By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Other dishes are fine, not disappointing but not causing those contented sighs that mark a dish worthy of lasting memories. Carne asada is passable. Cochinita pibil, a braised pork dish served with addictive pickled red onions, is worth the modest charge the menu asks. Just be careful with the habanero salsa that comes with the pork. It's seriously hot.
Salsas are a Sanchez strong suit. Start with the chips and salsa at the bar. Driven with chiles more than tomatoes, and flecked with black smoke of freshly roasted fruit, the salsa makes versions served at many Tex-Mex joints seem lifeless. Maybe that's the Karns-Sanchez master plan: Lure in the timid palates with some safety plates and surprise them with a Mexican cuisine they didn't expect. They're also hitting a sweet spot in both price point and decor. The tightly designed space boasts rusty orange and deep browns, chunky chairs flickering candles and reclaimed wood.
Meso Maya elevates a hybrid cuisine without resorting to the stuffy flair of Komali. (Mesa, another regional Mexican spot on the rise, accomplishes this too, but it requires driving to Oak Cliff, which for Preston-Forest corner-dwellers can feel like an odyssey). Salsa doesn't have to be red, tart and vapid, Sanchez seems to be saying; it can be green and earthy and tinged with lust. Tortillas don't have to be flaccid disks of processed corn; they can be an outright celebration of Mexico's native grain.
With some tweaking, Meso Maya could provide the perfect balance of approachability and authenticity — a place in the culinary wheelhouse of timid diners who might not venture outside of the Tex-Mex safety plays they grew up on. But for that to happen, Sanchez needs to continue to improve his consistency, and his wait staff will have to follow suit. He's managed to set up a front-of-the-house staff that's so eager to please their actions can come off as forced and clumsy at times. It's not that they're inattentive; they're just a little green, something that should work itself out with training and time.
Finding time to teach them could be Sanchez's challenge. He's already getting tasked with a second project: Turning the old Luna's Tortilla Factory into a second Meso Maya. Karns bought the space in February 2010 and has been working to revamp it. The work is moving forward, and Dallas' old Little Mexico should have a new Mexican restaurant sometime next year.
Sanchez is using his current diners as test subjects for new dishes. He's excited about the promise the new space holds, and plans to push his new menu further into authentic Mexican cooking with duck mole, lamb dishes, huitlacoche and squash blossoms. If he can pull off the cooking while Karns remakes the space, the duo might have a recipe for one of Dallas' finest Mexican restaurants. It's not that far of a stretch. They've already got the tortillas down.
Carne Asada is "passable"? On my visit, it was amazing! If there's a better one out there, could you please fill me in??
Either way "passable" isn't a bad thing, but I didn't find it to be amazing. Mine lacked a good char, and I wasn't feeling the tamale. Those little peppers though... oh those little peppers.