Last year Julian Viso retired after 24 years as an investment banker.
Shortly therafter, he returned to his true passion — food — and started cooking up concepts for five or six restaurants. Viso’s first,Mio
, opened in a shopping center at 135th Street and Roe Avenue in Leawood last summer.
Mio is modeled after Italian trattorias, which are slightly more casual than ristorantes. The one-page menu is full of simple, freshly prepared Italian classics such as bruschetta, minestrone, tri-color salad and pasta tossed with fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil.
Many of Mio’s recipes use just five or six ingredients. Viso says he acquired a taste (and a talent) for making classic Italian dishes in the mid-’80s. That’s when he moved from his native Venezuela to Los Angeles and started cooking in a Beverly Hills restaurant owned by a famous film producer.
Mio’s menu is full of the chef’s favorite foods. Fennel is one of them. The aromatic anise-flavored bulb is “the most underrated” ingredient, Viso says. He braises fennel slices in orange juice until they’re sweet and delicate. Then he tops the braised fennel with petite seared scallops and serves it as an appetizer at Mio ($12, or $24 for a large portion).
Seafood is another of Viso’s top ingredients. One of his top-selling pasta dishes, aside from the creamy bechamel-layered lasagna, is the Linguine alla Pescatore ($18). That dish tosses thick ribbons of pasta with big pieces of shrimp, scallops and mussels. A tomato-basil sauce spiked with red pepper adds the finishing touch.
Mio’s menu also features hearty entrees such as a grilled pork chop ($22) with mashed potatoes and a balsamic reduction sauce, hearty soups (try the $6 lentil and sausage) and fresh salads. Viso’s pick, the $8 watercress salad, is super-summery, with slices of hearts of palm and hunks of tomato and avocado.
But food is only part of the experience at this trattoria, which also specializes in wine and warm, friendly service.
The restaurant’s vino-inspired decor includes Chianti-colored paint and wine barrel tops on the walls. The all-Italian wine list features $25, $45 and $100 bottles. Viso’s proud of his prices — so a bottle of Antinori Tignanello, a top-rated Tuscan red that sells for at least $90 online and is $160 on the menu of another local Italian restaurant, is $100 at Mio.
Of course, not everyone can afford a $100 bottle of wine, so when I ate at Mio I ordered a $10 Sicilian Blood Orange Margarita from the cocktail menu. The shaken tequila and Triple Sec drink was served with a splash of San Pellegrino blood orange soda, which added fizz and fresh-squeezed citrus flavor.
This summer, I plan on going back to the shopping center at 135th and Roe to check out Viso’s second restaurant, which is currently under construction a few doors down from his trattoria. The second restaurant, a pizzeria, is also called Mio. But its tagline is “An Italian Pizzeria” instead of “An Italian Trattoria.”
Viso and his director of operations, Carl Brandt, plan to serve up crispy customizable pizzas, a build-your-own-bruschetta bar and gelato in the space that formerly housed Pizza Fusion and Oliver’s Pizza. The duo are also working on concepts for an Argentinean steakhouse, a French bistro, and a Spanish-style tapas cafe. But running the two Mio restaurants is more than enough work for now, Viso says.
“If we have any hair left after these two, we’ll be lucky,” says Brandt.
So much for Viso’s retirement.