24 April, 2009
Restaurant Review–Mez, DurhamPosted in : Dining in Durham - NC, Restaurants on by : The Gourmez
5410 Page Road
Research Triangle Park, Durham
Mez is the newest offering of the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group, with sister restaurants of 411 West, 518 West, Squid’s and Spanky’s.It bills itself as contemporary Mexican, which I would describe as the missing link between your local taqueria and the upscale fare of a place such as Jibarra. Man, I need to go back to Jibarra now that they’ve reopened.
Mez has expansive seating areas with lots of light.It is nicely apportioned with muted yellow and orange walls and comfy green and brown-patterned booths and tables.One of my friends aptly described it as a mission style tram station.We sat in the dining area closest to the front and quickly discovered that the acoustics were not conducive for a large party’s conversations.We were a group of eight and I could barely hear anyone further away than my elbow.The balcony and smaller alcoves may not have this problem.
Cocktails started the dinner and I was mostly pleased with my Caipirinha.The Blood Orange Margarita ordered by a friend definitely needs some refinement; it tasted more like tomato juice than a margarita.Most of the rest of the guests enjoyed their drinks.
Appetizers were passed around and included their trio of salsas, a tropical shrimp cocktail and flame-broiled cheese dip with chorizo.The cheese dish, Queso Flameado, was definitely the best of the bunch.Eaten scooped into warm tortillas, the chorizo and the tomatillo salsa added great flavor and spice to the chihuahua cheese.The salsa trio was a bit disappointing; while the tomatillo salsa was great in the Queso Flameado, here it was paired with only avocado and not up to par as a salsa verde.The pico de gallo also needed some livening up but the roasted tomato and chipotle salsa had an appealing balance of spice and flavor.It was not so hot as to put off companions who dislike strong heat and I’d recommend just ordering that for your salsa needs.As for the shrimp dish, the crustaceans themselves were succulent but the citrus marinade and accompaniments added very little flavor.It would have helped to know the dish was cold ahead of time, as the menu did not describe it so.You could argue that we should have assumed something titled Coctel de Camaron (shrimp cocktail) would be cold but as not everyone knows Spanish, I would beg to differ.
The entrée presentations were delightful, especially that of a beef tenderloin special.It’s worth noting that this special was another cold dish that was not described as such on the menu, though my companion was still quite impressed with it.The burritos and tacos ordered were the only dishes that did not have a beautiful presentation.My own chicken pasilla tamales were perfectly steamed and accented well by the accompanying honey-pasilla salsa and sweeter than average crema.The green rice was bland, however.
For dessert, I feasted on their tres leches cake, which was very yummy if a tad too sweet, thick and dry, compared to the divine tres leches I regularly sampled at the Californian bakery where I used to work.The almonds sprinkled on this slice added a wonderful crunch and I did manage to finish almost all of the huge portion myself.
If I were rating this solely on the food, I would probably give it an avocado, but the difficulty hearing, menu description problems, and a server with a penchant for taking away food and drinks before they were finished makes it a little less likely I’ll be back.Also, a twenty percent tip is added to large parties, which is what I usually tip as a former server myself, but I think it’s a bit high to expect, rather than hope, of your guests.Mez is an interesting addition to the Mexican offerings in the area but I think I’ll be sticking to my local taqueria or making the trek out to Jibarra when the craving for my comfort food strikes.