Chef Susan Spicer intended her new Lakeview restaurant Mondo to be a casual neighborhood place, but she's following her own eclectic tastes to make sure it's far from the local norm. Working with chef du cuisine Cindy Crosbie and sous chef Paul Schel, she's created a unique mix of updated Louisiana standards and dishes from all corners of the world, as referenced in the restaurant's Italian name.
At first, this approach seemed aimless. On an initial visit, a round of appetizers filled our table with an international jumble: hot and sour soup, melted Gorgonzola spread on ciabatta toast, buckwheat noodles in peanut sauce and a plate of darkly fried hominy, a bar snack that here is akin to CornNuts in need of salt. But as we progressed — to the braised duck leg with Chinese seasoning; smoky, Latin-style pork roast; small, deftly done lamb T-bones; and baked polenta covered with spinach and garlic — the meal became an unfettered romp of creatively wrought comfort food. After a few visits, we regarded a sequence moving from ceviche to homey roasted chicken to a flan-like, fruit-covered flaugnarde crepe as the unorthodox but expected Mondo meal.
Spicer practices some of this genre jumping at Bayona, her first and far more ambitious restaurant. But Mondo is not the Bayona of Lakeview, and those who come here expecting that are bound to be disappointed. This is a family-oriented place with a kids' menu. The attractive bar and dining room are finished with lots of bare wood and calming colors, though both spaces get very loud when Mondo is crowded. This is a weeknight restaurant or a spot for Friday dinner when you're not up for a momentous event.
It's difficult to coordinate any particular cravings with such a global selection. But the care and creativity on the moderately priced menu are plain to see, and that's Mondo's real appeal. For instance, mint pepper jelly seemed to ooze from the broiled, herbaceous meat of the lamb mentioned above. My favorite dish is the redfish with "muddy waters" sauce, a tribute to the long-gone Uglesich's Restaurant. The sauce has the look and texture of a thick meuniere, but gets salty zing from discreet additions of anchovy and jalapeno.
A wood oven visible from the dining room issues small pizzas with interesting toppings like rapini or salami made locally at Butcher. The dough has good character, too. It's chewy yet light, though I like my pies crisper and more bubbled than these have been. Spicer's cooks use the oven to slow-roast pork, so while Lakeview sleeps, the makings for the brunch menu's excellent pork migas take shape.
Portions are modest for most dishes, which is another way Mondo differs from traditional neighborhood restaurants. I wouldn't expect leftovers here, but I do count on more creative comfort cooking when I inevitably return to this exciting new place.