Located in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, just a stone’s throw from Petco Park, Mezè Mediterranean Grill offers a wide breadth of Mediterranean cuisine for diners in search of southern European flavors. From Greek Hummus and Falafel to the Grilled Asparagus salad inspired by southern Italian fare, dinner service runs until 11 p.m. throughout the week, and on Friday and Saturday until 12:00pm, Weekend brunch features bottomless mimosas and bloody marys with the purchase of an entree. All throughout the week, the full bar keeps things lively with signature cocktails such as the refreshing Tuscan Gimlet, the savory Dirty Mezè, and the spicy Drop It Like It’s Hot. Mezè also offers catering and special banquet menus, for those looking to host large parties with Mediterranean flair. When in the Gaslamp and cravings for a taste of southern Europe call, the menu at Mezè Mediterranean Grill answers.Read More ...
It is late on a warm summer afternoon as my brother and I arrive in the Gaslamp District of downtown San Diego. Like many metropolitan areas, downtown San Diego has a reputation for not being an oasis of available parking, but the lot across the street from Meze Mediterranean Grill allows guests of the restaurant ample parking. We walk along the red brick sidewalk towards Meze Mediterranean Grill, discussing nothing in particular, as brothers are subject to do. We approach the host stand outside the entry to Meze, where one of the owners, Patrick Davoudi, enthusiastically greets us. While patio dining is an option, I decide to take advantage of the air-conditioning, and Patrick escorts us to a corner window table. Lining the walls of the dining room are tall windows that afford us views of the abundant foot traffic of the neighborhood from the north and east.
A step inside reveals a bar and lounge area to the right of the entryway, with the main dining area to the left. This is not a standard, hole in the wall Mediterranean restaurant. The walls, painted in soothing earth tones, and dark tables with matching chairs lend an air of sophistication to the laid-back ambience of the establishment. As we take our seats, I do not miss the fact that the polished silverware gives off a mirror-like shine and all glassware on the table is spotless. Raymond Davoudi, the other owner of Meze, approaches out table and takes a seat. After a little small talk, he tells us the story behind Meze.
As may be evident from their common last name, Patrick and Raymond are brothers. The two moved down to San Diego from San Jose to open Meze in the early summer of 2012. The brothers have a long history of experience in the restaurant trade, as Raymond and his brother grew up essentially living and breathing the restaurant business. Their father, John Davoudi, is a well-known restaurateur back in San Jose, responsible for both Le Pappillon and La Foret. Both of these establishments are well known in the Bay Area and specialize in French cuisine. The brothers learned the business from the ground up. As children, they washed dishes until they were old enough to be bus boys. They then worked as servers and made their way into the kitchen. Raymond explains to me that their home was next door to La Foret, so to say they grew up in a restaurant would not be too far from the truth.
The brothers had decided to open a restaurant in the Bay Area, when the opportunity presented itself in San Diego. They chose to take a chance, and after a quick move, they worked day and night in order to open the establishment as quickly as possible. Only a month later, the doors opened to the public, and the rest as they say, is history. The brothers have divided managerial responsibilities, with Raymond in charge of the kitchen and Patrick running the front of the house.
As Raymond and I discuss what his goals as a business owner are, it is clear the brothers have poured their heart and souls into their restaurant. He says that the focus of Meze is to offer guests healthy, good food, with the utmost attention paid to service. Daily deliveries of produce assure only fresh ingredients go into the dishes, and everything from the tahini used in the spreads, to the Baklava is made in house. Raymond then politely excuses himself to tend to the other guests of the restaurant. Actions speak louder than words, and it is clear Raymond is not just expressing what people want to hear. He understands the importance of the customer.
I look over the menu, which has an array of options. Spreads include Hummus and Mama Ghanoush. Hot appetizers, range from Grilled Shrimp marinated and grilled in a citrus glaze, to the Meze Fries which are hand cut and tossed in gresh garlic, Italian parsley, and crumbled feta cheese. Salad offering such as the Tabouleh, Fattoush, Greek Salad, and Grilled Asparagus Salad showcase a range of Mediterranean influences from Italy to Turkey and Greece. Main courses such as the Lamb Shank baked with potato, onion, carrot, celery, and tomato sauce; the Meze Pasta with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, black olives, onions, garlic, tomatoes, white wine and olive oil; and the Rotisserie chicken marinated in fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage, all look appetizing.
When Patrick returns to see if we are ready to order, I sheepishly admit that it all looks so good; I am having a difficult time deciding what to order. He smiles and takes the pressure off by saying he will gladly take care of us. Relieved, I thank him and take a glance at the cocktail menu.
The specialty cocktail menu has a half a dozen house drinks, all crafted one at a time. The Quixote Complex is a mix of El Jimador tequila, Saint Germain, cucumber, cilantro, and lime, while the Moroccan Mule uses Appleton estate rum, lime, sugar, mint, and ginger beer. I opt for the Drop It Like It’s Hot, with Vodka, lemon, agave, and Serrano peppers. My brother decides on the Dirty Meze, which substitutes kalamata olive brine for the standard green olive fare.
The wine list features vineyards from California, Argentina, Germany, Italy, and New Zealand. A sampling of by the glass offerings includes the Kenwood Yulapa Cuvee Brut, 2009 Artesa Pinot Noir, 2010 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, 2011 Clean Slate Riesling, and 2010 Avalon Merlot. By the bottle exclusives offered are the 2009 Sharmasberg Blanc De Blancs, 2011 St. Suprey Sauvignon Blanc, and 2010 Joel Gott Zinfandel.
