Thursday, October 01, 2009

Not A Restaurant Review - Mezzaluna on Gregory

I had lunch at the freshly opened Mezzaluna now occupying the former Papa Keno's space at Gregory and Rockhill (formerly Waldeaux Wines and Liquors, and Circle K when we moved into the neighborhood 20+ years ago). Before I get started describing the experience, I want to make a quick acknowledgment that I am not a real restaurant reviewer. I fear that sometimes we bloggers get a little full of ourselves, and think we're the equivalent of a legitimate restaurant reviewer, because we go to restaurants and write about our experiences.

That's kind of like claiming you're a football player after tossing the ball around on the lawn, or claiming you're a golfer after a round at Cool Crest. Just because you go through some of the motions doesn't mean you've played the whole game. Tiger Woods does more than putt on felt, and there are a lot of Xs and Os in a real football game.

Real reviewers know a lot more than I do, and work a lot harder. I'm about to spout off on a restaurant I have visited once, by myself, for lunch, during their "soft" opening. I have no experience in opening a restaurant, and I don't have any advanced culinary training. I haven't written a ton of reviews, and I haven't studied the work of the great restaurant reviewers.

A proper restaurant reviewer would approach his or her task with a wealth of experience in the restaurant and journalism businesses, and would visit several times with multiple friends to get a sense of the breadth of the menu and the skill of the service. It's easy to laud or lambast a restaurant for one meal, but it's not a fair assessment, nor is it particularly helpful to the reader. Your praise of a lamb chop doesn't give a vegetarian much of a guess about what to expect.

I write all this not to belittle those of us who happen to publish on a blog - there are some top-notch true restaurant reviewers on blogs who have the skills and put in the effort to do first-rate reviews. I write all this simply to pay proper homage to those who work while I play, and to heighten the readers' awareness of the rigor required of real restaurant reviewers.

Now that all that is out of the way, I'm happy to be welcoming Mezzaluna to the neighborhood. It's a small Italian restaurant with a menu full of the basics, a good wine list and a nicely-done beer list, enhanced by a few craft brews on tap. The downstairs space is nice but a little utilitarian, with floor-to-ceiling retail coolers covering one entire wall, left over from the space's days as a liquor store. The upstairs space is surprisingly elegant, though, with cloth-covered chairs, white tablecloths and a pleasant breeze when the garage-door walls are opened. The guys at the table next to me ordered a bottle of wine (well-served by the waiter who swore it was the first time he had ever, in his life, opened a bottle of wine), and I envied the prospect of staying there for the afternoon, sipping wine with friends at tree-level.

The menu included several tempting options, all within the $8-12 range, including all the classics like ravioli, chicken parmesan, caesar salads, etc. I sought and accepted the waiter's advice in choosing between the Pizza Mezzaluna (a carnivore's concoction with garlic) and the lasagna. He recommended the lasagna, and it was a generous serving of well-prepared meat, cheese and pasta. It stood out for its restraint - some lasagna beats you over the head with dark red marinara sauce and spicy sausage, but this one was more elegant. The meat featured ground veal and a delicate hand with the spices, and the sauce was tamed with cream. I'd recommend it highly.

I visited the restaurant on its third day, and there were the expected kinks in service. The credit card machine was not working, and the waiter was stretched too thin serving both upstairs and downstairs. Given his apparent lack of experience (never having opened a bottle of wine), he did a fantastic job, with a friendly, relaxed style while running up and down the stairs.

I look forward to returning sometime soon for dinner, and sharing wine with friends in the upstairs space. Mezzaluna should thrive as an elegant addition to the neighborhood.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know what is more annoying than bloggers trying to be restaurant reviewers?

Bloggers that spend twice as much time on their post disclaiming their restaurant review, than on the actual review itself.

10/01/2009 9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somebody rode the grumpy train this morning.

Nice to see a blogger with a sense of humility.

10/01/2009 9:29 AM  
Blogger The DLC said...

There aren't many food bloggers in town who claim to be proper restaurant reviewers. In fact I explicitly state on my site that I'm not a proper critic and have no formal training. While it sounds fun, I think it would be a very tough job.

Anyhow glad to hear the place was good. After your lengthy disclaimer I was fully prepared for a horror story.

10/01/2009 9:43 AM  
Blogger Chimpotle said...

Was this your reacharound for Charles after deleting your previous posts critical of his work?

10/01/2009 9:46 AM  
Blogger KC Sponge said...

Truthfully, I've never eaten somewhere based on a food critic's review - but I have found many wonderful places and eaten many a delectable dish based on recommendations from friends, reviews on blogs and tweated nuggets of praise. So, I'm thankful when someone takes the time to write about their meal - however disciplined they are about their process - because I find new places to try. Mezzaluna is a new addition to my ever-growing list.

10/01/2009 9:47 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

DLC - I agree with everything you write, and rereading my intro, it did sound like a prelude to damnation, didn't it? Actually, part of the reason for my musing on the talents of real restaurant reviewers is the challenge of writing about middle-range restaurants. I can toss around superlatives or slam a crappy experience with anyone - the real challenge is in writing about something that is good, not great or mediocre, not awful.

Chimpo - Nope.

Sponge - I'm more impressionable than you are. If someone like Bull E Vard, DLC, Chimpo, you, or any of the dozens of others says something good or bad about a restaurant, it sticks in my mind and colors my next restaurant decision. I'll be tasting the grilled cheese at Westside Local after reading Bull E Vard's review, for example.

My commentary wasn't really directed at anyone - obviously, I think that there is some value in posting a non-professional review, as I did this morning. I just wanted to acknowledge that serious reviewers do work on a different level, and I don't hold myself up to those standards, and I hope that readers here and elsewhere will be like you are - informed by reviews both casual and formal, but willing to make up their own minds and have their own experiences.

10/01/2009 10:38 AM  
Blogger KC Sponge said...

Oh, Daniel (can I call you, Daniel? I love 2-syllable names) - I am ridiculously impressionable. I was just saying that I have never gone somewhere to eat based on an actual food critic's write-up. I enjoy reading them, and sometimes I am even intrigued - but until I hear from someone I know has a favorite dish or had a great experience, or even just read about a place on a blog or tweet, I'm not going to remember to eat there based solely on some review of the place I read in the paper. Just like I don't watch Ebert & Roeper or read Entertainment Weekly to find out which movie I'm going to watch. It's a lot more real - and more outstanding - when someone talks or writes of a place when it's not their job to do so.

10/07/2009 9:25 AM  
Blogger Rhonda said...

I've eaten there as well and while they have some things to iron out I found the staff highly attentive and the pizza fabulous. While the coolers along the wall aren't the nicest touch it will be great to drop in and pick up reasonably priced beverages and a pizza on the way home. Glad to finally have it open.

10/13/2009 2:55 PM  

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