Inside il Modo: A Taste of Downtown's Newest Italian Restaurant
See full Fort Worth Magazine article by Malcolm Mayhew here.
There’s no Sinatra music wafting through the air, no checkerboard tablecloths. Scan the menu, and instead of spaghetti and meatballs, you’ll find spaghetti made with ricotta cheese, heirloom tomatoes, and basil, with not a drop of tomato sauce or a crumb of a meatball to be found.
Contemporary Italian cuisine served in an environment that defies the usual Italian restaurant trappings is nothing new for Fort Worth — Piattello comes to mind; Piola, too. But our city’s beloved red sauce Italian spots often overshadow edgy newcomers. On the other hand, the mere fact that forward-thinking restaurants like il Modo continue to open in Fort Worth is further evidence of the city’s expanding palate.
Il Modo is located on the ground floor of the sparkling new Kimpton Harper Hotel, a 226-room boutique hotel that opened in June in downtown Fort Worth, in what used to be the XTO Energy building. While il Modo occupies the ground floor, up top, on the 24th floor, is Refinery 714, a bar that offers small bites, craft cocktails, and a smart selection of whiskeys, all served against a backdrop of picturesque views of downtown and beyond.
Originally built in 1921 as the headquarters for Farmers and Mechanics Bank, the historic building has been given a classy, inviting makeover by Memphis-based Development Services Group, Inc.
Such descriptions could also be used to describe il Modo, whose simple food and elegant presentations give way to bold flavors, some of which you may not even identify as Italian.
Octopus, for example, comes grilled, scarred with a perfect sear — evidence of a chef with a deft hand. But its cape of peperonata is less Italian and more Spanish — a deliciously welcome touch.
The pastas, made in-house — a rarity in Fort Worth — are must-tries: linguine with white wine and Manila clams; garganelli draped in lamb ragu, capers, and Castelvetrano olives; that incredible spaghetti. Snag a seat near the pasta-making room, enclosed in floor-to-ceiling glass walls, and you can watch chefs and cooks make what you’re about to eat.
“I’ve definitely utilized a less-is-more approach,” says il Modo’s executive chef Matthew Williams, a Chicago native who moved from his hometown to lead the restaurant’s kitchen. “I can’t tell you how many restaurants I’ve been to, Italian restaurants, where they emphasize the number of ingredients they use. You don’t have to do that to have a good dish. You just need great components — just a few great components — and you can have an incredible dish.”
Even the restaurant’s showstopper, a 22-ounce, bone-in rib-eye made for two, is barely dressed, accented only with bits of roasted garlic, light seasoning, and bone marrow butter. It’s one of the best things on the menu. “So much of what we do here has to do with the actual cooking — the techniques we use,” Williams says. “That’s how you bring out the flavor in what you’re cooking, not by burying it under a mountain of other ingredients. Who wants to eat a rib-eye that you can’t actually taste?”
Entertainingly outspoken and deadpan honest, Williams has spent most of his life in the restaurant industry. After graduating from Chicago’s Kendall College with a Culinary Arts degree, he landed a job at Brendan Sodikoff’s Hogsalt Hospitality group in Chicago, where he quickly rose from line cook to sous-chef to executive sous-chef at several concepts in the group, including Gilt Bar and Cocello.
Following his time at Hogsalt, Williams was hired to help open Barcocina Chicago, a chef-driven modern Mexican restaurant; there, he held the executive chef position for four years.
Williams’ professional foray into Italian food came when he accepted a job as executive chef of Bar Siena, a rustic Italian restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop Neighborhood. In 2018, he joined Mino’s Italian as a chef consultant, developing the restaurant’s menu and supervising its culinary operations. Il Modo makes his third Italian restaurant.
“I love cooking all types of food. As a working chef, I have to love what I do, or I won’t be any good at it,” he says. “I particularly love the simplicity of Italian food — how it doesn’t require a lot of ingredients. I also love how flexible of a cuisine it can be. With Italian cooking, you don’t have to follow the rules. If it’s good, people will follow.”
The new il Modo restaurant, tucked inside the just-opened Kimpton Harper Hotel, isn’t the only new hotel restaurant in town.
Over the past few years, there’s been a revival of hotels brandishing their own signature restaurants — a throwback to a time, more than half a century ago, when many of the city’s brightest hotels featured their own on-site restaurants. And, looking ahead, more are on the way. Here’s a look at a few of them:
Wicked Butcher at The Sinclair
Occupying the ground floor and basement levels of the magnificent Sinclair Hotel, a Marriott Autograph Collection property that opened in 2019 in the historic Sinclair building downtown, Wicked Butcher is a high-end steakhouse that can certainly hold its own against neighboring steakhouse stalwarts such as Ruth’s Chris, Capital Grille, and Bob’s Steak & Chop House at the nearby Omni. The restaurant’s decor echoes the building’s art deco design, with glossy white brick and tile and brass fixtures.
