This past weekend, Sarah and I spent an afternoon at the Clark with my cousin and her husband. Somewhat frustrating to me since a number of my favorites were on tour, but a good afternoon nonetheless. After the museum, the four of us went off to dinner at MEZZE (777 Cold Spring Road (Route 7), Williamstown, 413 458-0123, http://www.mezzerestaurant.com). An indication of what was to come was how they handled our reservation. We had a 6:00 PM reservation, but finding ourselves at loose ends earlier, I called to see whether we could shift it to 5:15. The voice on the phone was pleasant and accommodating. “We’d be happy to seat you then.”
Beth-Ann and Mitch are New Yorkers, and equally importantly, are knowledgeable and experienced restaurant-goers so I’d asked around for an appropriate choice for dinner. Mezze kept coming up, though invariably followed by, “I haven’t eaten there since they moved.” Not having tasted the food at the old place, I can’t compare. However, the new place is polished and professional and the menu was seasonal and interesting. Mitch found the provenance of each ingredient a touch effete. These days restaurants like to celebrate their sources, as much to promote the local farms as to showcase their own use of local ingredients. Mezze is justifiably proud of their sources. With the additional touch of Arctic Char, a salmon and trout relative rated as a Seafood Best Choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, instead of one of the overfished species more common to restaurant menus, they go the distance in their sourcing of ingredients.
We started with a local cheese plate and a pork liver pate plate. I didn’t catch the provenance of the three cheeses, all relatively local, but each, an Italian-Fontina style soft cheese, a Gouda style semi-soft cheese, and a Roquefort style blue, was served at its peak and at the correct temperature. The plate was accompanied by a line of balsamic-blueberry reduction, a smear of rhubarb compote, a small pile of marcona almonds, a bunch of small red grapes and slices of pistachio-laced toast. The pate was neither a rough country style nor a whipped mousse, but a firm and creamy slice of very well prepared liver pate, topped with gently pickled onions, accompanied by bright yellow pickled kohlrabi logs and pink pickled baby turnips.
I also had a Caesar salad with house-cured sardines standing in for the anchovies and mustard greens for the romaine. Before it was served, the conversation turned to food, as it often does. “How can you ruin a salad?” asked Mitch. “If you start with good ingredients, it’s hard to mess it up.” “Overdressing it,” said Beth-Ann. “Gritty greens,” I added. Mezze’s salad was an example of how not to mess up a salad: lightly but sufficiently dressed and perfectly clean greens with shavings of a good parmesan, croutons, and expertly cured sardines rounding out the dish.
Sarah and Mitch opted for the diver scallops, six seared scallops on a pea shoots puree, topped with watercress, both leaving nothing on their plates. Beth-Ann opted for the Char, which came on a bed of fiddleheads, asparagus, and baby turnips, topped with a sprinkling of fresh tarragon. It was a large serving and I had to help her out. It came out after the rest of us had been served. The server apologized, explaining that the chef said the piece was a little thicker than he’d thought. Restaurant white lie or the truth? No matter either way. Topped with a nice spice rub, it came to the table cooked a point so the wait was worth it.
I went for the mutton special, slices of medium rare roast mutton, accompanied by a hash of lamb sausage and potatoes, topped with a 60 minute egg. This last, sous vide’d at 140, was very like a soft-boiled egg though the whites texture was airy-er and more like a meringue. The yolk was bright yellow like many organic eggs. It formed a nice sauce over the hash, accompanying the morel-topped reduction for the mutton. Mutton has a bad reputation as “tallowy” and strong, but this piece had a good slightly gamey, lamb flavor.
Each dish was well-cooked, well-seasoned, and thoughtfully presented. For dessert, we split a mango and lime trifle. Sarah’s and my coffee were each brought in 16 ounce French presses, a nice touch since we were assured of fresh coffee and a refill at our pace rather than our server’s. We’d started dinner as one of the two tables in the room, but by dessert, the place was nearly full. We were all driving back after dinner and none of us drinks very much to start with, so we did not investigate the wine list as thoroughly as we might, but from what I did see, I’d expect some well-chosen wines and local microbrews.
The décor is understated and tables well-spaced. Though the place was humming, the noise level never interfered with our conversation. Our server was friendly and attentive, but she did not introduce herself by name, another touch I appreciated. We remained cordial and friendly but not faux friends. Our corner table overlooked the grounds on two sides.
Sometimes it’s the company that makes a meal. In this case, company merely added to what was already good. Definitely a good choice.