Tonight we went to Mezcal on Shrewsbury St. (that's "Shoosbury St." for you non-locals) to check out Mezcal, the new Mex/Southwestern restaurant in the space where Pearl Oyster lived out its few days. For a Wednesday the place was packed -- more with drinkers at the bar rather than diners, but business overall seemed brisk.
The place was opened by the Block 5/ Bocado owners, and the concept, as the name sort of suggests, is tequila. (Yeah, Mezcal is a different drink, but whaddaya gonna do.) The list of tequilas was staggering, but on cold New England nights we crave red wine, so we selected a bottle of one of the house reds, which was just fine for the modest price. Oddly, otherwise there were no full bottles on the wine list, just aggressively-priced half-bottles. Hmm.
The room hasn't changed much from Pearl Oyster days, but has gotten a suitably southwestern facelift, and was made lively both by the crowd and by some upbeat Mexican (I guess) music that seemed very appropriate. The service was very attentive, with both our waitress and several floor-manager types hovering around to try to keep us happy.
The menu is sort of upscale Tex-Mex, with lots of apps and some southwesternish mains. We decided that the various apps sounded interesting enough to make a meal of, so we ordered the sampler of 3 guacamoles (made to order in molcajete (yeah, I had to look up the word)); the sampler of 3 ceviches; some tilapia tacos; and a duck quesadilla.
In brief, everything was fine -- fresh, generous, reasonably priced -- but sort of boring. Nothing, including the complimentary salsa, was remotely spicy, and almost everything was undersalted. This is very promising food that needs, if you'll pardon the expression, to be kicked up a notch, with some habaneros here and some chipotles there.
In detail, the guacamoles featured an interesting "chunky" version with pepitas and fried hominy, very tasty, plus a "tropical" version with some mango. Once we salted them they were just fine, although some real, fresh tortilla chips would have been an improvement over the trendy tri-color chips they offered. The ceviches were fresh and nice enough, but really needed some flavor to give depth to the seafood -- some jalapeno, maybe, some fresh herbs, etc. They weren't bad, just bland.
The duck quesadilla and tilapia tacos continued the trend. Fresh, generous, booor-ing. But the service was great, the room is nice, and it's the kind of place you want to see succeed, especially in Worcester, which could use such a place, if not two.
It was all so terribly mild that I concluded that we had made an error in not pleading with the waitress to as the chef to HURT US. And that's just what we'll do next time -- see if the kitchen can respond to the challenge to give this reasonably interesting menu the kick it needs to be distinguished as something new and different on Shoosbury St. It's promising, and it'll make the margaritas-and-guac crowd very happy, but it falls just a bit short of what it could be with a bolder hand in the kitchen.