Mia Domenicca - Happy Marriages
Let me start out by saying that I like Mia Domenicca. Very much. I want to kvell. But like any good Jewish kibbitzer, I will also point out a few shortcomings, and only because this very promising new Roma spot is the finest to open in recent months anywhere in the city and deserves prodding. The term “Mediterranean” has been constantly bandied about by chefs and their acolytes as a catch-all term and I’m beginning to wonder what it really means. After all, said ocean is surrounded by 26 very distinct countries. Is it possible to integrate the cuisines of all of them under one roof? I doubt it. We have a word well known in one of those countries – Israel to be exact – “ongepotchket.” It means a little of this and a little of that which add up to nothing. So I worried when Diego Patrón, the affable chief of operations and his chef de cuisine, Lucho Martinez Burelo tried to elaborate on the proposal of Mia Domenicca. “It is inspired by the Mediterranean,” they explained. To which I queried, “So what is ‘Mediteranean’ to you?” I received foggy, evasive answers. So maybe un soupçon de France, un toque español, qualcosa italiano, some feta and cous cous? I asked who had traveled to these places and mastered all these culinary traditions. No one had. Though I changed the subject, Katie Couric-style, the interview with the two revealed little. My heart sank. Who could possibly pull such a thing off, I wondered. But the kitchen is in the hands of a young chef who may just be able to handle this onerous task. I think Lucho can do it. Not because he knows all the countries. But because he is damn good at what he does. The locale, at one time the marvellous but décor-wise dreary pan-Spanish Maja had morphed into a big, loud burger joint before Diego took it over and transformed the space into a cheerful, airy, light and plant filled haven. Touches of wood, brick and rustic undercoating bring buoyancy to the potentially imposing rooms. Jazz, played low, is easy on the ears and welcoming in a city plagued by inappropriate music that refuses to stay in the background.
The menu is a collaborative effort between Diego and Lucho and is less pretentious than the restaurant’s publicity material suggests it might be. Dishes are astutely assembled concoctions that utilize whatever is in the market. They are simple and fleetingly refer to specific cultures and places acknowledging France, Italy, Greece or Morocco with a passing nod, a kiss blown, the wave of a hand. These are not attempted reproductions, nor are they contrived; they are loving and living creations, assembled with finesse. Burrata ahumada, tomates cherry, durazno, agua de jitomate, albahaca is a salad nicely composed both visually and taste-wise. A balance of sweet, tart and crunch is achieved with grace. Dressing is low key but there might be tad less of it as the lovely elements risk becoming lost at sea.
I adored ejote francés (i.e. haricots verts) pomodoro, prosciutto and poached egg. It’s an astute marriage of bistro and trattoria, something you might find in Nice if you’re lucky. When the egg breaks, angels sing. A double order would make for a satisfying lunch in and of itself.
Papardelle, house-made to be sure, is thankfully cooked al dente. It’s tossed with beef breast in demi-glace, sprinkled with hazelnuts and shaved parmesano. It’s a text-book perfect mid-Italy pasta. As a not to be missed entrée, an entire pink seta – oyster mushroom – pretty as a Christmas ornament, has been delicately sautéed and plated with a ‘sofrito de kale’ and a reduction of its own umami-full juices. This is an accolade deserving dish, gorgeous, flavor almost ethereal. The trendy star-veg kale, which, like its co-star the beet, will undoubtedly soon descend into minor cameo appearances, here works to add a little bitterness, smart thinking on the chef´s part.
But the kale doesn’t work as well as it sits like a poorly chosen Bendel’s bonnet atop the perfectly cooked fish-of-the-day. Here its in-your-face earthy honesty is like an uninvited guest, already potted and mouthy, at a refined cocktail party. The fish itself, which basks in a puddle of jade colored pureed eggplant, would look and taste better bare.
Pierna de cordero has been pulled and pressed intensifying its lambyness. Side players of romesco, the sweetish red pepper sauce and jocoque, thickened sour cream, are logical accompanists. Another happy wedding, this time Greek and Catalán. Dolly Levy would be proud of the successful matchmaking going on here.
While only two desserts are offered on the current menu, they are both worth saving room for. Panacotta is lavender in both color and flavor, ice cream is fragrant with Earl Grey. Madame Channel would be pleased. Chocolate cream, paired with cardamom gelato is also a very nice idea.
The chef takes mild risks. He jumps hurdles and almost always lands squarely on his feet. There are rough edges but the place has only been open for a month. Given time, I predict that Mia Domenicca will be the best fine dining option in the Roma/Condesa area and amongst the top in the city - it is almost there.
Food: (1-10) 8 and I'm sure it will get better
Ambience: 8 cheery by day, romantic at night
Price: About $600 per person with a glass of wine.
Update October 2017: Mia Domenicca Grows up
Since our initial review published in 2016, Mia Domenicca has gone through a significant change. Talented young chef Lucho Martinez has moved on: he is now working with Lalo at Máximo Bistrot. His replacement is the affable Santiago Migoya, who was born in Mexico and trained in Spain, including stints at Arzak and El Bullí. He brings a mature view to his constantly changing menu. His cooking may not be as experimental as that of his predecessor but dishes continue to reference Mediterranean traditions. He explains that "Lucho had a wilder, more youthful perspective to his kitchen. I'm a bit more conservative. But some of our favorite dishes--the setas, the pressed lamb-- remain on the menu, and I will present new options." It seems Mia Domenicca has matured as all fine restaurants should.