A Taste of the Mediterranean 3

Mezzet makes its mark on South Coast Plaza

At first glance, South Coast Plaza’s new eatery is easy to overlook. The space, which formerly housed Nello Cucina, is nestled on the Crystal Court side of the luxury shopping experience. Divided into two parts–an open bar area surrounded by ivy, a perfect perch for people watching in the afternoon, and a small dining room with views of the open kitchen–Mezzet exudes a breezy, relaxed atmosphere.

The menu at first seems all-encompassing–grilled kebobs and freshly chopped tabbouleh, crisp Greek salads and watermelon topped with feta and a smattering of Italian-inspired pizza and pasta dishes.

“We didn’t want to limit it just to Middle Eastern flavors,” says Chef Colin Colville.

The menu includes “all the wonderful cuisines touched by the Mediterranean. Tanjines from Morocco, pastas, pizzas and seafood from Southern Italy, falafel from Israel, Greek salads and Kopita…”

While the atmosphere and location exudes a fast casual allure, the best way to enjoy a meal at Mezzet is to sit back and relax. Above all, take your time. Similar to a meal enjoyed at an authentic Greek taverna, Colville recommends that you start with the mezzes, or small plates, and luxuriate in conversation before you move on to the more substantial dishes.

“First, come with friends or family members,” he insists.

Then, start by sharing the Mediterranean Mezze sampler, a trifecta of spreads that includes creamy humus garnished with a drizzle of olive oil and a smattering of tender garbanzo beans, a vibrant citrusy take on eggplant baba ghanoush and tabbouleh, consisting of roughly chopped green parsley with bits of fresh red tomato.

On a recent afternoon, I dined with a friend of mine. We chatted over the Mezze sampler and couldn’t help but ask for more pita bread.

“We bring in our pita daily,” says Colville.

The thin, toasted slices glisten with olive oil and create the perfect vehicle for devouring all three spreads. The pita is “seasoned with zaatar spices and warmed in the oven fired by almond and walnut woods, so it picks up a bit of char,” he says.

The lamb tajine is another one of Mezzet’s signature dishes. The slow-cooked meat, seasoned with seven Moroccan spices, is served with soft couscous, blistered sweet grapes, honey-cumin carrots and spicy chickpeas. We tasted the tender chicken kebabs, which were served noticeably off the skewer for a more delicate presentation. The charred bites of juicy chicken meat were seasoned ever so subtly with a dash of salt and not much else. A white ramekin filled with a pungent garlic-infused spread accompanied the kebab plate. The thick white sauce’s bold flavor melded well with the charred chicken and added just enough spice to enliven the taste buds. Served with a crisp romaine salad dotted with red radish slices and Persian-inspired rice, the plate was large enough to share, especially if you choose to order a wood-fired pizza for the table to split.

As mentioned before, the Italian fare seems somewhat out of place on the Mediterranean menu. However, the dough for the pizzas and pastas are made with care and prepared in-house.

“For the pizza, we use the Italian caputo flour, which is so superior,” says Colville.

The chewy albeit crispy crust creates a nice base for traditional flavors, such as the vibrant pesto dabbed with creamy ricotta and chewy mozzarella. The less traditional crispy Yukon potato pizza with peppery wild arugula, caramelized onions and a soft runny egg is another surprisingly tasty offering.

But, the appetizer that excited us the most was the completely unexpected watermelon and feta salad topped with dried figs.

“We source [the feta and honey] from a Middle Eastern importer in LA, Kradijian Company, which is a family-owned business for generations,” Colville says. “One of their specialties is feta cheese and we think Bulgarian feta is the best.”

Colvill is right. The feta that tops the juicy slices of watermelon is subtle and not overly tangy. The fruit tastes so refreshing, as if it were soaked in sweet honey syrup. Each bite bursts with flavor.

You may easily overlook Mezzet at first. But, if you’re seeking respite from South Coast Plaza’s bustling crowds, this may be the perfect place to sit back, converse with friends and take a tasting journey through the Mediterranean–passport not necessary.

Mezzet Mediterranean Restaurant, 
3333 Bear Street, Costa Mesa, 
(714) 540-3365 MezzetMed.com