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DINING


San Diego Uptown News | July 22–August 4, 2011 DAVID NELSON / RESTAURANT REVIEW BUSALACCHI’S A MODO MIO


But he could take a stab at it at A Modo Mio Man does not live by


PASTA ALONE 3707 Fifth Ave. 92103 (619) 298-0119 Appetizers and salads $4 to $11, pastas and entrées $11 to $24


Just a generation ago, San Diego was very much a big small town with a sizeable population. Hillcrest was a microcosm of city around it, and while it tried very hard to become uptown and upscale, it had trouble support- ing a bare minimum of eateries. The anchors that came along and stayed—and forged the path that Hillcrest could follow to become the cosmopolitan district that it is today—are Crest Café, Hamburg- er Mary’s (which evolved into Urban Mo’s) and Busalacchi’s. Busalacchi’s was the white tablecloth place with the cook who sang opera in the dining room and a menu that reflected chef/co- proprietor Joe Busalacchi’s Sicilian heritage. Crowds turned out for dishes like potato and green bean salad, and spiedini, or skewers of pork tenderloin with a sweet-tart stuffing. Joe’s wife, Lisa, ran the front of the house while occasionally visiting a back room to tend to their first son, Joey, who as a toddler got a lot of nap time at his parent’s cozy showplace on Fifth Avenue. Joey, now the father of twin


boys, manages his parents’ new showplace, Busalacchi’s A Modo Mio. About one-half of a block north of the original, in a corner location at Fifth and Pennsylva- nia, A Modo Mio (“My Style”) is the new white tablecloth restau- rant in Hillcrest. It’s a charmer with comfortable and appeal- ing décor, warm service and a knockout terrace that features both bar and table seating. The wall that runs around the patio is high enough to block (most of) the traffic noises growling along the busy streets, but not so high as to shut out the sunset or the breezes, both of which flow from a westerly direction. The hipster tables border a long, narrow sculpture that edges a flaming top with flowing water; it spills into a square glass box for recycling. Dramatic and musical, the sculpture provides lively entertainment for guests dining on a wide-ranging selec- tion of specialties and taking advantage of a Monday-Friday Happy Hour (patio and bar only) that runs from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and repeats from 9 to 11. Priced from $4 to $7, Happy Hour dishes range from poplettine, or fish “meatballs” flavored with raisins and cheese, to costatine of butter- tender short ribs piled on potato cakes, and rigatoni palermitana tossed with sausage and a savory- pungent-spicy complement of olives, capers, pepperoncini and tomatoes. During Happy Hour, all wines by the glass are poured at half price, and both well cocktails and A Modo Mio’s own, distinctive sangria cost $4. The good news divides into


two plot lines: Joe Busalacchi is back in the kitchen, as he should


be, and Lisa, who now also works as a realtor, frequently is on hand to help Joey with dining room details (the old advertising slogan “Ma, I’d rather do it myself” comes to mind, but they seem to work together quite happily). She’s pretty good at it. Chef Busalacchi knows his


way around the kitchen better than most, and the menu shows his strengths in the best possible light. Because San Diegans often like to open an Italian meal with an antipasto plate, the menu com- mences under the heading “Salu- meria,” a term that at A Modo Mio encompasses both cured meats and cheeses. Unlike the run-of- the-mill cold cuts and provolone most places serve, Joe Busalacchi suggests choice prosciutto from Parma, the prosciutto-like shaved beef called bresaola (a long-time favorite of this writer; in France this air-dried meat is called gris- sons, and it stars in family-style


dinners of melted raclette cheese prepared in an ingenious, on-table toasting device), and Tuscan sausage flavored with fennel. The cheeses are lovely, and include Gorgonzola dolce (“sweet” blue cheese); creamy burrata, which is the heart of fresh, hand-made mozzarella; nutty Parmigiania Reggiano (the very best Parme- san) and non-Italian choices like Brie and Manchego. \Listed under “Misto,” or


“mixed,” are little dishes of big tastes, like marinated Italian white anchovies (delicious if you like this kind of thing, otherwise, steer very clear), marinated artichokes, roasted sweet peppers, mixed olives, and by far the most enchant- ing, caponata, the sweet-sour Sicilian eggplant relish that Busa- lacchi makes better than anybody. Making a meal of several orders of caponata would not be unreason- able, although it’s unlikely anyone ever does so (but you could). On


OPEN: FOR LUNCH & DINNER OPEN 7 DAYS: 11-3 & 5-10 LUNCH BUFFET: $9.99 MONDAY-FRIDAY


the more formal side are such ap- petizers as fried squid in what the menu specifies as a “Sicilian batter” (the distinction is not obvious, but the little squidlings are quite tasty), and fried smelts with lemon aioli and malt vinegar. Among salads, the octopus with hearts of palm, bitter blood oranges, capers and roasted peppers is as Sicilian as the godfather, but no more than the cetrioli salad of cucumber with Romaine, avocado, bacon and a fine Gorgonzola dressing. Man does not live by pasta alone, but he could take a stab at it at A Modo Mio. Some is made in the kitchen, like fusilli (twists) buried under slow-cooked duck ragu and ricotta, and toothy fettuccine tossed with a swanky Bolognese sauce made with both minced beef and pork. This fettuc- cine also stars with a clam sauce distinguished by fresh tomatoes and a splash of Pinot Grigio. Potato gnocchi are house-made,


and finished with fresh tomato sauce. For all this, the ultra-suave, ultra-creamy spaghetti carbonara with crisp pancetta and a sharp hint of shallots is good enough to bring you back the next evening for another plate—although when you do return, try Busalcchi’s famous spiedini pork skewers (the stuffing includes pine nuts and is pretty much spectacular). Other entrées of note include trout with lemon butter and oregano, pan- fried breaded pork cutlet topped alla Milanese with arugula (using pork rather than veal enables the dish to cost just $19), and the ir- resistible gamberi alla Busalacchi. The flavors of this sauté of jumbo shrimp simply shine, thanks to sweet-tart Meyer lemon juice, a leavening of Pinot Grigio, and tart caper berries. Follow this with homemade cannoli and you’ll be back in the reservations book quicker than you can say A Modo Mio.u


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Open MTW: 11am to 9 pm, ThF: 11am-11pm, SAT: 8am-11pm, SUN: 8am-6pm


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