Lakeview was one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the levee breaks, and commercial establishments were relatively slow to return. For a long time, homeowners rebuilding there were akin to homesteaders, having little in the way of supporting infrastructure. The neighborhood has been recovering one slow step at a time, and now that balance has tipped and Lakeview has momentum on its side. This is evidenced by the wide selection of restaurants along the Harrison Avenue corridor on both sides of West End Boulevard. Grabbing headlines recently was the opening of Susan Spicer’s Mondo, which rounds out the wide spectrum of places to dine. If Tony Angello’s reopening was important for signifying the return of a local institution, Mondo is important for signifying progressiveness, revitalization and growth.
For Mondo, the shiny new kid on the block, the synergy is apropos. Chef Susan Spicer, who lives nearby, has a vested interest in the neighborhood. “I wasn’t really dying to open a restaurant just anywhere,” she says. “I just felt like the time was right and there was a need here. There has been a real upsurge in activity and a lot of redevelopment on Harrison. The library is being built and the banks are coming back, for example.”
Just as Bayona is a celebration of global influences, Mondo culls its menu items from all over the world. The menu casts a wide net and takes cues from Asian, Latin and Mediterranean fare. Add a few local favorites (Crawfish Étouffée with Louisiana rice), a kids’ menu (a real plus for parents and a shrewd move in this family-friendly neighborhood) and fresh pizza from the wood-burning oven – it covers a lot of ground.
“For me the new challenge was the wood burning oven and making pizzas, which is something I’d never done,” Spicer says. “And also to see if I could do the same quality of food at a lower price point than Bayona. To see how creative I can be while trying to watch my budget at the same time.”
For starters, try the citrusy ceviche, made with fresh lime juice. Other places often prepare this dish with bottled juice, and you can really taste the difference at Mondo. Here it gets paired with creamy guacamole, which smoothes out the tartness. The trio of spreads (Taramasalata, White Bean and Garlic and Green Olive Tapenade) makes for good sharing and the Thai Shrimp and Pork Meatballs, speared on lemongrass skewers, are positively addictive.
For the main course, the daily Gulf Fish selection gets prepared any one of three ways. The most intriguing is the Muddy Waters option, which is finished with a sauce made up of dark roux, Crystal hot sauce, garlic and jalapeños, brown butter and anchovy. “That one was inspired by Anthony Uglesich,” Spicer says. “He used to make that sauce and this is my interpretation of it.” Asian influences are showcased with Spicer’s Chinese Braised Duck Leg; and pork lovers will enjoy her Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with pico de gallo, black beans and plantains.
For dessert, try the Flaugnarde, a wonderfully thick crepe made with seasonal fruit and baked in the wood oven.
The Lemon Tart is tasty as well.
Brought in to help run the kitchen is Chef de Cuisine Cindy Crosbie, a New Orleans native who has recently returned to town, and Sous Chef and Bayona alumnus Paul Chell. As of press time, Mondo is dinner-only and does not take reservations. Spicer has plans to eventually extend its hours to include lunch and weekend brunch seatings.
More upscale destinations include the Steak Knife across the street from Mondo, and Tony Angello’s on the far side of West End. Earlier this year I covered Madrid, which features very good Spanish cuisine, a rarity in the city.
For more casual fare, right across the street from Mondo is Lakeview Harbor, which has a large menu offering steaks, poor boys and traditional bar-type grub rounded out with daily plate lunch specials such as Prime Rib on Sunday. However, the best reason to go is for the good burgers with Port of Call pedigree, augmented with fully-loaded baked potatoes. My menu choice typically dead ends in a Bacon and Cheddar Burger done medium rare, served on a toasted bun. Double-down with an order of Potato Skins and Stuffed Mushrooms, which are topped with crabmeat and soaked in butter and come served with Hollandaise sauce. The ambiance is strictly neighborhood nautical chic, with an old-school claw machine that is neither retro nor ironic – just part of the landscape. Children will like that, along with the kids’ menu.
Dixie Chicken and Ribs is around the corner, another friendly neighborhood spot that specializes in, you guessed it, fried chicken (also rotisserie style and barbecue) plus ribs. I found the ribs unremarkable, over-sauced and overly moist, but the fried chicken was fantastic. Again you will find a menu loaded with fried seafood and poor boy options, along with the kind of sides typical of a barbeque shack. A kids menu, laid back vibe and friendly service make this another good spot for families.