Mesa Grill

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Mesa Grill is probably one of my favorite restaurants ever. I'd been twice before for dinner during Restaurant Week, but I'd never been for brunch. Mesa Grill is a Southwestern-themed restaurant, the first restaurant opened by chef Bobby Flay, and there are multiple locations in the United States.

The first time I went to Mesa Grill, I fell in love. I loved everything I put in my mouth there. The second time, not as much. I hoped brunch would take me back to the first time I visited, and it did -- and more.

We showed up a couple minutes late for our Saturday reservations and were told to wait in the seating area with a small crowd of other patrons. About five minutes later, we were taken to our seats by an oddly cold and practiced (though polite) hostess. Since there were 3 of us and the restaurant had just opened for the morning, we were given CHOICE seats -- the first (and only?) corner seat in the restaurant, which meant extra room for our lady accessories and bulky fall coats.

The décor of Mesa Grill is a little kitschy and a little industrial. The coloring is earthy -- the walls are painted a yellow ochre, the "booth chairs" a burnt red with a fun cowboy and cowgirl print. Overhead, exposed beams and giant, uncaged fans hung from the ceilings.

The bread basket was plopped onto our table, along with a hearty serving of tomato (?) jam. The bread basket was one of the best I've ever seen -- cranberry-apple coffee cake, raisin coffee cake, jalapeno scones, cornbread. I was eager to taste the jam, and for the first few moments, my tastebuds were confused before it dawned upon me that this was more or less salsa in sweet jam form! After that, my friends and I heaped generous portions of this magical jam on everything we could get our hands on, including the chilled caramelized grapefruit I ordered as an appetizer.

Like fish tacos, I cannot resist caramelized grapefruit if it's on a menu. Which is odd, because I don't even really enjoy grapefruit, but the idea of caramelized grapefruit -- particularly when paired with mint or berries -- is intriguing. It's actually not difficult to make at home, which I've done before and enjoyed thoroughly. Mesa Grill's chilled caramelized grapefruit ($6.50) wasn't the best I've had, but it was good. It was extremely difficult to scoop out, and the caramelization was more a crystallized layer of sugar than anything else (I now know I prefer my caramelized grapefruit warm). It came with a "blackberry-mint salad," which was really three or four blackberries and a sprig of mint resting atop the grapefruit. My friend suggested I muddle the grapefruit and mint, and WOW. Why hadn't I thought of that!?

Another friend ordered fresh pineapple juice ($6.50), which I have to believe was pressed/squeezed in the kitchen, because it came out warm, though bathing in ice cubes. Impressive.

Our entrees finally arrived ... I ordered the spicy chicken and sweet potato hash ($14), one friend ordered the blue corn buttermilk waffle ($13), and the other ordered the pressed roasted pork sandwich ($14) -- an odd choice for brunch, I thought!

From the moment my dish was set down in front of my face, I knew it was going to be good. I could smell the multidimensionality of the dish, including the spiciness. And the colors! The dish looked extremely appealing. The sweet potato hash was formed into two cylinders, made up of chunks of "chicken," pepper (we think it might've been jalapeno), and of course sweet potato. On top of these cylinders rested two poached eggs, themselves drizzled with a green chile hollandaise. Everything about this dish was delicious beyond belief. The reason I said "chicken" is because I'm not entirely convinced it was chicken ... to me (and my two dining companions), it tasted more like duck. The meat was rich, flavorful and much less fibrous than chicken meat. I'm not sure whether it was just a special sort of chicken they grew out of the kitchen, if they had accidentally thrown duck into the dish instead of chicken, or they had run out of chicken (though we were among the first guests of the day, so ... unlikely story), but I wasn't about to complain. The dish came with a small skillet of home fries which, although perfectly cooked and delicious, I couldn't eat any more.

My friend's blue corn buttermilk waffle wasn't too extraordinary, though it was much heartier than your average waffle. It came with a blackberry bourbon syrup and vanilla creme fraiche. I wish I had been able to taste more of the blackberry flavor and less of the bourbon.

I wasn't too excited about the pressed roast pork sandwich, but it turned out to be nearly as delicious as my spicy chicken and sweet potato hash. The pork slices were served on a baguette, along with grilled red onion, arugula and Ancho mayo and a generous heap of Southwestern fries (which we dipped into the tomato jam, too ... still yummy). The pork was a tad dry, but the flavors came together so well that it was quickly forgiven. The red onion, the arugula ... so delicious. And the portion was huge. My jubilation was increased twofold when the friend who ordered this said, "this is my kind of restaurant." Mine too!

My only real complaint about the brunch experience was the cold service. In my previous visits, the service had been good, or at least fine enough not to be memorable. The service this time was memorable in that it was odd. I felt like everyone we encountered was just a little off, robotic. But still, the food is worth any creepy humanoid behavior one might encounter at Mesa Grill. Definitely will visit again ... and again and again.

Mesa Grill
102 Fifth Avenue (between 15th and 16th Streets)
Locations in Las Vegas, the Bahamas

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