714 Main St, FW. 817-415-0144. 6:30am-2pm daily, 5-9pm Sun-Thu, 5-10pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Downtown Fort Worth has never had much in the way of Italian restaurants. Sure, Picchi Pacchi is a beloved institution, but it’s strictly a pizza joint, and no one would mistake it for fine dining. Into this vacuum steps Il Modo, the upscale Italian place inside the newly opened Kimpton-Harper Hotel. It’s the sort of restaurant that a Fort Worth native would love, since all the best stuff comes off the grill.
I ordered a burrata off the list of antipasti, and the ball of fresh cheese arrived on a bed of pesto sauce with four slices of grilled sourdough bread. The cheese lacked the traditional liquid center of cream and stracciatella, which may be a plus or a minus to you. I appreciated how the sweetness of the curd wasn’t overpowered by too much salt. The bread, meanwhile, was done to that particular combination of crispness and chewiness that you’d associate with a perfectly baked pizza crust. As a bread starter, this beat the pants off the basket of bread and butter that most restaurants give you, not to mention the olive oil on a plate that many Italian restaurants serve, expecting you to use their bread to soak it up. (That, by the way, is an American practice that natives of Italy would not recognize.)
The kitchen was out of its salmon and chicken entrées when I visited for dinner, so I ordered the steak. The 6 ounces of filet mignon will underwhelm if you’re one of those diners who wants giant portions of beef to prove your manhood. I thought the beautifully presented dish worked well as a delicate beef dish, with the filet’s flavor enhanced by a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Accompanying the meat were cherry tomatoes and cipollini onions, both subjected to the grill as well, and I liked the smoke and caramel notes that this brought to the veggies. The tomatoes in particular had skins wrinkled from the heat and turned into little bombs of juice and seeds when I speared them with my fork.
The items that aren’t from the grill came out less stellar. The linguine and clams were perfectly fine, though no better than what you’d enjoy at other Italian places. The meatball sandwich sported some terrific meatballs with breadcrumbs and Parmesan giving it that tender texture that you expect. Trouble is, the bread it came on didn’t have that crispy, crackly crust that you’d want from Italian bread. You’re better off ordering those meatballs by themselves as an appetizer, which is an option.
One place where the menu’s smallness turned out to be a liability was in the dessert section, where the kitchen only offered the same sweets that every other Italian restaurant offers. How hard could it be for some eatery to stand out by making passable zeppole, granitas, or zuppa Inglese? Anyway, my blood orange sorbet came out with the citrus flavor paramount, and I was glad the dish wasn’t cloyingly sweet the way that so many frozen desserts can be. I also got quite a lot of the sorbet, which makes this one of the few bargains on the menu. For some reason, the cannoli are available only during the lunch service, and the fried pastry shell harbored a pleasant surprise with mint-flavored cream in the center.
Staffing shortages have bedeviled the restaurant industry ever since the pandemic hit, and they have prevented Il Modo from expanding the menu as was previously scheduled. This is too bad, since grilled octopus has periodically been listed as an entrée online but has not actually been offered by the kitchen. Octopus is the ultimate test of a grill master because while the mollusk is wonderful when it’s done right, it’s easy to screw up, and that’s when eating it becomes like chewing on someone’s week-old party balloon. I have faith in Il Modo’s kitchen to avoid that, enough that I intend to be back once a full staff is at the grill.
Meatball sandwich $18