Our drinks arrive, and I savor my spicy, slightly sour, and not overwhelmingly sweet drink. I love spicy foods, and cocktails are no exception. My brother’s martini is a twist on the standard dirty variety. I am a big proponent of kalamata olives, and the brine from the Greek olives adds an agreeable layer of complexity to a drink that I generally consider to be too “pickled” for my palate. As far as I am concerned, both of these custom cocktails are winners.
Our first course quickly follows the delivery of our drinks. Presented on a glossy white rectangular plate, three colorful spreads sit evenly spaced with simple elegance. A side dish of triangular pitas accompanies the sample of spreads. The Baba Ghanoush has a rich smoky essence and an impeccably smooth texture. There is no mistaking the freshness of ingredients. It is clear they grill the eggplant in house, and mix all the ingredients in the kitchen on a daily basis. The Fiery Feta is spicy and sharp in contrast to the smoky and smooth Baba Ghanoush. This spread features a savory tone of feta while the base of roasted red pepper has the heat turned up by a healthy dose of cayenne pepper. Without being overly intense, the zest of this spread is just enough to excite the tongue. The Mouhamara, a pureed mix of red bell pepper, walnuts, spices, and extra virgin olive oil is my favorite of the three, although the Baba Ghanoush is a close second. This dish has a flavor that is difficult to describe. The profile is complex, and I am at a loss of words as to pinpointing the spices used, but some things are simply delicious.
Having finished our first round of cocktails, my brother and I decide to sample another pair of the house specialty blends. I order the Tuscan Gimlet with Crater Lake Vodka, basil, lime, thyme syrup, and my brother takes a stab at the Byzantine Romance, which is a mix of vodka, lemon, pomegranate grenadine, rosemary, and sparkling water. My gimlet is welcome refreshment for the warm afternoon. It is smooth, light, and slightly sweet. My brother has a penchant for grenadine, and smiles as he sips his Byzantine Romance. He clearly is enjoying his choice.
Our main course arrives and is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for our appetites. A pan seared Salmon Filet accompanied by a yogurt salsa is well prepared. The meat is fresh and flakes under the pressure of my fork. The yogurt salsa is mild and the tang of the special sauce accents the salmon well. Raymond tells us the yogurt salsa takes two days to prepare, and I do not doubt it. The Shirazi Salad, in our case, served alongside the salmon, consists of diced cucumber, tomato, red onion, with a light dressing of fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. The crisp salad, with its cucumber and onion, offers a satisfying crunch.
The Chicken Kabob, served with basmati rice, grilled vegetables, and a large grilled Anaheim pepper, has a seasoning that is mild and pleasant. Cooked with expert execution, the chunks of chicken are tender and juicy. The Filet Mignon Kabob features the same accompaniment as the chicken, but the bold flavor of the beef provides a clearly different foundation to the flavor profile of the dish. The basmati rice is light and fluffy, and if I am not mistaken, prepared in vegetable stock, adding yet another layer of taste to the side. The grilled vegetables and Anaheim pepper complete the dish, and effectively tie the entrée together.
A duo of Falafel lines the plate of our entrée. Raymond states that they may just be the best falafel in town. A bold statement, I think to myself. As it turns out, he may be right. The fluffy center encased in a crisp outer crust has a taste that is top notch. I have had my fair share of falafel from San Diego to Barcelona, and I can say without hyperbole, this falafel is amongst the finest I have ever tasted.
Tzatziki, humus, and the house garlic spread are served along with the entrées, and are all fine additions to the dishes. These dressings, clearly made in house, are fresh and full-bodied. The Tzatziki is cool and refreshing, and tastes great on the chicken, salmon, and filet mignon. The humus works well paired with the grilled vegetables and Anaheim chili. The garlic spread is good on everything. Seriously, if I had access to this stuff, I would put it on ice cream.
Two wine pairings accompany our main course. The Folie à Deux Chardonnay has a clean nose with crisp fruit balanced against a slight butter note, while the Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon has a concentrated fruit flavor with notes of black current and black cherry. The chardonnay works well with the chicken and salmon, and the cabernet has the flexibility to be enjoyed with all of the dishes we are served.
A sample of both items from the dessert menu draws our meal to a delightful end. Having established my fondness for Mediterranean cuisine, I can say that the Baklava at Meze is top notch. A thick layer of honey and nuts is sandwiched between fluffy phyllo dough. The balance of phyllo to filling is the key to great baklava, and Raymond has found a golden ratio. The second dessert, the Warm Apple Crisp, is similar to traditional apple pie, but utilizes phyllo in place of standard piecrust. Served a la mode, the vanilla bean ice cream with caramel sauce drizzled over the top, mingles with the phyllo and warm apple filling to form a fantastically sweet crescendo to the meal.
As we bid our adieu, my brother and I step back into the busy streets of early evening in downtown San Diego. As the indigo sky fades to an inky black, urban professionals are out on their evening jog, while others walk their dog. A group of tourists walks by in their San Diego outfits. I enjoy seeing how visitors interpret how we live in our little slice of paradise. As they pass us, I smile. Another beautiful day draws to an end in America’s finest city.
Insider Tip – Meze Mediterranean Grill offers Brunch on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Brunch runs from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and features Gourmet Omelettes, Wraps, French Toast, as well as bottomless Bloody Marys and Mimosas.
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Superb service. All the suggestions were excellent and the food was delicious. Great casual atmosphere andnice location.