Word of Mouth: Mio

Intricate, sometimes showy cooking from a rising talent

Stefano Frigerio's ambition is considerable; the Mio chef, the third in less than a year, wants to show that he's capable of dazzling diners every plate out with intricate arrangements and unexpected combinations of ingredients— to show, in other words, that he's earned the right to run the show. Sometimes, as with a duo of hamachi with a cup of lemon sorbet, he gets cutesy; sometimes, he exhibits a weakness for odd flourishes, like edible flowers in a dish that hardly needs the embellishment. And he'd do well to understand that Mio is not Maestro, that he's no longer tasked with turning out elaborate, prix fixe tasting menus in which each course is judiciously (some might say preciously) portioned. I'm not one to say that size matters, but a plate of venison with only three slices of meat on it? That's an insult.

But I also see flashes of a big-time talent. Swordfish, all but snubbed by high-end chefs these days, not only turns up on his menu, but it turns up rare—when has it ever been left pink in the center? Rounding out the dish: a lightly sweet carrot-lemongrass puree and a few sprigs of fragrant microgreens that neatly play off the saltiness of the fish and the saltiness of the fish's crust. A quiet knockout.

The fried catfish, with a mound of vinegared slaw, would put a Southern roadhouse to shame (such crunch!), while the wine-braised beef cheeks, which are almost as rich and unctuous as the potato puree they're served on, could make a Yankee pot roast jealous. A parmesan soup is remarkable for what it's not: it's not heavy, it's not even cheesy; it's topped off with a parmesan foam that accentuates the lightness of the broth; a handful of elegantly fashioned gnocchi, as light as you could hope for, bob in the liquid. As for that ballotine of foie gras—it's surely one of the most sinful and satisfying things you can find on an area menu at the moment. Forget the edible flowers— forget, even, the sweet corn toasts: instead, focus on the intensity and mouth-coating creaminess of the foie gras, which needs only its modest accent of coarse salt and a quick swipe through its drizzle of huckleberry sauce.

-From Kliman Online, February 12, 2008.