Cutlery can be triggering. Immaculate cutlery can worsen matters for a minority that uneasily shuffles amidst a crowd and muffled voices. Hands turn clammy, and the mind can*t string food and relish together in a thought. A proud member of the cluster, we feel welcome in Mezcalita - a little sunbeam behind a lime green door. Hola, says the embellished coyote. The buoyant walls pick up the mood for a jaunt by the bay. But more importantly, the mirrored wall to the far right, shouting - tacos tacos, picoso and esta chilosa - relaxes the conscious eater with clammy hands. Do we smell a Yucatan street?
It*s a hot summer day and we begin with a margarita fruta fresca (passionfruit) (Rs 800). Although the kick of tequila arouses us, we sip on for the subtlety of lime, agave and orange liqueur. It*s served frozen - a mini iceberg of sorts - and the tropical freshness of passionfruit trickles in as we drink. We noisily bite into some crunchy nachos and plantain chips. Mildly salted, the chips ferry us to raw flavours when dunked into their in-house guac. Guacamole de Mezcalita (Rs 490) is succulent and sour. The guac spruced with pomegranate seeds is partly mushy and partly chunky. It*s hard to look away from the guac but we go slow, remembering to save room for other delights that await us.
Chef Pablo Benitez, who helms the kitchen, has been in Mumbai since January. But his relationship with India has stood the test of 11 long years. "I visit the country every year. It is my spiritual calling." What else can the Subcontinent have in common with Mexico? - "A lot," he quips. "Both countries believe in strong flavours. There*s no shying away from spices. And both cultures like colours, and are deeply religious." The writer realises that Mexicans share the desi sensibilities of feasts.
Benitez, who also happens to be a professor of Mexican pre-Hispanic cuisine, confirms that back home, celebrations mean big portions, messy eating and chatter, spread across a long table. This writer is excited to try cactus for the first time. The ingredient, we are told, is imported to ace a balance between good quality and reasonable pricing. Ensalada nopal (Rs 425) has a layered appeal. The taste improves as we chomp on.
The cactus, in itself, is sour but has a slight sweet quality - all of which comes together with cherry tomatoes, julienned tortilla, and avocado in an oregano vinaigrette. We then traverse a range of meat preparations. Nachos con chile, served with chicken (Rs 525), prawn habanero (Rs 425) and birria taco (Rs 525). The chicken dish spells comfort. Crisp tortilla chips pair well with a creamy plate of chili loaded with cheese, chipotle sauce and truffle oil. This is a dish we want to return to.
Like one-pot meals, this too is memorable. The prawns have a textured coating that pops in our mouth. And then we taste the juicy meat. We wanted to lick our fingers! Our mind was blown by the birria taco, especially for the broth that accompanies the dish. The soft tacos need a thorough dab of the broth to transport diners to heaven. It has lamb, cheese, onion and a spicy red sauce, conspiring for the best of spirits. At this point, we order our second cocktail - tulum tamale (Rs 750). The charred corn on top of a honeyed-citrusy mix, steals the show.
Mezcalita hosts everyone who treats food as an occasion. With dÃ©cor and highlights sourced from the streets of Mexico, it*s the perfect retreat for tired shoppers and thrilled stadium attendees. It has the soul of an afterparty. We end our meal with an airy dessert. A three milk cake with amaretto liqueur (Rs 595) that has us convinced to never fall for the American tres leches again.
At: 82, Nagin Mahal, Veer Nariman Road, Churchgate
On: 12 pm to 1.30 am; March 20 onwards
Cost: Meal for two without alcohol Rs 1,700; with alcohol Rs 2,400 (approximately)