I love observing a well-run kitchen. Watching a professionally run restaurant kitchen is like watching a choreographed dance. In relatively small spaces, several people at once move around each other with ease because they practice this art 12 to14 hours every day. They do it with pride that is reflected in their finished dishes. Such is the kitchen at the original Red Mesa on 4th Street.
This past Sunday, a la carte brunch at Red Mesa was bustling with people. It has defined itself as an upscale neighborhood restaurant over the years, but they manage to keep their concept fresh, with Southwestern art on the walls and a trendy, muted color scheme. Any fears I had about this location losing customers to Red Mesa Cantina downtown, were immediately quelled. It was similar to the dining experience I have had there many times.
As busy as it was, we were still seated within five minutes. Our server, Melanie had several tables to deal with at once, yet took our drink order within a minute or so, and answered questions we had about the menu. She attended to all her tables while looking as relaxed as someone having a spa day. That is a skilled server. In fact, it was on the level of the “intuitive” service I have had at Per Se in New York City and other much more expensive restaurants.
We ordered the Pork Verde Burrito ($8) and the Grilled Chicken Quesadilla ($9.50). (They also offer a children’s menu with pancakes and other items for around $4.) The burrito was filled with chunks of seasoned pork, Poblano peppers and onions. It was topped with a refreshing salsa verde and served with a crema and refried beans. The texture of the salsa verde was smooth and the flavor was rich with lime and bright green goodness. It worked perfectly with the pork, and the crema gave some coolness to the slight touch of heat in the dish. The quesadilla had a most interesting (in a good way) flavor with Chihuahua and Gouda cheese. The mixture had a pleasantly smoky taste and was served with a sweet and spicy honey chipotle vinaigrette, lending beautiful color as it surrounded the plate. Everything was presented in a thoughtful way, unlike other Southwestern food I have had in places, like Sedona, where food like this is piled high in an unappealing manner.
Red Mesa also boasts a Sunset Menu, served Monday through Friday from 4 pm to 5:45pm. It is $14, but unlike some of the other early menus circulating right now, this one includes your choice of sangria, a margarita, a draft beer or a soft drink. They will bring you warm chips with their house-made salsa and then you can choose an entree. The entrees include Tuna Tacos made with grilled tuna, mixed greens, soy-orange coulis, wasabi aioli and pico de gallo, Filete con Fideos (filet mignon tips with fideo pasta and a spicy Chipotle cream sauce), and nine other choices. A special dessert is included of whatever the chef deems fit for your meal.
On the regular menu, specials change frequently. This week they are offering several selections, and a couple of them look like pretty good values. Dorado Ceviche ($10) is a citrus marinated mahi served with green plantain chips and salsa fresca. Choros a Aji ($9) are Canadian mussels with a splash of tequila served with tomato, garlic, corn, fresh cilantro and aji amarillo butter.
I find the menu items at Red Mesa imaginative and inspired. This is not the Southwestern I had in the Southwest. It is much better.