Though located on 15th and 5th, the number of suits present on a weekday night lend the restaurant a midtown vibe. But the food is good and despite its 15-year old age, the spot is energetic.
The Decor: At first glance, the cavernous space seems disjointed with no unifying theme. But on closer examination, the oversized industrial fans, pictures of a moon, and aerial photos come together to create a time-warp. Mesa Grill, dating back to 1991, is Flay’s first restaurant and its decor shows how far New York has come in prioritizing ambiance. Nonetheless, Mesa Grill’s industrial feel and multiple dining levels if not a little odd, stray far from garish.
The Chef: Bobby Flay opened Mesa Grill in 1991, focusing on traditional methods of preparation including grilling mixed with Southwestern spices. Flay retains the title “executive chef” at his flagship, despite opening Mesa Grill branches in Vegas and the Bahamas. His other New York ventures include Bar Americain and Bolo.
The Food: It’s not gourmet, but I can’t really imagine “haute” Southwestern. But the flavors are clean & fresh (albeit spicy!), and the dishes are skillfully prepared. The menu is more creative than a place like Agave, dishes requires more talent, and the ingredients are varied and more unique. To the restaurant’s advantage, like most Mexican & Southwestern influenced restaurants, the flavors appeal to a common sense of familiarity and comfort. In short, the food will not disappoint but it’s not something you’ll leave craving for again.
The tortilla-tomato soup was thicker than a French Tomato soup, and the burst of flavor left my fellow diners licking their bowls clean. The blue corn pancake with duck was very enjoyable to eat, although I doubt the intensity of the preparation. The duck appeared grilled and shredded almost like pork, the marinade was very good, and the concept as a whole was creative but I feel I could get close to preparing it in my own home.
The pork loin was probably the best dish at the table. It was evenly cooked, tender, and again, well-spiced – almost bordering on too spicy. The after-burn was anticipated by the chef, and the pork came paired with a sweet potato tamale. The cornmeal crusted chile relleno was obviously a step-up from the run-of-the-mill soggy relleno. While not delicately prepared, it was flavorful and bold.
Didn’t try the desserts. They’re apparently delicious, but didn’t look worthy enough to gorge on.
Drinks: The margaritas were not well presented, and the beer selection is limited to bottles with nothing on tap. For a cuisine that marries itself well with alcohol, I was surprised to find that the drink menu adhered mostly to hard alcohol than to cocktails or wines.