Wilmington Restaurant Review: Mona Lisa Euro Bistro Brings Western Europe to Little Italy
While some authentic Italian dishes remain from its original incarnation, the restaurant’s overhaul includes exotic ingredients and European classics.
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“When I was young, I wanted to be a gymnast first,” he says with a laugh. “Second choice was to be a chef on a cruise ship so I could see the world. So after school, that’s what I did.”
Macq spent his adult years skipping between the Cayman Islands (where he met his pastry chef wife, Kelly), Monte Carlo, New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver and other places, selling wine and working the restaurants. In 2001, he took a manager’s position at the Wilmington Country Club before heeding his family’s call to go into business for themselves.
Earlier this year, the husband and wife purchased the Little Italy classic, Ristorante Mona Lisa. Tiny, intimate and Italian to the core, the Lincoln Street shop was the site of countless wedding rehearsal dinners and graduation parties. Varsity letters from all the local high schools famously graced the bar.
Recasting it as Mona Lisa Euro Bistro, the new owners still save room for chicken parm on the menu, but little else of the familiar remains. The Macqs, along with their chef, Jason Hook, assemble a culinary geography lesson, plucking dishes from France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, and basically the rest of Western Europe.
Some Euro-centric flair injected into the community might not seem an Earth-shattering change, but some of the bistro’s more exotic ingredients—think frog legs, blood sausage and schnitzel—could stand out in Little Italy like Pauly D at The Louvre.
But a break from the norm feels good. And even on the few occasions when it missed the mark, Mona Lisa’s best trait was its uniqueness. In Hook’s hands, the owners’ penchant for exotic ingredients open the gates for fun and creative flourishes. It’s what made dishes like his duck salad stand out. Tender, fatty flakes of duck confit, piled high on a hulking thicket of frisée and radicchio, rounded out the leaves’ bitterness, while hot-pink raspberry vinaigrette performed dutifully as a unifying element.
Elsewhere it was Spanish blood sausage and sautéed ratatouille that anchored the otherworldly mushroom ravioli. The raviolo itself (yes, just one) seemed like an afterthought, buried under a pile of sautéed summer squashes, fresh and pronounced in flavor, carrots and bell peppers. The sturdy veggies soaked up the strong herbal notes from thick slices of mushroom, while the hunks of sausage melted a tannic layer of richness into the mix.