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Mezcal in Worcester -- OK, but kick it up a notch, please.

Tonight we went to Mezcal on Shrewsbury St. (that's "Shoosbury St." for you non-locals) to check out Mezcal, the new Mex/Southwestern restaurant in the space where Pearl Oyster lived out its few days. For a Wednesday the place was packed -- more with drinkers at the bar rather than diners, but business overall seemed brisk.

The place was opened by the Block 5/ Bocado owners, and the concept, as the name sort of suggests, is tequila. (Yeah, Mezcal is a different drink, but whaddaya gonna do.) The list of tequilas was staggering, but on cold New England nights we crave red wine, so we selected a bottle of one of the house reds, which was just fine for the modest price. Oddly, otherwise there were no full bottles on the wine list, just aggressively-priced half-bottles. Hmm.

The room hasn't changed much from Pearl Oyster days, but has gotten a suitably southwestern facelift, and was made lively both by the crowd and by some upbeat Mexican (I guess) music that seemed very appropriate. The service was very attentive, with both our waitress and several floor-manager types hovering around to try to keep us happy.

The menu is sort of upscale Tex-Mex, with lots of apps and some southwesternish mains. We decided that the various apps sounded interesting enough to make a meal of, so we ordered the sampler of 3 guacamoles (made to order in molcajete (yeah, I had to look up the word)); the sampler of 3 ceviches; some tilapia tacos; and a duck quesadilla.

In brief, everything was fine -- fresh, generous, reasonably priced -- but sort of boring. Nothing, including the complimentary salsa, was remotely spicy, and almost everything was undersalted. This is very promising food that needs, if you'll pardon the expression, to be kicked up a notch, with some habaneros here and some chipotles there.

In detail, the guacamoles featured an interesting "chunky" version with pepitas and fried hominy, very tasty, plus a "tropical" version with some mango. Once we salted them they were just fine, although some real, fresh tortilla chips would have been an improvement over the trendy tri-color chips they offered. The ceviches were fresh and nice enough, but really needed some flavor to give depth to the seafood -- some jalapeno, maybe, some fresh herbs, etc. They weren't bad, just bland.

The duck quesadilla and tilapia tacos continued the trend. Fresh, generous, booor-ing. But the service was great, the room is nice, and it's the kind of place you want to see succeed, especially in Worcester, which could use such a place, if not two.

It was all so terribly mild that I concluded that we had made an error in not pleading with the waitress to as the chef to HURT US. And that's just what we'll do next time -- see if the kitchen can respond to the challenge to give this reasonably interesting menu the kick it needs to be distinguished as something new and different on Shoosbury St. It's promising, and it'll make the margaritas-and-guac crowd very happy, but it falls just a bit short of what it could be with a bolder hand in the kitchen.

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  1. Rick, thanks for the review! I can't wait to try it. Worcester desperately needs a decent Mexican restaurant.

    1. Thanks for this review.

      1. I realize I should have mentioned the price. The bottle of house wine was $20, and the total bill for more food than we could eat was $67 before tip.

        1. Have to agree with Rick. We went early Saturday night the week they opened and while the service and drinks (a fun twist on a sidecar and a good Sangria which, while only on the menu as an ingredient in another drink, was well worth drinking on its own) were great, the food was really bland. The made to order guacamole had all the right flavors, just not enough of them (more lime, more cilantro, more salt) and no kick - I like fresh hot peppers in mine. The trio of taco appetizers were similar - even the one that the waiter warned us was spicy was pretty tame. The tequilla shrimp were a nice surprise - very flavorful, not spicy, but really good all the same, and the fried polenta with them was delicious.

          This restaurant has a lot of potential, a lot of good ideas and they do a lot of things right (price, service, drinks, menu concept - all great) but 2 of our 3 dishes were way too bland for any restaurant, much less a mexican one. I want to love this restaurant, Worcester really needs a place like this and I'll definitely be back at which point I think I'll follow Rick's lead and ask the kitchen spice things up a lot!

          1. Went with a group on Saturday night. It was pretty late in the evening, so the place was mobbed with groups enjoying cocktails.

            We were also there to partake in a few beverages, so the only food ordered was some guacamole and salsa with chips. The salsa had solid flavor to it, if you like cilantro (which I do), but zero heat. The guac. was also moderately flavorful, but I hate that it's served in the large stone bowl (molcajete, I guess?) that wasn't glazed, so little chips of stone flaked off into our guacamole. Gross. Also, it must've weighed ten literal pounds. That's not very convenient for passing along the table to share. I won't even get started that the guacamole itself was ten bucks. No, not ten pesos, but ten US dollars for mashed avacado. In Worcester.

            My biggest problem was that it took 30 minutes to get my drink. I understand, the place was busy. Also, I got there late and the rest of my group was already drinking, so it was just me ordering my single drink. And when the waitress came back and told me she completely forgot what I ordered after 20 minutes, I was still cool. I mean, I was there to enjoy myself with a bunch of friends, so no major worries. Ten minutes later, my much anticipated martini arrives...in a margarita glass. Jesus Christmas.

