We were fortunate to get a table at Peter McAndrew’s new Sicilian, Monsu, for our Valentines celebration last night. Walking through the Italian market at night was a neat experience which reminded me of Friday nights long ago, shopping with my grandparents. Good memories. Monsu has been transformed from the former Paesano’s into a warm spot: dark (appropriate I think for a Sicilian restaurant), dark gold drapes, wall sconces. The Sicilian flag – with its exotic looking trinacria – is prominently displayed behind glass, flanked by candles in chianti bottles.
The chef is a Sicilian-American: Damien Messina. My grandfather was born in Messina, so his name inspires confidence for me in the authenticity of his food. And the food is authentic Sicilian! Tripe was often served in my home but I never ate it. Nor did I last night, but I’m sure there are tripe lovers out there who will be pleased to see it on the menu.
At the beginning of the meal, semolina bread is brought out with a small dish of caponata. Caponata is a Sicilian speciality and Monsu does it proud. It was so good, I ate it with a spoon after the bread was gone. We started out with appetizers: an arancia for me and gamberi for my husband. The arancia was a big fried risotto ball, topped with a delicious stewed tomato in a short rib ragu. The gamberi are large sauteed shrimp in an agrodolce sauce with raisins and pine nuts, served on toast. We loved both.
Pastas (i primi) are offered in both full and half portion. They are all homemade. My husband wisely ordered a half order of Sicilian ravioli and I greedily ordered a whole order of gnocculi (half of which I brought home). The Sicilian gnocchi were served with sausage with chocolate cinnamon and rosemary. This unusual combination was actually wonderful. My husband enjoyed the cassatelle, a very rich dish of homemade, ricotta ravioli served with zucchini mint and hazlenuts. The only disappointment of the evening for me was a side dish of fennel. It sounded wonderful, with orange and black pepper (a combination I love). Somehow, I didn’t enjoy the flavor of the fennel and the dish was overwhelmed with beets.
For our secondo, we shared the fish special, a whole orato. Orato is also known as dorade. It is a small meaty fish similar to a pompano. Our waiter offered to filet it but we easily did it ourselves. The orato was poached, simple and flavorful.
Full as we were, we wanted to try dessert. I had a ricotta cheese cake with orange zest topped with fresh orange and my husband had a semolina pound cake with whipped cream and blueberries. They were good but considering how imaginative the rest of the menu is, I’m hoping for more interesting choices in the future.
A word about the seating: “good”. There is more room between tables than at Modo Mio. Since it is more spacious, the noise level is lower than at Modo Mio. (We still love you MM!) If you come with a party of six or eight, try to snag the cozy corner table in a nook at the front of the restaurant.
We cannot wait to return. That may take awhile, as they are booked well in advance already.
901 Christian St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147