A new restaurant often spends its inaugural month untangling kinks in the chain of command and the onus is on the management to hide blatant snags from the diners. To offer an honest and fair assessment of a restaurant, I resist reviewing new dining spots until a month has passed but, in the case of Bar Mezzana at Boston’s Ink Block, I could not help myself. I needed to try the “coastal Italian cuisine” from former Barbara Lynch Gruppo all-stars on the first night they opened to the public. If the service and/or food was disappointing – or even meh – I would strike this review and wait a month, but instead, last night’s dining experience was sublime.
Co-owners and partners Colin Lynch, his wife Heather Kennaway Lynch, and Jefferson Macklin worked respectively as executive chef for the whole Gruppo, Sportello’s general manager, and president and chief operating officer of the Gruppo before they branched out on their own with this refreshing concept that strays far from Americanized red sauce and meatballs. Their distinguished professionalism and superior training is evident throughout, fostering an easy, unpretentious vibe.
Seated in the pristine white space, delicately warmed with lush blue benches, and antiqued wooden tables, Bar Mezzana feels as if it was plucked from a seaside village where waves gently lap against the sand outside as the setting sun warms your face. In reality, the restaurant, with high ceilings and an open kitchen framed with subway tiles, overlooks the bustling construction zone that is Harrison Avenue. Kudos to the Bar Mezzana team for capturing the essence of beachy tranquility.
We started with refreshing, fruity, fizzy cocktails while perusing the menu of daily crudo selections, sliced-to-order prosciutto, crostini, house-made pasta dishes, and larger entrees. And so the splurge begins.
When we asked our server about the shima aji option of crudo, he expertly explained without a hint of attitude – just a comforting smile – that it was a firm-fleshed Japanese white fish. He then divulged that he was new to the serving game after cooking in Menton’s kitchen. No wonder he spoke about food so well. We decided to start with three crudo selections, including the shima aji, and a crostini with chicken liver mousse, balsamic glazed cipollini onions, and crispy, thick-cut bacon. The silky smooth, savory mousse had a pleasant mineral finish, offset by the tangy onions, smoky bacon, and pine scented fried sage leaves.
Our favorite crudo was the buttery salmon with a watery but pungent green chili salsa verde that we sopped up with bread once the fish was devoured. We chuckled that the sauce should be spiked with tequila and added to their cocktail list, from which we’d already tried four different boozy yet balanced selections.
The shima aji was a new and welcome adventure for both of us. The firm white fish, with a clean flavor and texture similar to supremely tender calamari, was topped with a dainty mound of piquant horseradish, briny caviar and a sprinkling of chives.
Next came the house-made sweetbread-stuffed cappellacci pasta dish and Bar Mezzana’s grilled octopus with potato, salsa verde, and pole beans. Superlative beyond any other octopus dish I’ve tried in the past, it’s supple meat resembled fork-tender filet mignon with a slight creaminess, only heightened by the vibrant, perky sauce, velvety potatoes, and crisp beans.
The pasta pillows, shaped like flounced top hats, were perfectly al dente and tossed with a luscious butter sauce before drizzles of sticky aged balsamic vinegar were draped on top, and then finished with a mound of crispy sage leaves. The veal sweetbread filling was mild, milky, and slightly grainy.
While we toyed with the idea of savoring an additional order of octopus, we opted for dessert and another cocktail instead. When the cherry crostata with pistachio gelato arrived, we dove spoon first into the thick sugar cookie crust with a firm texture and a properly caramelized crust. Fresh, tart pieces of the crimson fruit sparkled within as they mingled with the creamy drips of gelato. I’m generally disappointed with ice cream and gelato. Bland or icy, they just taste and feel cold. Bar Mezzano’s sweet and salty pistachio gelato, with a texture like soft whipped butter has reawakened my faith that good ice cream or gelato does exist.
I’m not sure if the back of house experienced any mishaps on this first night, but from the front, we were treated to a delectable meal with courteous and professional service. When I go back, and I will, I look forward to another serving of octopus along with the fried rabbit entree or roasted chicken, prepared as an homage to Boston cooking royalty Gordon Hamersley, owner and chef of Hamersley’s Bistro which he closed in 2014, after 27 years.
Bar Mezzana is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The bar is open from 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday and from 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Sunday. Brunch is served on Sunday, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Bar Mezzana is located at 360 Harrison Avenue, within the Sepia condo building at Boston’s Ink Block complex. For more information or to make reservations, call 617-530-1770 or visit www.barmezzana.com.