place for pretension in McAndrews’ restaurant.
The gracious wait staff were expertly attentive throughout the dinner rush, and allowed just enough time to digest between each of the suggested four courses. Slices from enormous homemade foccacia and semolina loaves lent themselves to double–dipping in a harmonious blend of ricotta, olive oil and black pepper.
Despite a fear of tentacles, my dining companion ordered the polpo ($9), grilled octopus atop a bed of wild fennel olives and walnuts — a remarkably sweet combination. The Lumache ($9), braised snails, were excellently tender, but their perch, a slice of bruschetta with melted provolone, could have toned down the salt.
The second course, a half order of pasta, hits the spot for people who can’t do Italian without carbs. The ultra–light gnocchi ($8) danced in cream tomato sauce. The pasta dishes were a testament to chef Damien Messina’s ability to maintain the integrity of each ingredient throughout the meal. The tangy Tagghiarini ($8) boasted robust chunks of artichoke and mushroom that looked like they had slipped right out of the skillet.
Having eagerly slurped up the previous dishes in their entirety, our bellies were not prepared for the plentiful third course. The B’stilla ($15), shredded, juicy chicken in a flaky crust topped with green apple, was heavy on the butter, which allowed each savory bite to melt against the palate. For those who like it hot, the Lampuca ($19), a Mahi fillet in a stew of clams, sausage, olives and an army of spices, was impressively unique.
For dessert, Monsu served up Amlight Panna Cotta ($6). The Aranca Finta ($6), an artistic take on rice pudding mixed with raisins, was coated with ground almonds to resemble an orange.
This lengthy but totally satisfying meal rounded out to $42 each, which, though a stretch for the average student budget, left me in such good spirits that the sheer memory will mask the taste of Commons for at least a week.
Monsú 901 Christian St $$$$$ Skip: Lunache Don’t Miss: Gnocchi