I love eating at new restaurants. I love it even more when the experience is spectacular. Unfortunately, that is not how my review of Mockingbird Cafe is going to go. I wish I could write something different about the new little place that has sprung up in Fusion's old spot, I really do. There were moments of brilliance, but then there were also moments of mediocrity. Unfortunately on this visit, the mediocrities tipped the scale. And that's the honest truth.
My friend invited me to dinner at Mockingbird after having a great lunch there with some of her co-workers. She had ordered the Cobb Salad, raved about the freshness of it and hoped to be able to order it again for dinner. I'd also heard through the grapevine that the transplanted Havana restaurant had a solid reputation. So I was more than thrilled to go with her.
When we arrived, we accidentally entered on the "lounge" side (formerly Tantra), where there were lots of small tables and some live musicians were setting up. Wanting to be able to hear each other talk, we walked over to the "cafe" side to get a table. I expected a complete re-imagination of the space. With a name like Mockingbird Cafe, and knowing about their original Havana location, I expected something akin to the Central Perk coffee shop from Friends (see the photo below).
You know - big comfy couches and chairs, quaint and colorful artwork gracing the walls, even perhaps some sort of antiques filling in the empty spaces at the edges of the room. However, there was hardly any imagination applied to the redecoration. The tables and chairs are the exact same as those that Fusion used. And where Fusion's walls were maroon and grey, they have simply repainted them to a more neutral palette of white and beige. While some may think this a drastic change, it didn't make the place feel cozy, so much as sterile. And the large photos that graced the wall gave off a very depressing vibe - a Padaung woman with neck rings, an elderly African man with his head in his hands - not really the types of images I want to look at while I'm trying to enjoy a good meal and a fun evening out.
So, we averted our eyes and turned them to our menus. My friend didn't see the Cobb Salad on the dinner menu and so she asked our waitress about it. We were told that unfortunately, it couldn't be ordered at dinner. So, we asked the waitress if she had any recommendations. When she said that everything was excellent, it should have been my first clue. Usually when a waitress tells you this it either means she hasn't eaten any of the food (or at least not enough to feel comfortable selecting a favorite) or that none of the food is very good. We pressed her a little bit and she eventually told us that she can never bring herself to order anything except the Ribeye. She admitted she'd tasted a few other of the dishes, but the only thing she's eaten completely is the ribeye. So, my friend decided to order that. I opted for the Almond Crusted Mahi-Mahi. But first we decided to start off with an order of Sweet Potato Fries.
Now, these sweet potato fries were one of the shining stars of our meal. Cut thinly, dusted with sea salt and served with a side of bourbon barbecue sauce, these little beauties were honestly like crack. My friend and I did not stop eating them until every last little bit had disappeared from the plate. I generally like a good side of tangy honey mustard sauce with my sweet potato fries, but I thoroughly enjoyed the bourbon barbecue sauce. The bourbon added a little touch of sweet kick and kept the barbecue taste from being on the smokey side. It was a good start. I was looking forward to being WOWed by the entrees.
Unfortunately, I had no such luck. We'll start with my dish - the Almond Crusted Mahi-Mahi. Now, I'd hardly call that piece of fish crusted with almonds. Yes, there were almonds sprinkled on top, but to me, crusted means that there is a crust that goes all the way around the entire piece of meat - usually made up of crushed nuts, pretzels, coconut or something to that effect. Not so. It was supposed to have a honey-lime glaze. I didn't taste a hint of either honey or lime on this fish. It was also supposed to be served with a coconut-curry sauce. Now, generally a coconut-curry sauce is somewhere in the range of a white or light orange sauce. As you can see from the picture, this sauce was a deep red. And again, tasted neither of coconut, or curry. It actually tasted like it had more of a tomato base, which would account for the deep red color. It wasn't spicy, it wasn't sweet, in fact, it didn't really have much flavor at all. I felt the fish was a bit on the dry side, which with Mahi-Mahi isn't unusual. I find most people tend to overcook Mahi-Mahi, which is why I rarely order it at restaurants. But I though with it being glazed and then served with a sauce, that would cancel out or at least cover up the dryness. There was no covering it up, this dish just didn't work. And the napa cabbage stir fry that it was served with was not my cup of tea either. The bitterness of the cabbage and the saltiness of the soy sauce just didn't sit well together. I took two bites and abandoned it completely.
Now, for my friend's dish. At the recommendation of our waitress, she ordered the Blackened Angus Beef Ribeye. She wasn't sure about the tomato hollandaise sauce that it was served with, so she asked to have it put on the side. It was also served with beer battered onion rings and a side of mashed potatoes. I know that a ribeye is a particularly marbled cut of meat (aka: it has some fat in it), but it seemed like my friend's cut was mostly fat, and only some meat. It was also fairly cool by the time it had been brought out to our table. Not good. Fortunately for her, the mashed potatoes were outstanding. Very creamy and with a nice buttery taste, they just melted in my mouth. And because I could see some skins in the potatoes, I'm guessing they were homemade. My friend also thought the onion rings were quite good, with thick cut onions and a light, crunchy batter. I, as you all know, won't touch an onion with a 10 ft pole, so I've just got to take her word on it. Oh, and the tomato hollandaise sauce was fairly savory, even though it does sound a bit weird.
Determined to make up for our less than satisfactory entrees, we decided to order dessert. We selected the Vanilla Cheesecake, which came topped with blueberries and raspberries and was served with a sliced strawberry and whipped cream. What the entrees lacked in flavor, the cheesecake more than made up for. Fresh, fluffy and delectable, with visible flecks of vanilla bean, this cheesecake is one of the best I've had in years, outside of my own wedding cake (and that's saying a LOT!). Again, it tasted like it was made fresh, and not simply cut from a frozen pre-made concoction. So I'll give them credit for that.
Overall, I'm not sure this place lives up to all the hype I've heard. I'm willing to assume that I may have ordered wrong, or the chef may have been having a bad night, or that their lunch menu is simply better than their dinner menu. But all I can tell you for sure is that my experience was a very inconsistent one.
Tally Foodie Rating:
Atmosphere - C+ (I wish they would have made a bigger departure from Fusion, and featured some more uplifting artwork)
Taste - C+
Presentation - A
Service - A
Price - $$
1225 N Monroe St
Tallahassee FL 32303
Posted by Tally Foodie Sunday, June 13, 2010