            Does anyone know if Mezcal is using a measured pour? Every single member in my large group thought our drinks were pitifully weak a/o small. Nothing's worse that a small/weak drink in a glass the size of my head. Okay, maybe a martini in a margarita glass.

            1. So we tried Mezcal on Tuesday night, 6-year old in tow. (Normally we don't take her to the more upscale spots in Worcester, but figured early on a Tuesday it would be OK.) We really, really wanted to like it, but I have to say it was really just "meh".

              Guacamole - nice and fresh. I agree with the other posters that it could have used some heat, but the quality of the avocados was good, and that goes a long way in an area where most guac is over-mushy pre-made green flavorless paste.

              I don't understand their choice of chips. Fresh chips would have really improved the entire meal, but instead we got slightly stale tasting tri-color blandness. What a shame. The salsa that comes with the meal was, to my taste, overly dry and tomato-y.

              We had an appetizer of mini-burgers. These were the highlight of the meal. The meat was spiced up with chiles, not overcooked, and tender. The condiments were tasty and a little spicy. The burgers were served with very good steak fries, and a special chipotle ketchup. Yummy. They made one of the burgers plain for our daughter, and brought a separate dish of non-spicy ketchup for her. Unfortunately because of the chiles in the meat she didn't eat the burger. But that was fine, because I got to eat it and it really didn't need the accoutrements. It was very good on its own.

              Where the meal fell down was our main dishes. My husband had the chicken enchiladas (one with a green tomatillo sauce, one with red sauce), and I had the chile rellenos. Both were horribly bland. We both commented that the enchiladas and rellenos at Cancun in Grafton were better (and cheaper).

              I had the Mezcal Margarita. Absolutely stellar, but for $10 it had better be. They float some smokey mezcal on the top, which really made it. I'd go back just for that drink.

              Several people around us had the tequila flights, which they seemed to enjoy (I eavesdropped) and that looked like fun. Next time we'll go without the munchkin and try some.

              Oh, and she had a plain cheese quesedilla that the kitchen made up especially for her. Of course no kid's menu, but it's not that kind of place and it wasn't expected.

              Service was very attentive, though our server was not good at dealing with a kid. Oh well.

              All in all, a good experience, but not the place I'd go for great Mexican food. I'd probably go back with the girlfriends for drinks and apps.

              1. I think that everyone's posts are sufficiently long enough (don't get me wrong... they are very good and appreciated!). I will keep this short and sweet, wife and I have been to Mex. a couple of times and this is no where near that. It's frustrating that there are no good MEXICAN places in the area. If you mix in a S.W. expectation then the food was as all have said, bland and uninspiring. The most ridiculous thing was the guac. with corn-nuts (toasted Hominy), the ceviche was not fresh, it was obviously sitting in the marinade way too long, the margaritas were good, not great. Unless someone gives us one heck of a reason, we probably won't be back.

                2 Replies
                1. re: jcormie1

                  Baja Grill, on Millbury St., kicks mucho ass!

                2. My wife and I had heard food was good, we went with two other couples. We were dissapointed. Bar very crowded and noisy (also small and cramped) adjacent to (on top of) seating area. First clue as to food quality was waitress ability to promote endlessly the varied tequilla drinks and inability to pronounce the menu items or know the specials.
                  For appetizers we had poppers - pretty good Empanades - veggy ones were good, lobster ones were fishy. And quacamolue frshly made - fair, agree with other folks, bowl too heavy chips uninspired. Food was sad, Tuna special was dry and uninspired, Chille rellenos was awful, burned, stuffed with rice and cheese (bland) and then served with straight from the box rice pilaf. I left two to three cups of rice on the plate. Pork burrito was acceptable, Moe's quality - maybe a little better.
                  They might do better to become strictly a bar with appetizers.

                  Go for the drinks, there are MANY better restaurants on Shrewsbury street to get good food.

                  1. My wife and I went to Mezcal a few weeks ago. I have to agree with the other reviews: The food is boring. Worse than mild, the food simply lacked flavor. We had the guacamole (which this place is ostensibly famous for) and the onions overpowered the flavor of the other ingredients. The presentation of the dishes is nice, the the flavor just isn't there.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: cdavec

                      we have a gift cert to the three restaurants and was going to M but I guess we will go to Block Five tomorrow..One Love Cafe today for brunch.

                      1. re: mrwynter

                        I love the food at One Love...didn't know they did brunch! Have to try it...they used to be one of the food vendors when we had events at the EcoTarium, but they've turned us down the last few times. Guess I didn't eat enough patties, although I tried....

                        1. re: mrwynter

                          Personally, I find Block 5 to be as meh as Mezcal. Bocado's the gem of the group.