Mezzo Grille

Quick update to be filed under category of half a loaf is better … : Mississippi Public Broadcasting has partially seen the error of its ways and is reinstating Fresh Air but at 9 p.m. rather than 3 p.m. And it will have an adult content warning, which I’m sure will thrill everyone who tunes in to listen to, for example, today’s show on the process surrounding Wikileaks and the publication of the war documents. Love this take on the adult-content warnings. The Car Talk guys probably do need such a warning, not because of anything dirty but because of the egregiously bad jokes that are likely to contaminate young minds.

Now to the main topic: Larry and I were disappointed when we learned that Fishbone Café on Court Street in Middletown had closed. We knew it had problems. Many of our friends refused to eat there because they thought the food was dreadful. We had great experiences on every one of the dozen or so occasions that we ate there, except for one incident of poor service from a waitress. Looking back, I wonder if we received better treatment because the owners grew up with Larry and know his entire family.

Anyway, the place has a new name and new owners. I stopped in a couple of weeks ago with Deb when Mezzo Grille was having “soft” opening, serving customers but without any splashy announcements. While we were there we learned that the place now has seven owners, which we are predicting does not bode well for smooth management.

Mezzo Grille offers a gorgeous mise en scène with black and chrome on the walls and on the menus. A scattering of flowers and a large painting that seems to have been left over from Fishbone add color, as do the translucent, multicolored squares of light high on the rear wall. The plates, many of which are square or rectangular, in black and beige and white, offset the food in a spectacular fashion. The only drawback is the world’s biggest television screen, which can actually become nine screens. If you happen to be sitting within range and don’t have ADD when you arrive, you will by the time you leave.

Deb and I and a couple of friends sampled a plate of calamari, which I use as a measure of excellence. It was OK. The rings fell over into chewiness, which indicates overcooking, but the tentacles survived. The manager told us that the breading came from graham crackers and that the sauce was already added. The combination made for a rather slippery presentation. The lack of sauce on the side meant that those of us who like it spicy had to settle for bland.

The new young bartender was utterly daunted by an unopened wine bottle. She stared at it for a while and then demonstrated that she didn’t really know how to use a corkscrew. No one seemed to know how operate the cash register, which was a touch-screen computer. The company rep (or another owner?) stayed behind the bar the entire time we were there.

I reported all this to Larry and we decided to wait a couple of weeks before going for dinner. Things looked promising when we arrived on Saturday: The place was busy and filled with noise, mostly because there is nothing on the walls, floor or ceiling to absorb sound. The volume inside even drowned out the live band outside. Our waitress was excellent, though something was still wrong behind the bar because we waited for our drinks. Our appetizer arrived almost as soon as we ordered, followed by the entrées before I was half finished with the app. That kind of thing should sort itself out with time.

Said appetizer was a house salad: mixed greens with mandarin oranges, red onion, and goat cheese with a vinaigrette dressing. An excellent blend of sweet, sour, bitter, and bland. The Italian bread, served warm, had a delicious coating of herbs on the crust but also enough olive oil to leave my hands a greasy mess.

The preliminaries raised our expectations, which were not fulfilled, alas. I ordered Lobster Bolognaise, a terrific looking pile of ribbons of  fresh pasta, a sufficiency of lobster and carmelized fennel and carrots, and a dollop of ricotta cheese. The dish unfortunately lacked flavor and the carmelization had in many areas leaped over into burnt. The heavy use of olive oil and the winter vegetables made it a dish that should be served in the cold of winter, not the heat of a summer’s evening. A few dashes of tarragon or other seasoning would have improved it immeasurably.

Larry ordered pork tenderloin. The six pieces of meat arrived over a bed of sweet potatoes. The menu said it included blackberry mole, but I didn’t see any sign of it. He said it was “OK,” ate four pieces of the meat and brought the rest home. Last I checked it was still sitting in the refrigerator, which does not say much about its appeal. I ate as much of mine as I could and declined to take the rest, something I would never dream of doing at most of the other area restaurants.

In spite of the disappointment we will give it another try in a month or so.

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