As much as I love a cheeseburger and fries every now and then, there’s still something so wonderful about finding a restaurant that actually makes you want to choose the healthier options. This past Friday night we drove to Harrison Avenue in Lakeview to try out Susan Spicer’s Mondo. We were so impressed with Bayona (written about here) that as soon as our double-date friends suggested Mondo, we quickly said yes. I couldn’t help but be concerned about the menu options, however, considering that I have recently made the investment to work out with a personal trainer a few days a week. New Orleans has such an incredible food scene that it’s hard to deny yourself of anything, which is why a strict fitness plan is key for any food lover. And as I begin my journey towards learning to balance my passion for food with a continuous fitness regimen to stay in shape, I have started opting to make healthier decisions about what I’m ordering in restaurants. After all, I can’t write off the calories I consume as some type of tax-free research (as much as I’d love to!).
But when I started glancing over Mondo’s online menu, I was instantly put at ease. I could easily enjoy myself without jeopardizing my diet, especially with menu items like Buckwheat Noodles with Peanut Sauce and Sunflower Sprouts, Broiled Gulf Fish Almondine, and Wood Oven Baked Vegetable Polenta with Tomato Vinaigrette and Roasted Chicken. Doesn’t all of that sound delicious? I thought so, too. So when we arrived at Mondo around 8 pm on Friday night, I had a game plan: Try a little bit of whatever appetizers are ordered, stick to red wine, split a healthy entree with my friend, and what the heck, have a few bites of dessert. We began the meal with Fried Hominy with Chile and Lime (my friends insisted they were worth it), the Pork and Shrimp Meatballs with Lemongrass Skewers (my choice, since I’m always curious about Thai flavors), and the Ceviche with Fresh Tortilla Chips and Guacamole (because I heard it was amazing). The hominy were cute and almost pop-corn like, but their consistency was a little too chewy for me. I enjoyed the flavor of the chili and lime, but I didn’t eat nearly as many as I was worried I would. The shrimp and pork meatballs were part of the “Snacks” section of the menu, so it only came with two ping pong ball-sized meatballs, which were perfect for each of us to have a taste. Slightly sweet, with a hint of spice, and cooling slices of cucumber, these little meatballs packed big flavor. I tasted shrimp more than I tasted pork, but thoroughly enjoyed the bite and a half that I had. The ceviche, just as I had been warned, was dangerously good; fresh, buttery bites of fish combined with lush avocado, tangy citrus, and some mellow heat from sliced scallions. It was just as good, if not better, than my beloved Baru’s version.
For our entrees my friend and I split the Shrimp with Stewed Okra, Tomatoes and Louisiana Rice (pictured above), my boyfriend ordered the Broiled Lamb T-Bones with Fresh Mint Pepper Jelly and Goat Cheese-Ricotta Agnolotti, and my friend’s husband ordered the Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with Black Beans, Pico de Gallo, and Plantains. The entrees took a little too long to get to the table, but we quickly forgot about the long wait once we took our first bite. My entree was wonderful, taking me back to the days when my mom used to make my grandmother’s stewed okra with tomatoes. This classic dish is pure Southern-style comfort food; thick cut bites of okra, cooked down until soft, and paired with sweet, velvety tomatoes. Spicer’s version featured shrimp and a few pieces of cornmeal fried okra on top. It was so simple and wonderful that I may be making a trip to Mondo again soon just to have it. The online menu doesn’t have it listed, however, which makes me think it may be a seasonal dish. Guess I’ll need to start browsing recipes and learn to make my own healthy version!
My boyfriend’s lamb was served a beautiful medium rare and was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The agnolotti served alongside were like little raviolis, stuffed with goat cheese, ricotta, mint, and I believe some orange zest. It was an interesting combination of classic flavors brought together in a new way to create both a familiar and different eating experience. The originality of this dish was delicious and much appreciated.
Dessert consisted of the Double Chocolate Cake and the Lemon Tart (there was a conflict of interest in the dessert ordering, I wanted tart, others wanted chocolaty). Both desserts were very good, but I have to say that I enjoyed the Lemon Lavender Semifreddo we had at Bayona much, much more. Something was missing in Mondo’s lemon tart and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
Before visiting Mondo I had read some seriously negative reviews about the place, but my overall first experience was a positive one. Our waitress was friendly, appetizers were brought quickly, entrees did take a little too long (though we were so engrossed in conversation we hardly noticed), and the bill was split as requested. I found the atmosphere to be upscale yet casual, and the temperature inside the restaurant to be pleasant (that was another complaint – too hot). Mondo’s menu offers a great display of worldly cuisine without being the least bit ostentatious. Prices are reasonable for the quality of the ingredients (though the portions could be slightly bigger), and the good news for foodie moms and dads? They even have a kid’s menu. I can easily add Mondo to my list of diet friendly restaurants and I look forward to making some future healthy decisions at this Lakeview eatery.