Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Restaurant Review: Mesa Grill

And here we go with what I believe is BTR's first restaurant review.

We all know Bobby Flay from the Food Network - the grilling, Tex-Mex master, the Iron Chef with an asshole demeanor that's just a little bit sexy. One of his restaurants in New York, Mesa Grill, is participating in Restaurant Week, so we took advantage of the reduced-price prix fixe and checked it out last night.

We arrived a bit early for our 7:30 PM reservation, so killed time at the bar, which is staffed by some very friendly and smiling barmaids. The area was a bit crowded, but the bartender spotted us behind the chairs and served us promptly. The Flay-equivalent of bar snacks, pails of 2-foot long spicy breadsticks sit on the bar, inviting you to indulge, and are so salty that one can't help but order a cold Dos Equis.

We were seated promptly at 7:30, but our table was upstairs in a corner with absolutely no air circulation. It was nearly 100 degrees in New York yesterday, and we were suffocating up there. Happily, the hostess kindly re-seated us on the much cooler ground floor. A+ for her.

So onto the food. The dinner prix fixe menu was a bit disappointing with the lack of interesting offerings, but we made our choices and hoped for the best.

The bread basket was pretty lame; 3 rolls of an overly-yeasty (almost tasted like they were spoiled) sourdough variety, and only one tasty jalapeño corn muffin. We both ordered the Crispy Shrimp and Asparagus Taquito appetizer, which looked gorgeous. 2 small flour tortillas, sitting open-face on a white rectangular plate with greens and asparagus, topped off by a single shrimp on a wooden skewer. So you get to assemble your little taquitos by pulling the shrimp off the skewer and folding it up. There was some sort of colorful mayonnaise sauce on the greens, but we couldn't taste it. The flour taste of the tortillas took over everything, the shrimp weren't seasoned at all, and it just fell flat.

The entreés came out a bit better...well, one of them did. I had the Fire-Roasted Chicken with Plum & Fresno Chile Glaze and Southwestern Potato Salad, and he had the Yellow Corn Crusted Chile Relleno filled with Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese with a Cilantro Salsa Verde. The Chile Relleno flat-out sucked. The crust flaked off, and the filling was a weird fuschia goat cheese-flavored mush was utterly unsatsifying. The Fire-Roasted Chicken was far better fare, but it wasn't any more special than a good piece of BBQ chicken off my dad's grill. The potato salad was fine, as was a nice pile of sautéed spinach.

We crossed our fingers for dessert. Happily, the final course didn't disappoint. I had a Warm Chocolate Espresso Cake with peanut ice cream, and he had the Cinnamon Honey Tres Leches Cake with berries and some sort of berry sorbet. Both were excellent. My little cake was perfectly molten in the center, rich and chocolatey with a ring of chopped peanuts around the middle. Peanut and chocolate are always a winning combination. The Tres Leches Cake was nice and just sweet enough, the cinnamon came through subtly, and the berries were nice and saucy. We walked out with a good taste in our mouths.

What left a bad taste with us was Restaurant Week. Many NYC restaurants participate, offering the prix fixe deal, but they rarely offer typical menu items. It seems that everyone goes low-budget with the entreés. My friend witnessed this trend at another place, which down-graded one of their specialty dishes from duck to using chicken for Restaurant Week. I wasn't expecting to see Mesa Grill's rabbit, but maybe the pork tenderloin? I guess the lesson learned is not to use Restaurant Week to try places for which you have high expectations, or to be sure that the majority of the RW options also appear on the regular menu. Otherwise, you're certain to get the bargain-bin taste of the place.


Jackie said...

I had a similar Restaurant Week downscaling experience in Boston - we went to UpStairs on the Square and got horrible service and 'eh' food. Guess it must be a common practice.

Rachel said...

Sorry to hear that! The practice sounds counter intuative to me. Wouldn't someone who goes there during the special week might want to return (even if it is just on a special occasion) if the food is good? Why alienate potential customers? If we were in town, we'd use it as a cheaper way to try a new place and if we liked it, we'd go back.