This week my wife and I had the chance to visit Modus after we heard so much positive things about it. We were also interested because two favorite restaurants (Region and Café Cerise) have already closed or will close soon and we are always looking for new restaurants who use local ingredients and have similar approaches toward good but simple food. Another interesting aspect was that we very recently ate at Thomas Kellers Bouchon in Las Vegas which also serves very similar bistro food as Modus for the same price. So we had a lot to compare.
The first impression of Modus was very good. Modus has a nice, relaxed ambience with good music (at least at the beginning when no DJ was around.)
As appetizers we had the Spinach and Prosciutto salad and the Fresh Burrata and Tomato Salad. Both salads were rather boring with no surprising tastes (e.g. average dressing etc.) and the spinach salad was way too cold and obviously directly out of the fridge.
For the entrees we decided to order the same dishes we had at Bouchon so we could directly compare them with Modus.
The first entrée was the Steak Frites. This is an interesting dish because the chef has more or less only two ingredients, meat and potatoes, and it was surprising to see how different the quality of the product can be. The pommes frites at Bouchon are very much hyped in many books, e.g. Bourdain etc, and I think they are very good but definitely not the best in the world as some people claim. I had similar or better ones in France, Germany or England but still they were a revelation compared to the pommes frites at Modus. Similar the steak, Bouchon with one of the best steaks I ever had, literally melting in your mouth whereas the one at Modus was average at best.
The second entrée were the braised short ribs. Modus serves them with mashed potatoes and some carrots and pearl onions all mixed together in one bowl which make it complicated to taste the different components of the meal and it is easier to mask average quality. Bouchon has a better approach by having everything on one plate but not mixing it. In addition they have more and a larger variety of vegetable and serve the meat as one piece including the bones (and if you cook from Molly Stevens book you know the importance of the bones for the taste for braising). Again it was evident that two cooks with pretty much the same ingredients don’t come up with the same quality of food. But also in comparison to the meals at Region and Cerise Modus lacks quality and creativity.
The highlight of the meal at Modus was the espresso and cappucino. Definitely some of the best shots we ever had in a restaurant much better than at Bouchon where they don’t care too much about the coffee.
For dessert we had the smores (way too sweet) and passionfruit/white chocolate mousse tarte (better choice).
Overall the meal at Modus was not really bad but also nothing exceptional. There are many places in San Diego where you can get much better food for the same price.
And coming back to the questions/comparisons from the beginning: Bouchon and Modus serve very similar French bistro food for the same price but it is alarming to see the big difference of quality of both kitchens. Modus is not even close to Bouchon.
But more surprisingly it is also, as somebody else wrote some days ago on Chowhound, a travesty that restaurants as Café Cerise have to close because they don’t have enough customers when they deliver food on a much higher level but for the same price as restaurants like Modus which are just more popular because they are more trendy. I really hope that a good chef should be more important than a trendy DJ.