Mezes, Marina, SF (long)
Got a Greek buddy of mine to join me in checking out this place for its namesake, mezes, aka Greek tapas.
It's a comfortable and welcoming place with a mezzanine at the back half of the dining room just above the bar. The mood is as casual as the little plates of greek goodies in their enjoyable simplicity. A convincing mediterrenean escape.
My Greek buddy says that it's a very serious minus not to serve ouzo, a strong Greek liquor often flavored with anise. According to him, it's central to the meal, and in the scheme of a meal one surrounds the drink with savory nibbles. He tried to persuade them in Greek to give us some, but they only have a beer and wine license and could not give us any (even though they use that to flavor a few dishes though).
Without ouzo, we started with a juicy and somewhat meaty Katogi, a greek wine that we all enjoyed very much. Around that we nibbled on bread and good ripe flavored olives in luxuriant olive oil.
Then a series of dishes. A decent melitzanosalata, chilled pureed egglant with tiny bits of onions and a serious dose of garlic served with warm triangles of slightly spongy pita bread. The eggplant is good, but we would have prefered to have it with a slightly smoky flavor from the roasting just before it was pureed.
The octapodi psito was very nice when warm, the grilled surfaces of the octapus tentacles were charred and well caramelized, while the white insides were quite tender.
But I think the favorite of the night was the salty stiff pan seared kefalograviera cheese (Kefalograviera Saganaki) for its almost layered texture and earthy flavor, chirped up with a squeeze of lemon.
I also loved the generous dish of fried breaded smelts a lot. It's delicious simplicity. The smelts are completely soft on the inside, heads and tails. The breading is moderate and slightly crisp without the earth-shaking crunch, but comes across as pleasant and not soggy, even after a long interval at the table. It comes with a small side of potato puree that works well with the fish. One of my friends say that Kokkari's version is superior (a claim that is easy to believe), but I was quite satisfied nevertheless. Give me this dish and a glass of wine and I would happily while away an hour or two.
Lamb chops here stage a fairly dramatic pyro entrance. At the center where all the saluting chops meet, a sprig of rosemary is set on fire, flaming as it comes to the table. The lamb is well cooked to around medium (no redness), yet superbly juicy and tender. It proves that you don't need bloody rareness for good meat. Beneath it, big wedges of roasted potato with rosemary. Not like the ones as Chez Nous, but still a good deal.
The keftedes (grilled meatballs) were a solid option, served with yogurt. Not immensely special by any means, but a satisfying goodness nevertheless.
We really adored the rich sauce in the garides with ouzo, large prawns pan seared with ouzo in a tomato cream sauce that was rich and complex. Serious plate wiping with bread -- the sauce is beautiful.
Desserts are totally different from the delicate fluttering french sweets. Instead they pack oompf without being overly heavy. The rice pudding topped with stewed cherries was approaching a hint of sake complexity and was nicely dressed up in a dark tangy cherry sauce. The creme caramel was lovely in its wobbly way and a coat of solid caramel provided sweetness and crunch against its soft curdly texture. The semolina lemon cake articulated the grains very well, with tiny pops and crackles from the semolina -- that played perfectly opposite the softness of the vanilla ice cream. There's also a good whiff of lemon in the cake. Lastly, the yogurt with chopped nuts made an excellent change of pace. It was a straighforward good yogurt, thick and tangy. The subdued sweetness here provided a good balance to the other sweeter mouthfuls in the series of desserts.
So all in all an enjoyable meal; all the above (2 bottles of wine) including tip came up to $240 for a total of 5 people. That makes Mezes a decent alternative to the something like Chez Nous, even though it's more rustic in a fishing village kind of way. We'll just have to bring our ouzo the next time!
Trust you're kidding re Ouzo. The California ABC takes such breaches seriously! Had the house succumbed to your companion's pleas, it would have been putting the business at risk, as would customers bringing in hard liquor.
Because of a history of flouting drinking laws, Chestnut Street probably get a fair amount of attention from agents.
Yes -- I was pretty sure they wouldn't serve us any ouzo. But we really wished that they had a license for a full bar, considering how central ouzo is to the food in question.
So BYOB (or in this case BYOO) isn't OK in such a situation? I'm curious, because years ago, when we went to a newly opened place which didn't have a liquor license approved yet, they said that was perfectly fine for us to bring our own beer and we did.
Not sure what the law is re BYOB for beer and wine (I've seen a few places that allow it), but I'm pretty certain you can't walk into anywhere with a serious bottle of hooch if they don't have a license. That would be known as a "dram shop" in the arcane dialect of the liquor licensing laws -- not allowed.
Anyhow, ouzo is not all _that_ central to the food in question! Most Greeks would have that meal with a nice light white wine -- you'd be pretty snookered if you kept downing ouzo throughout. There's a particular type of restaurant known as an "ouzeri", where lighter fare is served while you drink your ouzo (feta, olives, cucumbers and fresh tomatoes, as well as some of the less complicated cooked foods). Mezes is more of a "taverna" type place, with more serious food than an ouzeri -- in Greece a taverna like that would be likely to have a couple of barrels of house wine that they would serve in caraffes at the table.
All that said -- glad to hear you enjoyed Mezes! I think it's much more authentic than Kokkari.
re: Zach Georgopoulos
Thanks for the details -- I've never really caught up with the liquor laws here since I almost never do BYOB.
I was just going with what my Greek pal had told me (he's a visiting postdoc from Greece). And he was rather eager to start with ouzo, saying it was typical to have that at a place like this. I can only imagine how homesick he is. *vbg*
"And he was rather eager to start with ouzo, saying it was typical to have that at a place like this. I can only imagine how homesick he is. *vbg*"
He, he... OK, I'll grant you that there are a not-so-small number of Greeks who _would_ have that meal with ouzo -- post-docs being the primary candidates among them! Anyhow, while it might be a good way to start the meal, I'm sure you didn't miss too much by having wine instead. You'll just have to buy some good quality feta and olives (try Whole Foods), sprinkle them with oregano and drizzle with virgin olive oil, and accompany with some ouzo poured over ice to get the full effect...
It is my understanding that it's legal to bring wine to restaurants in California (though ultimately a restaurant's prerogative whether to permit or not, how much corkage to charge, etc.). Many of us lobbied long and hard years ago for this custom to be established and met many a refusal in the early days. I'm less clear on the legality of bringing wine to an unlicensed premises and too lazy right now to do a search.
But I'm almost positive it's against the law in all cirucmstances to bring hard liquor or for a restaurant without a hard liquor license to serve any that might be in the kitchen!
Another example of the wisdom of trying to know the customs of an unfamiliar locale. (As I already mentioned, your pal's insistence could have gotten the place into serious trouble had the owner capitulated.)
BTW, I was thorougly disappointed the one time I ate at Mezes. Perhaps I'll give it another try, but virtually every dish we tried lacked the oomph or the texture or all the expected ingredients of similar items one might make at home or eat elsewhere.
Thanks for info -- I was ignorant of the legal distinctions between the different classes of alcohol.
Actually my pal wasn't insistent at all, merely doing his best to be persuasive. It was only after he asked that the waiter told us that their license didn't extend to hard liquor, and only covered wine and beer. And we went for wine right away.
Agree that Meze's dishes are on the "simple" side, but that fits my (somewhat tourist brochure inspired) idea of rustic simplicity in a fishing village kind of way. :)