It’s been a long time since I ate at a Mexican restaurant, so when I received an invitation to join a group of food bloggers and media types at a dinner at Maiz and Mezcal, a local Adelaide restaurant, I was keen to try out some south of the border cuisine again. The dinner was to celebrate the launch of the restaurant’s new Revolution menu, a seasonal adaptation of their Mexican street food theme.
In my misspent youth, I was a regular frequenter of Mexican nosh houses around town, drawn, I must confess, by the Margaritas as much as by the food, which conformed to a unvarying selection – tortillas, corn chips, guacamole, nachos and tacos. In those days it was basically corn, cheese, chili, avocado and more corn. Things have changed fortunately and the food at Maiz and Mezcal is characteristic of a fresh, innovative and far more authentic take on Mexican cuisine. The owners, Ivan and Sonia Pichardo, have created a selection of regional dishes based both on traditional family recipes and modern culinary techniques, using local ingredients as well as Mexican imports.
One of the Mexican imports, which gives the place half its name, is Mezcal, about which I knew little apart from the fact that some brands are bottled with a worm (or larva) in the bottom. The reason for this isn’t clear, theories including that it acts as a flavour enhancer(!) and that it’s the Mexicans’ idea of a joke on the gringos. So long as the worm didn’t end up in my glass I wasn’t too worried.
According to the Pichardos, Mezcal is the great-grandfather of Tequila and their brands come from Ivan’s home town, Zacatecas in the north and also Oaxaca in the south. It’s made from the maguey plant, a type of agave which is native to Mexico. Traditionally it’s drunk straight, as a shot. Maiz and Mezcal also substitute it for Tequila in their Margaritas, which is how I tried it. Their Margaritas come in flavours of Tamarind, Kiwi Fruit, Hibiscus and Lime, as well as the classic frozen lemon. They are light, fruity and refreshing, as well as gorgeous looking. Well worth a visit for these alone.
Entering the restaurant, you are immediately transported from a monochromatic suburban street to the fiesta-like buzz of sunny colours, brightly patterned cushions, sparkly light fittings and whimsical Mexican artefacts, even including a welcoming donkey. The atmosphere is lively and upbeat, a foretaste of the treats to come.
Starting with share plates of deep fried avocado fingers and dips served in edible corn baskets, the treats just kept on coming. Highlights of the feast for me were firstly the aforementioned avocado fingers, which were a stroke of brilliance, the crisp crumb coating marrying perfectly with the velvety avocado and lime mayo dip. Platters of those could have kept me happy all night, but there was more, much more.
The next dish was pulled pork sliders and although I’m not a pork fan, these were tasty and well cooked. Accompanying them were perhaps the best wedges I’ve ever had, crunchy, spiced with Spanish paprika, chili and flavoured with a hint of lime. Mains included Sandal Steak, Baja Fish Fillet (Barramundi), Mole (chicken with a spicy sweet sauce) and Sandal Pork Belly.
These were all served with a salad of sauteed vegetables, lettuce, corn kernels, strips of tortilla, salsa and cubes of picantino cheese. I had the steak, which was juicy and robustly flavoured and combined well with the hand made corn dough, avocado cream and haloumi cheese base on which it was served. In terms of the salad, maybe it had sat for too long before I tried some, but I found it soggy and unremarkable in flavour.
My only other complaint, or suggestion for improvement, would be to ditch the wooden boards, at least for the main courses. Being completely flat, they just didn’t work with anything of a creamy or runny consistency and as the world’s messiest eater, the result in my case wasn’t pretty. Mexican pottery and stoneware, examples of which were displayed in the restaurant, would be a far better choice and much more complementary to the food. Then again, I have to admit to being so over the current trend for mason jars and dinnerware that’s anything but, that I’m a bit prejudiced.
Dessert is customarily the grand finale to a good meal and in this case it was a standout. Despite stomachs already groaning from a surfeit of delicacies, we weren’t about to let these delights pass us by. There were two choices – a vanilla “sombrero”, described as icecream topped with Mezcal tamarind syrup served in a sweet cinnamon and sugar crusted tortilla, and a “flan of coconut”, a goat’s milk cream caramel dusted with chocolate powder. Both were divine, the icecream sombrero perhaps edging out the coconut cream by a whisker. This is seriously good icecream and if you pay this place a visit, be sure to leave room for it, or just pig it out regardless.
Having well and truly renewed my acquaintance with Mexican food, I left vowing not to let so much time go by before I tried it again. Mexican food is characterised by distinctive flavours and the fortuitous blending of crisp, crunch and creaminess and at Maiz and Mezcal they’ve captured it well. With the warm evenings of summer coming up, an evening of tasty food teamed with frosty Margaritas or Mexican crafted beer at Maiz and Mezcal is an option well worth considering.
I was a guest of the restaurant and dined free of charge. Poor quality of some of the photographs are entirely the fault of the photographer (me) and no reflection on the subjects of the photos (food or restaurant).
by Anne Green