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Kali's Applebee's: eatin' fast in Fells Point

A friend and I decided to try Mezze last night, based on a number of postive reviews on the board. We had a 6:30 reservation, and were seated downstairs immediately.

Bad sign #1: the ledge/chair rail that runs across the back wall was all dusty. How do I know this? It's right there, at dining eye level.

Bad sign #2: Dry/stale pita triangles and pitted olives. I've had better from SuperFresh's olive bar.

Bad sign #3: A "valley girl" waitress who repeatedly refered to us as "you guys.'

We ordered a bottle of wine, which turned out to have a screw cap. Not a problem, except that after she opened it, she turned with a flourish and set it on the table in front of me, as you would with a cork!

We chose six vegetarian plates, and they began arriving in rapid succession unitl the table was full. There was no pacing whatsoever. It was comical, trying to balance all the plates. All of our food was on the table within twenty minutes of our arrival. When it comes to fine dining, this is not desirable.

How was the food? In a word: eh. The best was the spinach fritters; the worst was the dandelion greens. Served cold, they were waterlogged and overly lemony. The eggplant with haloumi was tasty. Goat cheese stuffed peppers and a lima bean dish were okay, but underseasoned. Gazpacho was standard.

Plates were whisked away and the check came faster than a speeding bullet. We felt shell-shocked. I could better understand if there had been a crowd waiting for tables, but there wasn't. In fact, they had some empty tables.

I won't be back.

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  1. Lot's of good wines have screw caps (proper name: Stelvin caps) nowadays. It has no deleterious effect on wine quality, and in fact precludes the possibility of getting a "corked" wine. That in itself is nothing to be complaining about.

    The "you guys" stuff, while annoying, seems to be quite prevalent nowadays. I'm not trying to defend it, though.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Hal Laurent

      I'm not complaining about the screw/Stelvin cap! I wrote "not a problem". I'm a big fan of Bonny Doon vineyards, who were one of the pioneers. My complaint was that she treated a plain black screw cap as if it were an actual cork.

    2. I really don't get some of your complaints. She put the wine on the table -- should she have put it on the floor? Poured it in your lap? For tapas the sort of pacing you complain about is normal. Also, while I am a fan of Mezze, I'd hardly call it "fine dining."

      I have not tried some of the dishes that you did, but I was disappointed in the goat cheese stuffed peppers -- it sounded better than it was. But the seafood dishes have always been very good.

      10 Replies
      1. re: JonParker

        Sorry--she put the wine CAP on the table. Typing too fast, I guess. I've eaten at a number of tapas places, and the ususal pacing has been just a couple at a time. Ok, and not exactly fine dining, but I'd expect more.

        1. re: PaulaG

          Well, that does make more sense, but I think your complaint is still invalid. Under MD law, restaurant patrons are allowed to take home unfinished bottles providing that the restaurant recorks or recaps it for them. It's probably standard to leave the cap on the table. I can't imagine the logistical nightmare of removing it and then trying to match the correct cap with the correct bottle if the patron wants to take the bottle home.

          1. re: JonParker

            I'll tell you what... I went to Pazo a couple of months ago and it was amazing how they would deliver a tapas plate shortly after we'd finish one. The timing amazed me. I hear they just hired a new Executive Cheff who is making changes. I think we'll try them again.

            1. re: Whitemarshjohn

              Yeah, def give Pazo a try, typically it's busier than Mez but seems like everything is done at a more professional relaxed pace. Never had to speed eat to keep the table somewhat open. I personally love the stelvin caps, hell in a few years there will be $100 box wine, and I can't wait. There's no O2 exchange so like 0% chance of the wine oxidizing and turning into vinegar. The new chef at Pazo is from Citronelle, so he has the chops, and he'll even deliver food to the table, totally approachable

            2. re: JonParker

              This is sort of off topic to Mezze, but I am curious about the MD law allowing you to take home unfinished bottles... I haven't lived in MD long, but I cannot believe this is something i didn't know...!! What is the etiquette for this? Just ask the server to recork so we may take home the remainder?

              1. re: tapas gal

                The law was passed just last year. I haven't tried it, but yeah, you just tell the server you want to take the rest of the bottle home, and they reseal it for you and bag it. It is, however, an open container, so be sure to stash it in the trunk. I think it's a great law. My girlfriend doesn't drink wine, and I was getting tired of being limited to by the glass selections.

