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Mogano by Giorgio Locatelli - FCC Review #012

“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”

*cries in Mahogany House*.

I had the opportunity to dine at Mogano yesterday evening on a whim, effectively, but nonetheless an experience I was looking forward to. Its predecessor Mahogany House was by far my favorite restaurant on the island. An incumbent, the Chef at Mahogany House (Chef Daniel Quirk) had the kitchen running like a well oiled machine, and the consistency of the dishes was matched only by a long-term front runner, Café Matisse. Inimitable, but with time comes change, the inevitable. Chef Dan, if you're reading this, all I want is the Manicotti back on the menu!

Maybe I am guilty of keeping my expectations at a Mahogany House level but for Mogano they should be high. After all, there is a Michelin Starred chef leading the charge of this new, and exciting Italian culinary experience. Italian cuisine, next to Chinese food, is the most widely exported cuisine on the planet. You can find it literally, everywhere; in fact you have to pass a few Italian restaurants to get to Mogano, so perhaps this blog will save you a drive. Jinkies.

Before I really dig into this, I do accept that new restaurants need some time to warm up, but that level of leniency is often not extended to chefs of a certain standing; in the same way you expect a professional basketball player to hit the lay up – the first time, with a Michelin Star under your belt, you’re expected to slay it, the first time. They’ve been opened for about two weeks.

On entry, there is a charming garland of greenery draped across the pergola styled entrance way. Reminiscent of a restaurant now gone, the doorway was the most familiar part of the experience. The restaurant service remains consistent – not impeccable, but easily an 8.5/10 – you feel welcomed, and charmed by enthusiasm of the staff. A new cocktail menu will walk you through the classics, and some elegantly crafted house cocktails. The wine list is modest. With the transition from a more Mediterranean restaurant, to a refined Italian restaurant, it seems that the Italian wines have little others intermingled in the bunch. I’m neither here, nor there on this save to say my favorite wine was a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and it hurt my feelings not to see it on the list anymore.

The interior design, now striped of the big screen TV that adorned the center of the bar in that wonderful restaurant that is no more, reminds me of a boutique hotel lobby. There’s a lot of white marbling, and some contemporary but maddeningly obscure artwork on the walls. The bar seating is much more comfortable, and gives you a great wide angle view through the square bookshelves into the main dining hall. The bar-chairs are incredible comfortable, they deserve honorable mention.

Sat at a table for two, we were presented with a bread basket fit for a Pharaoh; the rosemary Focaccia really stood out for me, the other were less memorable but nonetheless delicious.

Now, remember when I said that Italian food is the most exported cuisine around the world (save for Chinese food)? That presents in many different ways. I have eaten Italian food in New York, London, Toronto, Washington DC, San Francisco, and most importantly in Rome, and a few other Italian cities. My rule with food is adapted from Gordon Ramsey, who says you shouldn’t dine out and pay for something you can make better yourself at home. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point right?

To start, we ordered the pan-fried scallops with celeriac puree and saffron vinaigrette, the hand cut beef tartare with red pepper vinaigrette, celery, mint and burrata; a bread salad with cherry tomatoes, red onions and oregano.

Scallops are an elegant seafood treasure and have to be treated as such. They don’t require much cooking time, just a good old hot skillet, some butter, and a little salt. The scallops at Mogano were the blandest I’ve tasted in sometime; I want to taste a little of the sea in my seafood, but with some other things, even a little salt would have been a nice kick. They are also quite small.

The beef tartare was an interesting plate; the beef being hand-cut seems to have made a difference in the way decanting does to a wine, the rough chop seemed to have provoked the beef into a different form, the lack of an egg yolk made this tartare non-traditional, and that was fine but again other than the beef, there was nothing that brought this dish to light. The switch was about half way up the resistor, but needed that extra umph.

You can’t really go wrong with burrata; the cheese was fresh as though it was made in-house (it may have been, I didn’t ask) and you’ll notice that the menu says “burrata e panzanella”. Panzanella is a type of salad that originated in Tuscany (Italy); chopped (usually stale) bread, with onions, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and sometimes it’s served with cucumber. Great combination with the creaminess of the cheese and the acidity of the vinegar in this dish; something about burrata and red onions just speaks to my soul. This was the best dish of the night.

The rollout of the food didn’t allow for one to really ruminate on the previous course as the entrees were out 10 minutes (if even that long) after the appetizer plates had been cleared. Order a Basilico, that was an excellent cocktail (pictured above), as was the In-Fashion (pictured below) – I am strongly biased toward gin based cocktails, by the way, so if it isn’t your speed, don’t fight me. The restaurant ambience is soft in décor, and quite chatty and lively with many table conversations and the sound of the kitchen orchestra proceeding through the interlude into the crescendo.

For mains; the lamb loin with roasted Jerusalem artichokes with a pea and mint puree, and the ravioli filled with braised oxtail, served with a beef sauce were the table choices. The loin of any animal is a piece of meat that has to be cooked delicately, and is intended in almost every instance to be served moist, preferably medium-rare and if done right it will be so tender you can slice through it with the side of your fork.

The Jerusalem artichokes tasted like thistle mixed with very green chlorophyll rich grass, the pea and mint puree had a peculiar flavor profile that I am struggling to describe. Peas have a sweet but earthy taste, general, and mint just tastes…well, minty. Separately I love them both, but together they dance with two left feet and I don’t think it meshed well with the dish over all. The lamb was not particularly flavorful, but it was tender though wanting for more attention perhaps from cast-iron or a little finishing spice to give ones taste-buds something to vibe to.

When it comes to ravioli, or any pasta for that matter, you’d generally expect an Italian restaurant to excel with no exception. While the ravioli was well made, the filling, and the beef sauce somehow clashed. It was as though one was eating oxtail, but in a sauce made from roasted femur bones and marrow in some peculiar reduction. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t terrible, but where my expectations were, this ravioli has yet to arrive.

I wish I could give you a review of the dessert menu but by the end of the meal I was entirely too full. I’d usually jump head-first into some tiramisu, and in hindsight I wish I had done so but I can’t help but be skeptical – did they change that too?

Restaurants, particular the ones located in resorts are always trying to innovate and recreate themselves to cater to a particular audience or an identifiable target market. Whatever that market is, they have no issue with what I’ll describe as “Italian cuisine with a small I”. Overall, I’d give this newcomer 6 out of 10. The drinks were much better than the cuisine; innovative and delicious – I haven’t seen a lot of those cocktails on any other comparative restaurant or bar menu in The Bahamas. But, the food was not what I expected. I will revisit the experience in a few months and see if anything changes.

Long live Mahogany House.

Follow: @foodcultureco and @imnickintl on Instagram.

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