The South End neighborhood has changed so much since I was a little girl, especially the far end of Harrison Avenue. What used to be blocks of warehouses and parking lots in the shadow of the Mass Pike on ramp is now home to luxury condo buildings, a shiny new Whole Foods and a few exceptional restaurants. Bar Mezzana, the Italian restaurant co-owned by three Barbara Lynch Gruppo alums, is part of that Harrison Avenue transformation.
This Italian oasis is helmed by Jefferson Macklin, chef Colin Lynch and general manager Heather Lynch (Colin's wife). All three come from Barbara Lynch's team (the Lynches, Barbara and Colin, are not related). Chef Colin Lynch has cooked at No. 9 Park, Menton and O Ya.
In a message to diners on their website, the co-founders share, "When we set out to open our own restaurant, our mission was simple: to offer our guests a warm and inviting space with truly amazing service and hospitality, good energy, and great food, cocktails, and wines. This is what we strive to do each day at Bar Mezzana."
On the evening I visited, I arrived with a friend at 6:30pm. We had made a reservation online (super easy) and earlier that day the restaurant had texted to confirm we were still on. Side note: I love when restaurants text instead of call. Who likes to see an unknown phone number on their cell in the middle of the work day? Not me.
As you approach Bar Mezzana, you can't help but notice the tangerine umbrellas dotting the outdoor patio. They immediately reminded me of the signature orange and red umbrellas of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
We were seated at a table for two, set against the floor-to-ceiling windows. Though I had already stalked the menu online, I couldn't wait to peruse again.
To begin, we each ordered a drink. My dinner date went with a glass of rosé, which she enjoyed so much, she swiftly ordered another. Notice the "M" on the glass.
I had a horribly stressful work day that day, so I went for a cocktail. I chose the Three Family Farm which was Prairie cucumber vodka, lemon and amaro montenegro. The drink came in a chilled glass and was the most beautiful amber color. I thought it was so sweet and charming that it came garnished with a flower.
This drink is wonderfully light and refreshing, perfect for summer. Had I not been driving home, I definitely would have had another.
While we looked over the food menus (the dinner menu and the crudo menu) our waitress brought us bread and olive oil. The focaccia was savory, salty, doughy and delicious. The olive oil had the purest taste. You felt like you were truly dining in Italy.
Because I am a vegetarian and the menu leans heavily in the seafood direction, we asked our waitress for her recommendations on the best veg-friendly dishes. Her first suggestion was the tomato and goat cheese crostini. She could see on our faces that we thought that might be too simple, but she assured us the flavors were incredible despite the small number of ingredients. We decided to trust her pick, so we ordered that and the pea salad to start.
My friend took one bite of the crostini and said, "I don't think I have ever had tomatoes that tasted this good. She did not steer us wrong!"
We both loved the char on the bread, the schmear of goat cheese on each piece and the bright, fresh tomatoes. I was worried the goat cheese might overpower the dish, but the tomato was truly the star.
In the Boston Magazine review of the restaurant, Corby Kummer praised chef Lynch, "Like Ana Sortun and Yotam Ottolenghi, Lynch likes putting plush beds of soft cheese or sweetly spiced, bright-orange squash tahini under both toast toppings and salads, which he’s pretty brilliant at conceiving." I have to concur!
I don't even know where to begin with the pea salad (sorry Branch Line pea salad, I cheated on you!). This dish tasted like each element was picked from the farm minutes before landing on the plate. The salad uses every element of the pea - the individual peas, the pea pods and the pea tendrils.
The pea extravaganza is complimented by ricotta salata and crunchy pistachios.
For the main course, we both went with pasta. My friend opted for the spaghetti with squid ink, calamari and salami. It came in the most elegant presentation, sprinkled with bread crumbs.
After a few bites she shared, "There is so much ink! The spaghetti is drenched, in a great way. It tastes even better with the calamari and salami mixed in."
Before choosing a dish, I turned to our waitress (again) for her expert advice. She said several of the pasta dishes that have meat could be made vegetarian, but then she uttered the magic words, "We also have an off-menu dish, spaghetti cacio e pepe." If you are a longtime Pop.Bop.Shop. reader, you know that is my favorite Italian pasta dish. I handed her back my menu and shouted, "I will definitely have that!"
The cacio e pepe came in the same delicate, rolled presentation as the squid ink pasta.
I think the best cacio e pepe is at Babbo and I have to say, that still holds true. The Bar Mezzana version needed a creamier texture and a few more shakes of pepper.
Once our dinner plates were cleared, the waitress asked if we'd like to see a dessert menu. As my mom says, "We always look!"
We decided to try two of the gelato flavors - pistachio and vanilla caramel (there was no chocolate option, which I obviously would have ordered). Our two scoops came in a silver dish with a cookie divider. How cute!
I don't normally order pistachio, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I loved it! The pistachio flavor was subtle and the ice cream itself was super creamy. The vanilla caramel swirl was also yummy and would taste incredible over a chocolate brownie.
Though I had no intention of trying the cookie (chocolate or bust), my friend raved about it saying, "Normally biscotti is super firm, tough to break and you need to dunk it in coffee or tea to enjoy it. This one is really easy to bite." The cookie had diced pistachios and a bit of orange zest in it, which I must admit, was quite good!
Overall, we loved our experience at Bar Mezzana. It was easy to make a reservation, we were seated immediately at a table with a great view, our waitress was wonderful and gave stellar recommendations and the food and drinks were off the charts delicious. I am still thinking about that tomato crostini.
Have you been to Bar Mezzana? What should I try next?