Check another one off of my "Restaurants in the Neighborhood" list. We recently dined at Mio located on Vermont, south of Thomas Circle. One of my co-workers tipped me off to the Tastings Journal group which arranges prix fixe menus at different Washington restaurants (more on them in a later post). For $45 you get a tasting menu plus a glass of wine. This month, the Tastings Journal chose Mio and we decided to check it out.
The experience left me a bit confused and it's not all Mio's fault. For some reason, I had it stuck in my head that Mio was an Italian restaurant. When we got there and looked at the menu, it was such a mixture of cuisine that I really couldn't tell what the "theme" was. After I ate there, I still didn't know how to describe it, so I checked Mio's website and it says it features "modern American cuisine with Latin-American accents." Really? It must have been a subtle accent because I didn't pick up on it.
Mio's accent may be quiet but it's noise level is not. This is definitely not a good place to bring your grandparents because Mio is LOUD. One recent Yelp reviewer wrote that Mio was as loud as "a junior high school cafeteria on pizza day." Well said.
Our experience started off on an odd foot when we arrived on time for our 8:30pm reservation and were told it "would be a few minutes." We sat down right next to the hostess stand and waited. We were literally two feet from the hostesses as they stood there and chatted with each other with empty tables behind them. After probably 10 minutes the hostess said "Oh! We didn't seat you yet?" Uh no. She walked us to our table and said "you were so quiet we thought we already sat you." A word to the wise: if you want to be seated at Mio, it seems you should do a modern interpretive dance (a la Mia Michaels) right in front of the hostess and make lots of noise so you don't get accused of being too quiet.
Even our table was a bit off. It was one of those two tops where one person is seated on a banquette and the other is on a chair. The problem was that the banquette seat was positioned right next to a giant column so I was stuck in the timeout corner while B (seated on the chair) could see around the column to the tables next to us.
Our waiter came over and confirmed that we wanted the Tastings Journal menu and asked if we wanted red or white wine. He then disappeared for a long time, and the amuse bouche came out before our orders had been taken. Even with the tasting menu you have to choose between a couple of options for each course. So, with menus still on the table in front of us, we shrugged it off and tried the chilled cucumber soup. It was pretty tasty if you like chilled soups and cucumbers. I'm not a fan of either but that's just my issue, not Mio's.
Once the disappearing waiter returned, we placed our orders and the first course came. B had the Arugula Salad (hand torn arugula, fresh chopped fennel with white anchovies in a lemon citronette dressing). It was fresh-tasting and packed quite a pucker with the lemon dressing. At this point, I still thought Mio was an Italian restaurant.
I started with the Coconut Shrimp (shrimp served with a coconut milk and simjobel chili puree on a bed of sliced plantains). This dish had excellent spicy sweet flavor but it felt a bit disjointed from the soup and my next course. This must be one of Mio's latin accents. If the dish is any indication, Mio should crank up the Latin flair.
Next I had the penne pasta with a goat cheese and sundried tomato sauce. See why I was confused? The Latin shrimp dish and this classic Italian dish back to back? This one was pretty non-descript and the pasta was really al dente. I will give them credit for not skimping on the portion sizes. It was a hefty serving of pasta for an early course.
B opted for the roasted calamari which is not going to win any awards for prettiest blog photo. The calamari was, as calamari tends to be, very, very chewy. It also had a similar lemon sauce to B's arugula salad, which is odd because the description says "shaved sweet garlic with oyster mushrooms finished with fresh basil leaves."
The main courses were where Mio shined. My beef tenderloin with summer vegetables was cooked to perfection and the veggies added a nice punch.
B's roasted atlantic salmon with fennel slaw was also cooked nicely and served with a very flavorful, but not overpowering sauce. The slaw was flavored with that same familiar lemon dressing. Can you see a trend developing?
The dessert won't be making my top 10 list for the year. It was a pedestrian bread pudding that the menu billed as chocolate sherry bread pudding with blueberries and chocolate mousse. Eh, I've had better.
B's mojito sorbet was a great example of why presentation is important. The sorbet was a spinach-like green color served in a clear glass. When it started to melt it resembled baby food. Even if this was the best sorbet on the planet (it wasn't), it looked pretty scary.
It's not that I didn't like Mio because there were some highlights, and the $45 per person price tag was a bargain. I just felt like the whole experience was "off." We had strange service with lots of different waiters and busboys rushing around grabbing stuff off of our table before we could tell them whether we were finished with it. The hostess situation was weird and we nearly went hoarse trying to speak to each other.
I might give Mio another shot when it's not a "special menu" time, but with so many fantastic restaurants nearby it's probably going to be awhile.
Second Thoughts From B
The devil is in the details, and for me, it will be the details that will shape my memory of our time at Mio. To be fair, my salmon was cooked so perfectly that it produced a memorably goofy grin on my face after the first bite. Also, I can still remember the unique flavor of the calamari (this is a good thing). And while we've had many chili-coconut sauced dishes, I loved Mio's version, especially with the addition of the plantain.
But unfortunately, I still am hung up on the steady stream of events that were sprinkled throughout the meal. Whether it was service that didn't match the quality of the restaurant or the just disjointed, unimaginative, or less than perfectly executed dishes, Mio missed the mark. It is too bad too, because whether it is Italian, Latin, or American, there is potential here. Now if they could just add a little polish so I could tell if it is a diamond or another piece of coal...