What to Eat: Wicked Butcher’s menu features domestic and international premium cuts of beef, including wet- and dry-aged steaks. There’s also a small but impressive lineup of seafood. Sides include crawfish maque choux, Yorkshire creamed spinach, and corn crème brûlée.
What to drink: An impressive wine program features bottles from around the globe. You can also enjoy specialty cocktails 17 flights up, on the hotel’s gorgeous rooftop bar.
Info: 512 Main St., wickedbutcher.com
Toro Toro at The Renaissance Worthington Fort Worth Hotel
Simply known as the Worthington, this five-star property — owned by Marriott — opened in the early 1980s as one of the first businesses in the Sundance Square footprint. Its restaurants have changed over the years, with Toro Toro opening in 2019. A pan-Latin concept developed by Mexico City native Richard Sandoval, the meat-centric restaurant, whose striking décor combines elements of sculpture, metal mill work, fabrics, natural stone, and tooled leather, offers dinner (and lunch) with a show: All the meats are cooked over a wood-burning grill in an open kitchen, and diners are treated to Instagram-worthy moments of the smoke and fire that goes into many dishes.
What to eat: Although technically a steakhouse, double T is different than other steakhouses in that most of its dishes have a Latin flair — a refreshing change of pace. A good way to start is with the smoked swordfish dip. Entrees include rib-eyes, including a monster 52-ounce for two (or three or four!), lamb chops, filet mignon, and barbecue chicken, all prepared over open flames and served with Latin-style sauces and accoutrements. There are lots of vegetable options, too, including roasted Brussels sprouts and grilled broccolini with bok choy.
What to drink: Bloody marys and margaritas, for sure. For those who just want to sit and sip, the restaurant features a separate bar that seamlessly blends into the hotel’s comfortable and spacious lobby.
Info: 200 Main St., torotorofortworth.com
97 West at Hotel Drover
One of the most anticipated — and, because of the pandemic, delayed — hotels to open in Fort Worth this year, the stylish Hotel Drover is the anchor of the multimillion-dollar Mule Alley development in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Its signature restaurant, 97 West, pays tribute to Southern cuisine, cowboy chow, and other forms of American food, in a heavily cowhided, Texana-forward atmosphere.
What to eat: The lunch and dinner menus are dominated by Southern staples, given a chef’s touch by executive chef Grant Morgan: chicken-fried oysters, fried green tomatoes marinated in sweet tea, antelope with goat cheese grits. The restaurant is also open daily for breakfast and weekend buffet brunch.
What to drink: There’s a long list of signature cocktails, plus beers and wines from around the state and globe. When the weather’s nice, roam, sip, or doze in the hotel’s scenic backyard area.
Info: 200 Mule Alley Drive, hoteldrover.com
Atico at SpringHill Suites
Love him or not, Tim Love knows Fort Worth’s restaurant scene about as well as anybody here, and his concepts are often both intriguing and inviting. Atico, a rooftop tapas bar and cocktail lounge, fits into his wheelhouse nicely. The food goes against his own comfort food grain. Taking inspiration from his travels to Barcelona, he focuses on small plates — or tapas, for those who like to think they’re foodies — and Spanish-inspired wine and cocktail menu. The food’s good, but the best reason to go may be the killer views of the Stockyards and downtown.
What to eat: Order several of the small plates, and you’ll have a nice dinner. Our favorites include the scallops with serrano-infused curry, a shaved tenderloin Spanish flatbread, and clams decorated with chorizo.
What to drink: One of the restaurant’s signature drinks is housemade horchata spiked with rye whiskey.
Info: 2315 N. Main St., aticofortworth.com
Pax & Beneficia Coffee at AC Hotel
Pax & Beneficia takes up a cozy corner space at the newly opened AC Hotel, another Marriott property downtown, this one featuring clean lines in a stylish, sparse, sort of space-age environment. Although primarily a coffeehouse, Pax & Beneficia offers a small menu of toasts, sandwiches, and brunchy light bites.
What to eat: P&B serves pastries, breakfasty items, and toasts with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flairs, such as the Labneh & Za’atar Toast and Za’atar & Feta Toast. The hotel also has a separate bar and cocktail lounge on-site, called the AC Lounge, that serves salads, wings, a burger, and a handful of pastas daily from 5 to 9 p.m. Continental breakfast is served daily from 6 to 10 a.m.
What to drink: P&B’s coffee is superb: Baristas use beans from San Antonio-based Merit Coffee Company and syrups crafted by hand, in-house. Served on a cool metal platter, the Turkish coffee is a showstopper.