May 20, 2012

Places to eat in Kansas City: Mestizo

We've made two visits to Mestizo in the last month. That alone should say something. The first visit was actually mixed, but there was enough good to bring us back. And I'm glad, because the second visit was more positive.

This relatively new addition to the KC restaurant scene is located in Leawood at Park Place (a collection of shops, restaurants and condos at 117th and Nall, just north of the AMC Town Center). You'd have to go looking for it. Unless you just happen to be strolling around this chi-chi mecca of high-end consumerism, you wouldn't happen across it. And if you go in for appetizers, drinks, and a large meal, it's going to be pretty pricey. But we just went for a light late lunch both times, and so we got out for under $15 per person.

Let's start with the salsa. Our first visit there, we were quite underwhelmed by it. It was okay, but didn't taste garden-fresh, which is what you'd expect from the expectations set by the menu. It tasted like the bulk of the sauce came from canned tomatoes. But that was April, and maybe they were short on good local tomatoes so they resorted to canned. This time, however -- midway through May -- the salsa lived up to our original expectations. It had both a sweetness and a pleasant kick (mind you, this comment from me, the spice-wimp), and the sweetness tasted like it came from homegrown t'maters, not from Heinz, or added sugar. A salsa-dipped chip did benefit from a little extra salt added at the table, as the chips are served pretty much saltless. (But I'd much rather have a dish lack salt than be overly salty.)

Other than lacking salt, the chips are great. They somehow manage to be both thick and light -- perfectly crispy.

On our first visit, we ordered guacamole, but none of us (and there were four that time) were impressed. We didn't even finish it, even though it was fairly small. It had a strange note in it; almost tasted mustardy to me. ($9. Sheesh!)


On my first visit, I ordered the "chipotle chicken" -- a simple salad topped with glazed, grilled chicken breast and a tamarind vinaigrette. The chicken was a little over cooked but still enjoyable, and the salad dressing was unique, with a bright, citrusy flavor. ($10.)


On our first visit, the two guys ordered two different kinds of tacos: one ordered grilled mahi-mahi, and the other, crispy pork belly. On our second visit, my husband, having tasted both the first time, ordered a mixed serving of both. (Two tacos, $9.)

The fish tacos, served with avocado slices and mango salsa on top:


Pork belly may sound weird, but these were bite-sized chunks of tender pork with a pleasantly crispy exterior. They weren't strongly smoked, but there was a hint of bacon-y flavor to them.


My husband's assessment of the two: He likes them both, but prefers the pork belly. ("I like El Patron's fish tacos better by a long shot," he says.)

Both kinds of tacos were served with a side of "drunken beans." No one liked the beans. My sister's fiance thought there was an "off" taste to them; I thought they just tasted bland.

The star dish, in my opinion, was the pepita-crusted scallops. My sister ordered it on our first visit, and I ordered on our second. (Her serving had three scallops, mine, only two. Perhaps measured by weight?) The scallops were perfectly done, sweet and tender, and served atop a creamy corn picadillo. Dictionary.com says that picadillo is "a traditional Latin American and Spanish dish of ground meat, onions, tomatoes, raisins, olives, and spices," but this one had grilled corn, small pear tomatoes and bits of jalapeno in a creamy, sauce that tasted of ancho chile to me. The slightly spicy, slightly smoky sauce was a great counterpoint to the sweet scallops, was contrasted nicely with the salty, crispy crust of finely chopped pepitas on top. Nothing to criticize! ($12.)


Our one main complaint about Mestizo: the atmosphere is just a little too slick, a little too chic. (It should be noted that both of our visits were mid-afternoon. Perhaps the decor feels more right after dark.) My husband also was a bit put off by the sterile, styled-ness of the plating.

In a "Welcome" note at the top of the menu, owner Aaron Sanchez says that the menu was inspired, in part, by family meals "freshly prepared by my mother, Zarela." And that kind of love for the flavors and the food came through in the dishes we tried, but I wish it would have also come through in the decor. The restaurant shouts STYLE, and feels like a corporate concept, not a homespun gathering place.

Mestizo website.

Mestizo on Urbanspoon

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