I have a colleague who I trust immensely when it comes to recommending excellent restaurants. In some cases, they have gained fame through great online reviews or features in newspapers or magazines. In other cases, they fall off the beaten path and offer a unique culinary experience. For example, I followed him to Carnitas Don Pedro to suck back some pork brain tacos in Chicago. So when I was in Montreal in October, I had no worries when he recommended Mezcla, an upscale Latino place that serves dishes a bit more sophisticated that Don Pedro’s. Located in the the middle of what appears to be a mainly residential street a short cab ride out of the downtown core, it has a modest storefront which blends in nicely with the surrounding residences.
The decor had sort of a dark beauty to it and was somewhat reminiscent of a cleaner version of the cave Indiana Jones yanked the Chachapoyan fertility idol from in Raiders of the Lost Ark (although there was no sign of the idol anywhere). The waitstaff were cut from pages of Vogue Peru (if there is such thing) with gleamy smiles and pristine manners. We were seated near the window and offered a decent wine list featuring a sampling from Europe and South America. We opted for a nicely priced Lorca Fantasia Argentinian Malbec ($54). I find they can be either really good or really bad and this one was on the good side.
The menu stratifies land and sea by offering fresh seafood and hearty meat dishes sourced locally and prepared with traditional South American flavours and techniques. The size of the dishes ranged from sharing plates to large hunks of meat meant for romantic yet carnivorous sharing. According to the Spanish to English dictionary, Mezcla (not to be mistaken with Mezcal..the red headed stepsister of tequila) is Spanish for mixing which makes sense given the fusion concept. However, it may also mean “meat” because if you are vegetarian you are basically limited to fingerling potatoes with an egg on top (there may be alterations the kitchen can make for vegetarians but I didn’t ask).
From the sea we chose the ceviche mixto, cazuelita de pulpo (octopus) and almejas y yucca (clams). The ceviche was a perfect balance from both a flavor and ingredient perspective. Each bite had uniform contrast with the odd explosion of intensive flavour. Simply delicious. The octopus was reasonably tender and seasoned with a magical mezcla of Peruvian and Quebec traditions with the panca and maple respectively. The clams were decent but lacked the punch of some of the other dishes even with the smart addition of the small wire basket of yucca fries.
From the land I chose the tiradito de venado and fois gras and the courte cote de bison briase. The first, which loosely translates as deer carpaccio, is paired with a fois gras torchon and seasoned with Peruvian hot peppers and peaches. This dish could start a fight at a table over the last piece if you’re not careful and at the same time be used to strengthen international relationships between North and South America. Luckily, my dining partner is not a fan of red meat and I got to enjoy the whole thing myself. I carefully watched the preparation of the bison ribs. A glass dome was placed over them and heavy smoke was infused and they were delivered to the table like that. I was allowed to stare for a moment until the waiter skillfully lifted the lid and swirled the smoke in a confident manner. The ribs appeared out of the smoke like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson at Wrestlemania and were equally meaty and buff but tender at the same time (now if you don’t think the rock is tender go and rent the Tooth Fairy). Thankfully, the mushroom and vegetable medley were a much better side kick than Seann William Scott in the Rundown.
For dessert we ordered the glace lucuma, a earthy yet sweet blend of nuts, cocoa bean and caramel. It didn’t push the boundries of the rest of the menu (maybe I was expecting it to be strewn in bacon flavoured maple syrup or something) but it was a fitting end to a great meal.
Mezcla is a new joint ultimately making a loud and avant-garde impression on Montreal’s dining scene. The fusion of the relatively untapped tastes of South America with more common European methodologies produce dishes with bold yet refined flavours. It’s as if Jacques Cartier blew by the St. Lawrence and busted down to South America and threw down the gauntlet in an Inca Chef showdown. The service is impeccable; classy and attentive. Water glasses are never empty and the smiles never stop. The staff are exciting, knowledgeable , and exude pride instead of pretension.
The impact of the robust flavours that hit your mouth are synonymous with getting cold cocked by the Rock. In fact, I can summarize the experience of this amazing restaurant in the words of Dwayne Johnson himself… “Can you smmmellll…what Mezcla..is cooking?!”