Mezé offers up delightful surprises on small plates
Considering the large number of people in the area who identify themselves as Americans of Greek descent, it surprises me that we have such a scant choice of venues for Greek cuisine. This is all the more surprising because it’s such good food.
How many cuisines can you easily describe as “love at first bite”? Actually, quite a few, and if you were to try to list them, a good approach would be to draw an arc of the countries along the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, too many people get as far as Italy and think they’re finished. But to omit Greek cuisine would be as much a crime as to dismiss Greece’s literature, classical sculpture, philosophers and, well, the Parthenon. Greek cuisine really is as significant as all other things Greek.
Now, there’s a new place in town that’s taken over the Portobello Restaurant location. Mezé Greek Tapas Bar has settled into a neat little space that feels as if you’re at a friend’s house, with both intimate and more public dining areas. The setting would prove appropriate, for as I journeyed through a range of mezé dishes, I encountered one family recipe after another.
Regarding the tapas format, perhaps Mezé’s website explains it best: “Mezé is not a meal course, like an appetizer, but rather a dish, hot or cold, spicy or savory, often salty, that is served alone or with other mezéthes as a separate eating experience.”
On the evening I joined my friend for dinner, we did a quick scan of the menu and devised a plan of attack. Sana, our server, was helpful in guiding us through the process.
Let me start with what proved to be my favorite, Fasolia Fournou. It sounds exotic, but it could be Mezé’s most basic offering ~ a dish of white beans baked in a sauce of tomato, with bits of carrot and a trace of onion flavor. The fasolia were so tasty, I wanted to bring a whole pot of them home! There must be something else in that sauce; I pleaded with the owner to divulge, but he just smiled and proudly replied “Family secret.”
Another surprising favorite was the Grilled Calamari. Whole squid had been sliced lengthwise, flattened out, seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice and grilled until firm and incredibly tasty. A scattering of grated Romano cheese melted into little pools of olive oil. If you’re of the belief that calamari exists as O-rings and tentacles washing up out of deep-fryers, try Mezé’s calamari for a very new taste experience.
Two more fish mezes were a study in contrast. Fried Smelts were lightly battered and quick-fried ~ ample, crunchy and plentiful. Shrimp Saganaki, on the other hand, was one of the more complicated dishes we sampled. Medium-sized shrimp were baked in a casserole dish slathered in rich tomato sauce, with bits of feta cheese and chopped chili peppers to lend sharp flavor. Each forkful snagged strands of stretchy mozzarella cheese.
Most dishes came with triangles of grilled pita bread, still soft inside. Which leads me to an over-arching comment regarding the food at Mezé: This is a kitchen of grill masters. Not content to lay down pallid, cross-hatch lines, Mezé’s grilled items have a rich char flavor that excites.
Realizing we hadn’t sampled a meat meze, we took the owner’s recommendation of Panseta ~ Greek Grilled Pork Strips. The name yields a clue about this cut of meat; imagine really thick strips of meaty bacon grilled until crisp. Consider it pancetta’s Greek cousin; one of the richest meat experiences going. Tzatziki sauce, a refreshing blend of yogurt and cucumber, contributed a cool and cleansing contrast.
We finished with Portokalopita, Orange Pie, made of shredded filo dough mixed with Greek yogurt, eggs and orange zest. The result resembled rich custard with a sweet and tart citrus topping. It was an ideal way to conclude this new dining experience.
The dishes at Mezé Greek Tapas Bar & Grill are elegantly simple affairs of fresh ingredients, skillfully prepared, that blossom with honest flavor. It’s as if you were welcomed off a street in Thira and into a Greek kitchen for dinner, which could be the best dining experience you’d have in Greece.
Mezé Greek Tapas Bar & Grille
156 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester
By Bernie Whitmore