We’d heard the rumor for at least a year: Raul Reyes was considering closing Mesa, the regional Mexican restaurant on Jefferson Boulevard that served ahead of the curve.
When I spoke with Reyes in the course of my research for the restaurant review of Ceviche, his new seafood spot on Davis Street a few months ago, he hinted at it again.
He tied it in to his pursuit of a way of cooking that would reflect his heart.
“I come from Veracruz, so I grew up in front of the ocean, always going and cooking and fishing. That idea [of Ceviche] came from [the fact that] I used to have another seafood restaurant, La Palapa Veracruzana. It was [before] Mesa. This idea comes from here to there. I love seafood; that’s my big passion. That’s what I love: creating all these plates and dishes. [I want to] bring the concept ceviche.”
“I’m probably gonna close Mesa soon,” he continued, expanding on his desire. “I’m working on a new concept for that place. Mesa has been there for eight years.”
And so it’s happening.
Eater reported today that this weekend will be Mesa’s last service, and I just got off the phone with Reyes, who confirms it.
La Palapa del Sabor will be the new incarnation of Mesa, a restaurant Reyes says he hopes to open within a month, serving Mexican coastal cuisine—or, he says, Latin coastal cuisine with a Mexican approach.
“[It’s] not like Ceviche,” Reyes says. “A different place. Ceviche is more like an oyster bar. This is a Mexican seafood restaurant.”
What that will mean is huachinango a la Veracruzana, whole snapper bathed in a tangy, tomato-based sauce that’s zippy with lime and capers. And pescado empapelado, fish wrapped in hoja santa leaf that is one of the simplest, most succulent dishes I’ve had from this region that hugs the coast and does seafood so well. Tapado de jolote, plump and tender masa packets (like moist tamales) will be filled with ruddy chipotle and a cousin of catfish that is specific to the freshwater lakes of Tlacotalpan, in southern Veracruz. (Reyes says he has a purveyor.)
Reyes will be the primary presence in the kitchen at La Palapa del Sabor, which will be casual (“also some karaoke,” Reyes says), a restaurant you’d find on the beach in Veracruz rather than in town.
He’s been thinking about it for several years, though support for Mesa was still strong.
“It was too upscale for the area,” Reyes says. “So I wanna switch this concept more for the neighborhood.”
“I’m planning,” he says, and we’re into discussion of yet another project, Casa Lola, another restaurant that would highlight meat and be headed by his wife, Olga. Maybe next year, he says. The mission is to shine a light on Mexican cuisine in all of its diversity, “…make all the dishes.”
“Me and Olga,” he says, “we’re gonna get back to the kitchen.”