December 19, 2011
Christmas at Mezze
Mezze is a Foodaism kind of restaurant.
There’s a caring chef in the kitchen. There’s a welcoming vibe in the dining room. A Foodaism restaurant is a place that reminds you of home, but with better food. Micah Wexler—occasional contributor to The Jewish Journal—cares about his ingredients. he tells me the eggs in his shakshouka—by far the best in the city, come from the Aracauna hens of a friend. I have my own chickens and get my eggs straight from the cloaca. Micah’s are better.
He is inspired by the Middle East (Mezze is Arabic for appetizer), but he uses the ingredients like za’atar and amba, and dishes like foul and fattoush, as inspiration. Wexler cooked for Tom Colicchiop at Craft. He has technique. But none of of his dishes are about technique. They’re about flavor. Intense flavors and colors.
Last week I took Joan Nathan there. She arrived on a typically harried flight from DC. Hadn’t really heard of Mezze and didn’t know what to expect. The woman has eaten at about a million restaurants. Counts the great chefs as her friends and—in Tom Colichio’s case—saviors. She’s far from jaded, but she’s not easy, either.
Out comes the first dish: Wild Salmon with Purple Onion and Bendik & Sons Rye Bread. Cubes of perfectly cured salmon tossed with sweet pickled onions, salmon roe, potatoes, cucumber.
“Wow,” she says.
“Wow,” I say.
It goes on like that. Foul with fresh heirloom beans. A grilled quail in amba. A fattoush salad draped in thin slices of watermelon radish. A cauliflower, feta, Moroccan olive and golden raisin flatbread. Each dish is a new combination of familiar flavors. Joan literally wrote the book on Israeli cooking (two, in fact, and several on Jewish cooking). But she is impressed. She starts taking notes.
It’s lunch, and quiet. Micah comes over to meet Joan—a now mutual fan club—and he describes the challenges of doing something new with Middle Eastern food. A few clients complain that the shakshuka isn’t like the stuff at Aroma Cafe or Haifa. He won’t put humous on the menu because he doesn’t want to be confused for a straight Middle Eastern place—though I would love to taste any humous he comes up with.
There’s a restaurant in Philadelphia called Zahav that for a few years now has created a similar kind of New American Middle Eastern food. Micah of course has heard of it but never eaten there, or spoken with the chef, Michael Solomonov. Joan pulls out her cell phone and calls Solomonov.
“Michael,” she says, “I’m at this fabulous restaurant in Los Angeles called Mezze. Have you heard of it?”
In a minute, Wexler and Solomonov are chatting, and decide to do some kind of event together.
By the time we’re done with lunch, it’s late. Joan is running to file her latest New York Times piece, on herring (herring was a substantial topic of conversation, though Micah has yet to include it on his menu).
Micah is putting the finishing touches on his newest idea: a Mezze Christmas Eve dinner.
A day later he e-mails me the menu:
The press release says the evening will go from 6 pm til 1 am, ” to encourage schmoozing, schmaltzing and good cheer.” I am very tempted. The regular menu will be available, which means I can have more cauliflower flatbread. How good is Mezze? Good enough to wean a Jew off Chinese food on Christmas.
To read The Jewish Journal’s story on Mezze, click here.