It’s not often I sit down to write a review about a restaurant and don’t know where to start or have to think of a way not to be overly critical, but I’m here today thanks to a night at Mesa 21 on Lake Ivanhoe in Orlando.
Friends asked me if I’d join them for dinner on Saturday night, so I took them up on the invite and told them to pick someplace good. We bantered back and forth about whether we wanted to go to an Italian joint or a steakhouse and settled on Mexican in the form of Mesa 21 which has two locations – one in Orlando and one in Clermont.
We made reservations for 8:30 pm, arrived on time and chose a table outside on the patio overlooking the lake. Menus in hand, we waited patiently for nearly ten minutes before a server came over to tell us she’d be over in a bit to take our drink order. Several minutes passed and she returned asking if we were ready to order dinner.
No. Can we order drinks first?
One of my dining companions asked about a Mezcal cocktail they used to have on the menu (he was here previously) and she said they didn’t have the ingredients for it, but she suggested a similar one called Afternoon in Oaxaca (12 Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, House Cucumber Ginger Syrup, Lemon, Lime, Cucumber Bitters). Two of those were ordered along with a $6 huge mug of draft Modelo Especial for me, which was a great deal.
The drinks finally arrived after nearly 30 minutes from our arrival. Complimentary chips and salsa were brought to the table which were tasty and provided for some snacking while we finalized what we were going to order for entrees.
The menu is a bit all over the place. Appetizers range from traditional nachos and ceviche to beef carpaccio (yes, you read that right) to a roasted blooming cauliflower. Soup, salad and a variety of tacos are also available. For entrees, there’s a Mexican burger, salmon, burritos, enchiladas, and other Mexican staples.
I went with a molcajete combo of chicken, skirt steak and shrimp. Like traditional molcajete, it came out in a sizzling lava rock bowl overflowing with the three proteins. At the bottom of the bowl were onions and melted cheese. On the side were tortillas, guac, pico and sour cream.
The portion was huge – enough for two people to share. However, the dish was flavorless. The chicken, steak, and shrimp were bland and could have really used some type of seasoning besides salt and pepper. There was supposed to be a mole sauce, but there was none to be found – the only “sauce” in the bowl was the juice from the peppers and onions.
Another entree ordered was the Milanesa (crispy breaded Angus beef crema, chipotle dressing. Mexican mash potatoes with tomato garnish). We asked what “Mexican mash potatoes” were before ordering and our server stoically told us, “they’re mashed potatoes.” And they were. Nothing special there and this dish got just an “ok” rating from my dining companion who said it was boring.
The third dish, and the one that got a rating just above “ok”, were the enchiladas (corn tortilla filled with Chicken Tinga, covered in salsa verde, smothered with melted Oaxaca cheese, crema, queso fresco).
Mid-way through our entrees, we asked for another round of drinks. Another large beer for me, a different cocktail for companion number two and a large beer for companion number three. As number three was taking his first sip of beer, number two yelled, “stop there’s something in there!” At the bottom of the mug, there was a large gelatinous floating thing that either came out of the tap or was in the mug prior to the beer being poured.
We brought it to the attention of our server, who said nothing, just took it away and came back with another. No sorry, no removing that beer from the bill, just “here’s another one.”
We finished up dinner and right after our server cleared the table, she brought the check. She didn’t ask if we wanted another drink or dessert… just the check. Throughout the meal, we watched as she did her best to keep up with nearly every table on the outdoor patio with the help of two food runners. Based on the amount of time it took to get drinks, it also appeared the bartender was slammed as well, slammed enough to not notice she poured a beer with something extra in it.
The service was slow and the food was below average. The lack of concern or even an apology for the slow service or the issue with the beer is pretty much unacceptable. I would have at least expected a visit from the manager over the beer issue.
There are some places where a bad first visit may lead me to try it again, but in the case of Mesa 21 in Orlando, this was a one and done. As my one dining companion said at the end of the night, “you know we should have gone for Italian.”