Modo Mio, located in the middle of the Crystal Cove shopping center reflects this trend. Look for the dark green awnings that announce the presence of this handsome, contemporary spot.
As you step inside, there is an aisle, bordered on both sides by attractive wooden wine cabinets, dividing the dining area in two. On one side is the open kitchen and on the other a small bar. Each high ceiling room is divided once again with archways creating two intimate nooks next to the windows.
Upon entering, we noticed a "Help Wanted" sign in the window. We were seated by a passing waiter, given our menus by another and yet a third took our order. Two of the three declared that this was their first night on the job. After ordering, a plate of raw marinated mushrooms arrived, compliments of the chef. It was quite a generous portion, not the usual one-bite "amuse bouche." Dressed with a light lemon vinaigrette, made with good-quality olive oil, it exemplified our favorite kind of Italian dish: fresh ingredients, simply prepared.
For our first antipasto, we selected guazzetto di calamaretti described as sautéed calamari in a light tomato sauce. What arrived was a pleasant surprise.
Actually it was a soup: rings of calamari floating in a light tomato broth infused with the calamari juices and made piquant by olives and capers. It is a nice departure from the more familiar fried dish.
The next day, we looked up the unfamiliar term "guazzetto" and discovered it means a soup or light stew. We'd love to see more of this around town.