The Skeptical Diner: El Meson

About 18 months ago, I dined at El Meson (on Lyndale and 35th, or thereabouts) for the first time. It was impressive: here was a place a stone’s throw from home where I could get a variety of really tasty tapas for a relatively fair price. And I mean Spanish-style tapas, not the Ragu-tainted oddly Italian offerings that dominate La Bodega. Naturally, there are La Bodega partisans out there, and you’re entitled to your opinion. But unless the menu’s changed radically in the last year, I can tell you that what you’re eating is a cross-eyed cousin to actual Spanish-style food.

At any rate, that said: in subsequent visits, El Meson went downhill in hurry. Consistency went out the window — plating and even cooking styles changed from visit-to-visit, often for the worse. Seafood clocked in half-heartedly, which is not something you ever want seafood to do. But now that Cafe Ena has opened, it seemed like a good time to revisit El Meson, and the news is good.

Everything — from a mild pepper stuffed with a crab and cream filling, to miniature chorizo sandwiches, to the ceviche — ranged in quality from decent to very good. Flavors were bright, portion sizes were reasonable (four tapas fed three people quite comfortably) and the service was friendly.

Moreover, the sangria is some of the best in town and the menu has a bewildering variety of small plates and full-on entrees. I always prefer a shorter menu more focused on what’s fresh / what’s new, but El Meson does, for what it’s worth, seem to have gotten back into the swing of making sure no matter what you order on its sprawling bill of fare, you’re going to get something good.

Most crucially: the whole place occupies that happy space where a restaurant is classy enough for a celebration, relaxed enough for drinks with friends, and cozy enough for a first or second date. Not many places fit that profile, but now that things have calmed down a bit with Ena opening, Meson seems to have worked its way back into fighting shape. If you’ve never given El Meson a shot, now’s a good time. And if you gave up on it, like I did, give it one more chance. It’s earned it.

5 Comments so far

  1. Ed Kohler (unregistered) on June 30th, 2007 @ 6:34 pm

    I think La Bodega may be gone. I was driving down W Lake St the other day and think I saw something new in it’s place. El Meson was and is much better either way.

  2. Erica M (unregistered) on June 30th, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

    I’ve only been to El Meson once. I really liked it and thought it made a great date restaurant.

  3. ryan l (unregistered) on July 1st, 2007 @ 9:43 am

    la bodega I believe has been reincarnated as Liola….mostly just new drapes.

  4. Jason (unregistered) on July 1st, 2007 @ 10:07 am

    Ryan’s right.. I think it’s called Liola at La Bodega. The new drapes are lovely. Same so-so food. But nice drinks/happy hour at night.

    Glad to see The Skeptical Diner is back.

  5. James Norton (unregistered) on July 1st, 2007 @ 10:28 am

    I’m glad to be back, too. 30 days of time off for getting married turned into 55 days of time off when my Metroblogging login conked out and took forever to get fixed.

    Incidentally, folks: Jason co-hosted Flak Radio this week, so give it a listen.

    Also, thanks in part to my Metroblogging, I’m now reviewing restaurants for Minnesota Monthly.

    More to come next month, too…

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