Monday, September 21, 2009

Mezcal: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The lion roared a third time. We dropped the needle. A heart began to beat. The timeless art of synchronizing both the sound of Dark Side of the Moon and the visual of The Wizard of Oz, or the attempt, commenced to wide smiles and gremlin giggles. As Dorothy climbed to walk the fence post we slowly grew restless. Was the sound off? Was the record too slow? We began a silent panic, frantically glancing from screen to record player to ourselves. Like our ape ancestors in 2001 we pounded the floor, unsure and howling, our joy slowly corrupted by paranoia. To fix or not to fix the sound. To lose our joy of Floyd and the anticipation of the lollipop dance furthered our fury. We stop. What was that?! Was someone outside listening?

A paper airplane flew through the opened blogcave window, it read:

Dear New Haven Earth beings, 9/1/100 years in the future

Regarding your interpretation of Mexican cuisine as a trans-fatty, lifeless, fourth meal, yucky three cheese gordeda we say end this ignorant practice or face our death ray. You are being deceived by these imitations of food as designed by those without heart, imagination or courage. We order you to obey your thirst for the delicious. Rub the sleep from your eyes or face the beast of planet Tralfagar. Go to Mezcal if you wish to stay alive and eat great authentic Mexican food.

We took their advice.

Mezcal escapes all of the common Mexican cuisine clichés, so the restaurant would never use this kind of a phrase, but Mezcal is “on the border”. Not an arbitrarily drawn line denoting where a group of red necks stole Mexican land which was stolen from Indians, as is usually alluded to when a Mexican restaurant applies the above mentioned phrase. The border we are alluding to is one dividing our beautiful Elm City from its little sister city, Hamden. For the hungry Mezcal is the last stop on State Street. If you were to follow State Street passing Mezcal on your left, Hamden a few miles north, you would be greeted by abandoned brick industrial buildings, one being the home of the former “Swim Suit Outlet,” whose sign draws curiosity from drivers of I-91. A one piece, wide brimmed beach hat and sunglasses never looked as good.

Mexcal’s location allows it to be Mezcal: a restaurant that serves delicious authentic Mexican food. If Mezcal were situated two miles south of where it currently stands it would not be Mezcal, but instead another watering hole for New Haven's young professional crowd. It would be C.O. Jones (which, to be fair is not a bad bar/restaurant at all, but how many phallic spelling jokes can the city really take?). If Mezcal were located on the green's sidelines it would be victim to the pedestrian tastes of the pedestrian (jay-walking) Yale clientele, turning it either into a white table clothed affair or Taco Bell. We fear it would become the latter. Because of it’s out of the way location Mezcal can be what it is: not simply a quick bite for convenience’s sake, but a culinary destination.

Hans ordered the fish taco, Mendez the shrimp cocktail. The cocktail was far soupier than what we are used to for New Year's Eve hors d'œuvres . The shrimp where served in a tomato based broth seasoned with the help of floating onions, avocado and lime. The fish taco surprised us with its tender tastes. The taco did not, like its distant drive thu cousin, overwhelm the tongue with a flood of sour cream and cheddar. The fish taco is crunchy and meaty. The rice and beans. Mmm.

The ceviche is a flavor paradise on your plate. Shrimp, lime, chips. Half the fun is eating. The other half chasing the joy with an import beer of your choice. A carefree afternoon has never been spent so well. The magic of this dish is the sharing. Bring a friend, a family member, or even an enemy and all will be well as you scoop up the delicious.

Be sure to ask and they will refill the complimentary chips and salsa. The salsa has the tiniest bit of spice to it. You aren't sure how spicy so you pick up another chip and find yourself asking more questions about the salsa. You will not receive an answer but a full stomach while waiting for a splendid entree.

Not only did we avoid the death ray but we found a new favorite New Haven eatery. The food is excellent and reasonably priced. Mezcal is a beacon of hope for those jaded by the Mexican food scene. The ice cold beer and more than generous portions make it worth the walk from downtown New Haven or a drive from a neighboring suburb. Viva Mezcal!