A Hard Habit to Break
Cafe MezÃ©’s Mediterranean fare keeps regulars coming back for more
Don’t let the name or the innocuous exterior mislead you: Cafe MezÃ© is neither Middle Eastern nor bland-suburban. The word meze, which means tidbit or small plate in Greek, is both a throwback to the restaurant’s original incarnation and a reminder to restaurant savvy diners who the owners are: the Livanos family, also owners of the popular City Limits Diner (which has locations in both Westchester and Fairfield) and New York City’s acclaimed Molyvos and Oceana.
Chef Mark Filippo, who helped open the restaurant nine years ago, explains his approach: “It’s based on Italian, and this is my interpretation using the best ingredients I can get, prepared in a straightforward manner.”
Chef Filippo’s menu changes four times a year, with certain dishes as mainstays and daily market-inspired specials. One such special was linguine with a simple toss of crisp, sweet and flavorful rock shrimp. Thanks to skillful restraint, the flavors of tomato and basil acted in supporting roles to enhance the rock shrimp. I never knew rock shrimp could be this tasty.
This reliance on the inherent flavors of ingredients and on simple, classic and rustic cooking techniques is where Chef Filippo’s talents shine. A plate of grilled head-on shrimp and steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, cooked not a moment too long, was complemented by a simple lemon-parsley sauce tinged with a touch of spicy pepper.
Not every dish sang to us, though. The 18-hour roasted shoulder of pork sounded better than it tasted or looked. For all the effort that must have gone into creating this dish, it came to us looking more like a pork-and-gravy lunch plate than the Italian porchetta (roast pig) that inspired it. The dish left us yearning for the rich pork flavor we’d expected.
Similarly, slow-baked salmon was served in a “vermouth tomato essence” that was disappointingly subtle and did nothing to enhance the moist, tender—and, once again, perfectly cooked—fish. A spoonful of pesto gave this dish its one burst of flavor.
Despite some shortcomings, though, Cafe MezÃ© is the sort of place you love to return to. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, the service is accommodating and unhurried, and some of the food is quite good. It’s the sort of place that can become a habit: the restaurant you go to when you want to spend time with friends and where you can count on your favorite dish or two.
The key is to find those dishes, which won’t be hard to do. I’ll start my next meal with the portobello caviar drizzled in truffle oil and accompanied with chÃ¨vre. I’m sure one of my dining companions would happily order the trio of salmons starter, in which case my fork would certainly find its way to his salmon tartare. The minced raw salmon in this dish is artfully elevated to a new level with the addition of a little finely chopped smoked salmon and a touch of
mayonnaise and capers.
Then, of course, there are the desserts, which alone are a good enough reason to dine at Cafe MezÃ©. Don’t miss the silky lemon panna cotta, served with a slice of lemon poppy-seed cake and a tart shell filled with a tangy, custard-like lemon curd.
20 North Central Ave., Hartsdale
Lunch, Mon. to Fri. 12-2:30 pm
Dinner, Sun. to Thurs. 5:30-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5:30-10 pm