image from StyleWeekly.com
Mezzanine (on W. Cary Street across from McDonalds) has fast become my new favorite Richmond restaurant. I went there a couple of weeks ago for my brother's birthday and within one sitting had tuna, oysters and portobello mushrooms that completely redefined for me tuna, oysters, and portobello mushrooms. I am somewhat of a tuna connuseiur if you will. I am not exaggerating when I say I eat tuna in some form probably about five times a week. And yes I know I am going to pull a Piven and get mercury poison any day now. I simply don't care. My favorite sandwich is tuna. My favorite sushi is spicy tuna. And you guessed it, my favorite steak is tuna steak! (Okay to be fair tuna steak is the only kind of steak I like, and yes I know this means I should probably hand over my Southerner membership card) But I digress. When I ordered Mezzanine's tuna steak over soba noodles, it was like having tuna for the first time, tuna the way God intended. Every bite exploded with flavor. The fish was so tender it flaked off perfectly with just my fork. And it didn't stop with the tuna that night. Our appetizer of oysters dynamite (oysters served in the shell with sriracha aioli) were so full of spicy, salty, briney goodnesss that I could have eaten a dozen of these things by myself. Our other appetizer, the portobello mushroom pizza can only be explained by wizadry. This was a giant portobello mushroom with cheese on top and it tasted like pizza! Like real pizza. Not frou-frou veggie, vegan cardboard pizza but real Mary Angela's cheezy, crusty pizza. But there was no crust!
I thought nothing could top this experience. And then I went to Mezzanine tonight and ordered the pan-roasted free range chicken with goat cheese, asparagus and celery root puree (the image shows haricots verts, but part of the beauty of Mezzanine is the ever-changing chalkboard menu which means you get what is local and seasonal and absolutely fresh). I can honestly say this was life-changing chicken. I would die happy if I could make chicken like this, tender and juicy but with perfectly crispy skin, the pan juices creating the perfect gravy. The beauty of this dish was its simplicity. There was nothing twee or show-offy. No foams or gels or carrots carved into the shape of a flower (okay it is cool when they carve vegetables into flowers). This was food, food without ornamentation or frills, food good enough that it could stand completely on its own. This meal was all about the integrity of the ingredients, the appreciation for what is seasonal and local and good. And yes I'm talking about a piece of meat, but this meat, this chicken, this meal, well it's the closest food can get to poetry.
The asparagus was perfect, not smothered in sauce, but seasoned just enough. And then the celery root puree. When my plate arrived I thought surely the menu must have left off the mashed potatoes. I took a bite and almost peed myself a little. My exact words to my friends as soon as I was able to open my eyes and resist the urge to dive face first into my plate were, "Oh my God, these are the best mashed potatoes I have ever had." But as I glanced over at the menu once again, it dawned on me. These were not potatoes. I had to ask the waiter to confirm this miracle, but this creamy, buttery, melt in your mouth goodness was celery root! What the what?! I am telling you, this is dark, evil, wonderful magic at work. Has anyone seen the inside of the kitchen at Mezzanine? Because I am inclined to think there are little Keebler style elves, tapping their fingers together in their best Mr. Burns impressions as they work their evil magic and turn freaking celery root into the creamiest, richest pile of mashed potatoes I have ever had. I do not know how this is possible. All I know was that it was the biggest food disovery I have had since the time I ate a bite of black truffle Mac N'Cheese.
It is not an exaggeration to say that this was one of the best meals of my life. And I don't hate myself for eating it either! I'm fairly certain South Beach would approve, minus the butter and cream, but without a little butter and cream from time to time, what's the point of living?
This meal was a study in simplicity, an earthy, homey plate that could come straight out of your mother's kitchen, if your mother was an evil food genius. I mean really, CELERY ROOT?!