                1. re: JonParker

                  This is fantastic...Thanks for the info...

                2. re: tapas gal

                  tapas gal,

                  If I'm not mistaken, the law was passed within the last 9 months and took effect earlier this year.

                  1. re: toro_cooks

                    The law went into effect last July. This stelvin closure is a problem we have dealt with in a similar way at my restaurant. Because we do have costumers that take unfinished wine home (not many but about 2% of our bottle sales), we decided to leave the closure on the table.

                    The law is very simple, you just need to store it in the trunk or storage part of your vehicle and are soppused to keep a reciept proven it came from a restaurant. (Otherwise, it is illegal to have an open bottle of alcohol in your vehicle.)

                    Sorry to hear Mezze is not what it was when it first opened.

              2. re: PaulaG

                I normally solve this by only ordering a couple of tapas at a time. In my experience, most tapas places will serve you the food whenever it's ready, as it is all 'equal.' This strategy also inhibits overordering. Ordering six at a time (for two people) is a mistake, unless you want them all to be served at the same time.

            3. >>We ordered a bottle of wine, which turned out to have a screw cap. Not a problem,
              >>except that after she opened it, she turned with a flourish and set it on the table in
              >>front of me, as you would with a cork!

              I want to meet this waitress -- sounds like my kind of ironic sense of humor!

              1. Thanks for your review. I just want to let you know that you're not alone. Between the bizarre, velvet rope line mentality they have for seating people who don't have reservations AND the 'eh' food, I also see no need to ever return, and I've never really understood the raves that Kali's Mezze garners on this board....

                5 Replies
                1. re: baltoellen

                  I always thought I was the only one. I've long not been a fan of Mezze but have a best bud who is and always insists on going there (she's a terribly picky eater; so it's easier than trying to get her out of her comfort zone). I've always found the vegetarian dishes to be better than the meat/seafood dishes but still 'eh'; the lamb chops are always increidbly bland, no seasoning or herbs every time! And the timing has caused me problems in the past too, since we've encountered the pile up several times.

                  1. re: baltoellen

                    Interesting to see all the hate on the board for this place, especially from people like you whose opinions I respect. What do you mean by the "velvet rope mentality"?

                    I never thought of it as life changing, but it's been reliable for me.

                    1. re: JonParker

                      I think that "hate" is the wrong word here--highly disappointed is more like it. With three kids, I don't get out as often as I'd like to, and I felt that Mezze wasted my time. It was just sad. I didn't expect to be blown away; I just wanted a good meal. My friend is a vegetarian, and I chose Mezze based on the number of choices available for him, and by the positive reviews on this board. And while I don't doubt you've had reliable experiences, places do go downhill. And sometimes weekday service is better than weekend. But the dust buildup on the chair rail had been there for at least a week. That shows a lack of care.

                      1. re: PaulaG

                        Just for the record, I have no problem whatsoever with you being disappointed in Mezze (and from your description, I'd probably be disappointed as well). I just take exception to leaving the wine bottle cap on the table being considered a faux pas. Or maybe it was just the flourish that annoyed you.

                  2. Thanks for the good review OP. I share your view of Mezze and haver wondered why it fares so well on these pages. as for screw-tops--I dont think Ive ever been served a bottle of screw top wine in a resto--I bet the wine buyers are afraid that screw tops wont be snobby enough. As for the OP's server, I usspect she simply did not know what to do with the top and, not being properly trained, decided to pretend that it was a cork.

                    The screw top episode also brings to light the absurd North Am practice of giving the cork to diners to smell. I have traveled widely in Italy and France and eaten in places ranging from humble "merguez-frites" roadside trucks (the French equivalent of taco trucks) to 3-stars and I do not believe I have ever been proffered a cork to smell. I imagine that I am expected to know bad wine when I taste it

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: tartuffe

                      The wine cork must be offered in good wine service- you don't smell it- it's just going to smell like cork, but the color is going to tell you how the bottle was aged, the dryness will tell you as well, and any discoloration might alert you to other bad stuff going on with your wine.

                      Screw tops are quickly becoming a part of the wine world and some of the best Oregon Pinot is coming with them.

