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Week in Reviews: Mesa Grill Downgraded to One Star

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Frank Bruni issues a summons to Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay's long-neglected Flatiron flagship, in the form of a one star smack down. It could have been a lot worse, but:

[O]n balance Mesa Grill presents only flickers of the excitement it did in 1991, when it opened, or in 2000, when William Grimes gave it two stars in The Times...It’s an overly familiar, somewhat tired production. More to the point, it’s an inconsistent one.

During one dinner the three slivers of chicken in the appetizer tacos were among the most shriveled, desiccated pieces of meat I’ve seen outside a bodega buffet at 3 a.m. No measure of the nifty peanut-thickened, chili-spiked barbecue sauce with them could save the day.

At another dinner the chicken for these tacos was plump and juicy, but the tacos shouldn’t have even been there.

As to the matter of why this review, and Flay's performance, matters: "...the margin for clumsiness at Mesa Grill is narrower than ever. The restaurant can no longer lean on novelty; its Southwestern swirl of peppery rubs and smoky glazes, of tropical sweetness and desert fire, has been popularized to the point of cliché. It informed the menus of Chi-Chi’s, Chili’s and Chipotle." [NYT]

Alan Richman files an uncharacteristically early review on Dovetail, John Fraser's new place on the Upper West Side. Dude's coming back: "Fraser is too inventive for his own good. He's also so talented he shouldn't be missed...No matter how many extra elements you find in every dish, you'll be amazed at how adroitly each one is prepared...How about a combination of fried capers, sour cream, salmon eggs, vodka gelee and chives? No, it's not a combo plate. It's a combo spoon: All of that arrives in one tasty, tablespoon-sized amuse-bouche. Grilled venison loin is accompanied by rosemary-marshmallow puree, chestnuts and a yam-maple syrup mash. I checked my calendar: No, it wasn't Thanksgiving. [Bloomberg]

Andrea Strong, who is practically a friend of the house at Bar Blanc hated the place: "While the food is great, the issue with Bar Blanc is the rest of the outfit: thoughtless, absent-minded service and lousy acoustics. And these two pieces turn this entire ensemble into a bit of a mess. How can you appreciate food this good in a restaurant where (a) waiters rarely stop by to check in to see how your meal is progressing, and (b) you have to flag down a busboy to have your water glass filled every half hour. I felt like an air traffic controller." [Strong Buzz]

Tables for Two issues the first decidedly negative verdict on Bar Blanc, the fancy brainchild of three Bouley alums trying to make its way on West 10th Street. Tables is usually quite harmless, but: "It looks like a naked body in a negligee,” a middle-aged man was overheard observing recently, referring to a textured white brick wall. It actually looks more like a mattress pad, but, either way, its bedroomy connotations are obvious. Unfortunately, the welcome can be less seductive; one night, an apparently unoccupied hostess was so slow to greet a couple or to take their coats that you wondered if, in her lassitude, she had been inspired by South Beach...The food, though, is ambitious...The prices, though, should be tweaked." [New Yorker]

ELSEWHERE, Peter Meehan on the pigs feet at Hakata Tonton; Paul Adams is in Midtown at Cooper's Tavern; Randall Lane has four-of-six for the renovated Momofuku Noodle Bar; Robert Sietsema is in Flushing at Hot Pot City; Danyelle Freeman calls a car service to Williamsburg for Vinas, a spanish entry good for a RG deuce.