by Sam Worley
This process is fun because it's so weird—like wandering through a developer's scale-model mock-up of a planned community. I remained hopeful; I'd recently visited a lovely French restaurant located somewhere else inside the gray block. Would two make a trend? Could this artificial, blandly wealthy cityscape foster an unusually good restaurant scene?
Alas, no, or at least not yet. Mezcalina, a Oaxacan joint from chef Manuel Bañuelos, whose last stint was in Guadalajara, may be worth revisiting, but my recent meal was hit-or-miss. First things first: the grasshoppers. I lured my dining companion with the promise of them, though it turns out they're not much more than garnish on a couple dishes. We ordered the crunchy little motherfuckers atop "Mezcalina" guacamole—one of three options—which was fantastic. Pineapple dice impart all that fruit's floral herbiness but none of its sweetness; the grasshoppers (which taste, yup, like grass; also nuts) are a nice salty accent. Three salsas that come gratis are great, too, and so is an aggressively flavored scallop ceviche—spicy and mouth-puckeringly tart.
Further down the menu is an intriguing array of options: a couple of moles; banana-leaf-wrapped tamale; a soup with squash and squash blossoms, corn, potatoes, and corn dumplings; and pork-stuffed poblano peppers with dried fruit and almond sauce. We wanted in on some battered squash blossoms. Stuffed with Oaxacan cheese and served with refried beans, they were good, though an accompanying tomato-pasilla sauce was tinny flavored and wan.
Entrees presented problems with salt, among other things. A pork chop was bland and watery; it was so beautiful, on the other hand, that to eat it was to encounter a kind of sensory disagreement. (The experience was truly weird: the grill marks on the chop tasted not a whit of char, like they had been painted on.) Lamb shank in adobo sauce, meanwhile, was almost inedibly salty. I could forgive that because it was still some of the best lamb I've had: steamed for eight hours, according to the menu, it was meltingly tender, falling off the bone, with a concentrated meaty flavor. (Dipping the saltless lamb in that saltwater adobo sauce will get you closer to fine.) The lamb also came with minitortillas and a ramekin of green salsa spiked with avocado, all of which combined to make good little tacos.
A full bar's here as well—try the margaritas—and desserts include churros and tres leches cake.
333 E. Benton, suite 100, 312-240-5000, mezcalina.com