Mondo Bondo, a small Italian bistro, is the third Power Plant Live restaurant I've been to. What I've come to realize in the process is that nobody over 30 knows what Power Plant Live is.
Oh, they think they do.
"Where exactly is that new restaurant?" they ask. "Next to the Hard Rock Cafe?"
No, I explain. They're thinking of the Power Plant. Power Plant Live is a couple of blocks north of the Power Plant and the Inner Harbor, where the Brokerage used to be.
They look blank.
Where the movie theaters were.
Next to Ruth's Chris? Port Authority?
Here light may start to dawn, although they still seem uncertain.
So let me digress. If my reviews encourage you to try Mondo Bondo or one of the other restaurants, here's what you need to know:
Power Plant Live is an entertainment complex with nightclubs, a comedy club and eating places arranged around a plaza. It has an arena liquor license so you can carry your drink from place to place.
To get there from Interstate 83 south, turn off President Street onto Lombard Street. Power Plant Live is on your right past the now-closed movie theaters. To lure customers, valet parking is $6; or you can park in the garage yourself for $8. Security people are very visible in the garage and plaza.
Mondo Bondo is the sprightly cafe to the left of the plaza that specializes in casual food and friendly service. Its name is a playful takeoff on owner Brett Bond's name. The small dining room is informal and cheerful, with exposed brick and grass-green walls, black and white photographs as art, lots of blond wood and an open kitchen.
Mondo Bondo has the look of a pizzeria, with several pizzas on display for sale by the slice. Pizza is certainly one way to go. Try, for instance, a 12-inch pizza topped with tender pieces of grilled chicken breast, sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese and grilled onions seasoned with pesto.
But if you don't mind spending less for dinner than you did for parking, I recommend going on Pasta Night, otherwise known as Thursday, when you get a choice of five pastas, a salad and garlic bread for $7. You could have a vegetarian lasagna oozing with melted cheese, made with fresh spinach, ricotta and a fresh-tasting tomato sauce. The salad has gourmet greens, marinated grilled vegetables, Romano cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette.
Various pastas are on the regular menu, including fat ravioli Bolognese with a meaty tomato sauce. If you prefer a more substantial dinner, Mondo Bondo offers entrees like a steak and crab cakes. Chicken pot pie is often a special. A handsome, very fresh piece of salmon sported a saffron cream sauce that was a bit thick, but well executed. Homey mashed potatoes studded with bits of red skin and fragrant with garlic came with it.
Appetizers are substantial enough to serve as a light supper. Mussels soared in a bath of white wine, bits of fresh tomato and basil. A Gorgonzola salad was huge, overflowing with cheese, bacon, slices of apple and pine nuts. Fried eggplant with cheese and marinara needed only to be followed by a salad to be a meal. Only the three large shrimp wrapped in prosciutto, broiled and sauced with a balsamic vinegar reduction, were truly an appetizer.
Mondo Bondo's desserts may surprise you. Who would expect to get a hot banana wrapped in phyllo and chocolate with whipped cream at what's basically an upscale pizza parlor? There are other equally decadent choices ranging from vanilla cheesecake to densely chocolate cake.
What won't be a pleasant surprise is the wine list, written on a scrap of paper brought from the waitress's pocket. You may want to stick to beer, if the wines we got by the glass are any indication.
Mondo Bondo illustrates that inexpensive Italian-American food can be fresh, lively and even sophisticated. I'm waiting for them to realize that the same can be true of wine.
Atmosphere: ** 1/2
Where: 30 Market Place, Power Plant Live
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, Wednesday through Saturday for dinner
Prices: Appetizers, $4-$13.50; main courses, $7-$19
Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor:*