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Restaurants & Bars 11

Mezes, Marina, SF (long)

Limster | Mar 1, 200202:05 AM

Got a Greek buddy of mine to join me in checking out this place for its namesake, mezes, aka Greek tapas.

It's a comfortable and welcoming place with a mezzanine at the back half of the dining room just above the bar. The mood is as casual as the little plates of greek goodies in their enjoyable simplicity. A convincing mediterrenean escape.

My Greek buddy says that it's a very serious minus not to serve ouzo, a strong Greek liquor often flavored with anise. According to him, it's central to the meal, and in the scheme of a meal one surrounds the drink with savory nibbles. He tried to persuade them in Greek to give us some, but they only have a beer and wine license and could not give us any (even though they use that to flavor a few dishes though).

Without ouzo, we started with a juicy and somewhat meaty Katogi, a greek wine that we all enjoyed very much. Around that we nibbled on bread and good ripe flavored olives in luxuriant olive oil.

Then a series of dishes. A decent melitzanosalata, chilled pureed egglant with tiny bits of onions and a serious dose of garlic served with warm triangles of slightly spongy pita bread. The eggplant is good, but we would have prefered to have it with a slightly smoky flavor from the roasting just before it was pureed.

The octapodi psito was very nice when warm, the grilled surfaces of the octapus tentacles were charred and well caramelized, while the white insides were quite tender.

But I think the favorite of the night was the salty stiff pan seared kefalograviera cheese (Kefalograviera Saganaki) for its almost layered texture and earthy flavor, chirped up with a squeeze of lemon.

I also loved the generous dish of fried breaded smelts a lot. It's delicious simplicity. The smelts are completely soft on the inside, heads and tails. The breading is moderate and slightly crisp without the earth-shaking crunch, but comes across as pleasant and not soggy, even after a long interval at the table. It comes with a small side of potato puree that works well with the fish. One of my friends say that Kokkari's version is superior (a claim that is easy to believe), but I was quite satisfied nevertheless. Give me this dish and a glass of wine and I would happily while away an hour or two.

Lamb chops here stage a fairly dramatic pyro entrance. At the center where all the saluting chops meet, a sprig of rosemary is set on fire, flaming as it comes to the table. The lamb is well cooked to around medium (no redness), yet superbly juicy and tender. It proves that you don't need bloody rareness for good meat. Beneath it, big wedges of roasted potato with rosemary. Not like the ones as Chez Nous, but still a good deal.

The keftedes (grilled meatballs) were a solid option, served with yogurt. Not immensely special by any means, but a satisfying goodness nevertheless.

We really adored the rich sauce in the garides with ouzo, large prawns pan seared with ouzo in a tomato cream sauce that was rich and complex. Serious plate wiping with bread -- the sauce is beautiful.

Desserts are totally different from the delicate fluttering french sweets. Instead they pack oompf without being overly heavy. The rice pudding topped with stewed cherries was approaching a hint of sake complexity and was nicely dressed up in a dark tangy cherry sauce. The creme caramel was lovely in its wobbly way and a coat of solid caramel provided sweetness and crunch against its soft curdly texture. The semolina lemon cake articulated the grains very well, with tiny pops and crackles from the semolina -- that played perfectly opposite the softness of the vanilla ice cream. There's also a good whiff of lemon in the cake. Lastly, the yogurt with chopped nuts made an excellent change of pace. It was a straighforward good yogurt, thick and tangy. The subdued sweetness here provided a good balance to the other sweeter mouthfuls in the series of desserts.

So all in all an enjoyable meal; all the above (2 bottles of wine) including tip came up to $240 for a total of 5 people. That makes Mezes a decent alternative to the something like Chez Nous, even though it's more rustic in a fishing village kind of way. We'll just have to bring our ouzo the next time!

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