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Nov 28, 2007 04:30 PM

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 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.