                      1. re: jpschust

                        I've always bee under the assumtion that the cork's offered as proof of correct handling(moist cork), but not for smelling...if a wine is bad enough to taint a cork the smell when the cork is pulled will really let that cat outta the bag..
                        and what happened to the idea of plastic stoppers(corks)...
                        I'm old enough to remember when Coke bottle caps had cork and I never smelled them to make sure the coke was good :):):)

                        1. re: Hue

                          Correct- Cork is not for smelling. It smells like. Well... cork.

                    2. Yeah, we had a similar mediocre experience -- lots of menu items were not available, awful service, mediocre food.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sweetpotater

                        Our experience as well...I've been somewhat surprised at the positive recommendations on this board. We've been hesitant to try it again after that first not-so-great time.

                      2. Agree agree with your review PG. I HATE being rushed & the snotty attitude of the front staff of Kalis has kept me away for years. No it's not fine dining but it's not a snack bar either. Our usual approach w/tapas is just order a few dishes at a time as the tables are always small. That way you can stretch it out as long as you want.

                        Agree your server was probably poorly trained as to what to do with a cap. Altho I usually just put the cork aside when it's handed to me; on travels in Italy & Spain the server would usually uncork the wine and sort of..observe it, then either pocket it or put it on the table somewheres. Always seemed so much more civilized - I figured I could trust them to tell me if there was a problem and, as another poster said, I know if it's good or not when I taste it (or at least know if I like it!)

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: bkath

                          I'm with Paula on this one. We checked out Mezze/Kali's, on a recommendation from family, back in December. Upon arriving, we were tucked into a corner, near the door (I think it was around 25 degrees outside) to endure a rather drafty dining experience. Half way through the meal it became abundantly clear that the ten person party sitting at the front of the restaurant, occupying our server's time, consisted of the owners and their pals.

                          Don't get me wrong. If you own a restaurant and want to make sure all is well, from time to time, be my guest. But, pardon the cliché, don't go to your restaurant on a Saturday night and get high on your own supply! Not only does it detract from your staff's capacity to serve guests, it's a huge turn-off to people who are actually paying for said diminished service. The overall experience left a "we have location, and hype, now hurry up and give us your money!" impression.

                          We love Tapas Teatro, yes, over Pazo. Pazo delivers an experience, plain and simple. You walk in, and you feel like you've been transported out of Baltimore and into some swank location in Manhattan or D.C. And while they execute their delivery quite well, the food is not on par with the experience. Nothing pops off the plate. So your bill reflects the cost of creating the illusion, while the illusion is that of good food.

                          Tapas Teatro seems to cover the bases. It's lively, the food is always good, and you pay close enough attention, you can catch the owner working the restaurant on a Saturday night. It adds a touch of authenticity when you see the proprietor directly involved in the restaurant's operation.

                          1. re: toro_cooks

                            Such harsh negativity - there was a time not so long ago that many of "you guys" trashed Tapas Teatro. Slight miscues in timing (start off w/ 3 plates at a time and go from there), a little dust (at least it wasn't on the food), and an artsy waitress = someone got up on the wrong side of the bed. Sheesh! I love Mezze, Pazo, AND Tapas Teatro - wish there were more like them.

                            1. re: Sop

                              One thing that can be said about Mezze (I actually have not been there personally) is that they are rated highly at Zagat and Zagat's survey says the average cost with tip was only $30 per person. That is some very reasonable pricing considering the restaurants they are often compared to.

                              1. re: Whitemarshjohn

                                In regard to the cost, I went to Pazo & had an all out feast with drinks & dessert for an average of $40 per person. A few months later went to Mezze & had the same tab, minus the dessert and a much less pleasureable experience. Feeling rushed, stuck in the corner & really unspectacular food convinced me not to go to Mezze again, but I still look forward to returning to Pazo. In fairness, it was @3 years ago for both. I have yet to get to Tapas Teatro, but I hope to sometime.

                                Almost forgot, my server didnt make a big production of the wine opening & I actually felt cheated because I later noticed the wine was not the same year as printed on the menu!

                                1. re: foster

                                  Just the bread at Pazo is remarkable enough to give it the nod over the competition. Yes, it looks like someplace from New York, but so what? Since when is Baltimore supposed to be Grand Rapids with a baseball stadium?

                        2. My Fiance and I have been to Mezze twice to date. The dishes do come out at the same time, but the second time we only ordered a few dishes to start off then placed an order for a couple more plates 25 minutes into the meal - so the plates were still somewhat spread out. The food was outstanding for the price. I recomend Mezze now for good food for a reasonable price.