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Chef Joe Busalacchi did it his way at A Modo Mio

Shrimp stuffed with crab and lobster

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Restaurant families these days are something of the past. In many culture’s it was a tradition to pass the business down from generation to generation. Some restaurants I know of in the country have been operating with the same family for over 50 years. Sadly, you just don’t see that much anymore.

In San Diego, we are lucky to have one of those families still doing what has been done decades before. Their family name is as big as their many restaurants and most of them have been cooking for us for over 25 years.

The Busalacchi’s have become a household name in San Diego and when you hear the name you immediately think of the restaurant empire that started with Joe and Lisa. These days, the several restaurants they operate are still running strong with the next generation. The couple’s three sons all play a very active role in the day to day operations.

After an iconic 25 years, Busalacchi’s on Fifth closed and A Modo Mio was a planned rebuild from the ground up just a few blocks away on the corner of Fifth and Pennsylvania. The successful redesign of the concept, menu and price points prove, once again, the Busalacchi’s are the top family in town.

This revamped addition to Hillcrest is exactly what the neighborhood needed. The Tuscan style villa brings a comfortable dining room with soft colors of mustard yellow and punches of rosy red. The large outside patio is phenomenal with a fire wall in the middle that has a stream of water coming right out of it; a play on fire and ice. The soft cushions on the chairs make it feel like you are in someone’s backyard. The genius installation of heaters above makes this the best place to grab a bite all year round.

I have been multiple times since it’s opening in early May with small parties and large ones. Each time was divine and left me wanting more. The seasonal menu will change often, keeping the affordable dishes (most everything is under $20) fresh and simple. Antipastos are presented in an a la carte manner allowing you to choose from a selection of meats, cheeses and a delicious array of various pickled vegetables, all starting around $3 a sample. This is a great way to start your table off.

If heading right into the first courses is your thing, dive into the Crudo di Pesce ($11). Pieces of fresh and raw ahi tuna were a beautiful dark red and topped with a slice of jalapeño that gave an interesting bite of heat that I absolutely loved. Big beautiful beefsteak tomatoes were sliced thick for the Caprese Salad ($9) and lined together with fresh mozzarella and a chiffonade of basil. Carpaccio di Bue ($11) was classically served paper thin and topped with a lemon caper dressing. My dining companions have told me the beet salad is the best in town.

Entrées are divided in the Italian way of pasta, fish and meats. One of my all time favorite dishes is Linguine alle Vongole ($15). A bowl with a heaping pile of fresh pasta arrived swimming in a light sauce of white wine, garlic and olive oil. Big bright clams lined the rim of the bowl and had a briny sweet flavor. A recent special of halibut was offered. The perfectly cooked piece of the white flaky fish was topped with a tomato olive sauce that offered just the right amount of acidity to the dish.

For meat lovers, the Cotoletta alla Milanese ($19) will remind you of something your mother would make, in a good way. Flattened to about a quarter inch, the lightly breaded chop is seared on both sides, leaving the inside juicy for every bite. Veal Medallions ($17) are predictably served in a marsala sauce and a classic Filet ($20) makes an appearance on the menu as well.

The two drawbacks I feel were the wine list and service, both something very few restaurants in San Diego can master. With such outstanding Italian food, I was hoping for that perfect Italian wine, both red and white. Sadly, I was disappointed. Although the service was efficient, on all occasions I felt it lacked personality. I am hoping that these things are just growing pains of a new restaurant and will iron themselves out as it grows.

As the Busalacchi family continues to grow, with even the next generation, let’s hope we can look forward to many more years of their restaurant dynasty. And Joe, the patriarch of them all, continues to pass down the integrity he has shown to us over the years, and clearly A Modo Mio has been done his way.

A Modo Mio
3707 Fifth Ave.
San Diego, CA 92103

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Posted by on Jul 7, 2011. Filed under Restaurant Review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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