One of the dinner friends in my weekly Friday dinner group is travel-challenged since he would not venture past a certain point in the DMV, hence we tend to accommodate to his limitations when he is included in our gastronomic soirees. So, recently, when he made a new recommendation for the group, I did not question his suggestion and I quickly set up a reservation for the group’s meet-up that very evening.
Mele Bistro is located in a short strip mall in Rosslyn, VA, replacing a run-down Bistro that my partners and I eyed over the years without stepping through its doors. After the demise of its previous existence, the place took a name change and its decor updated. Walking into its colorful, yet very dimmed, space, we took our seats towards the back of the room. The menu is quite daunting to read with its wide offerings, and some dishes were divided into small or entrée sizes, which made for a lot of flipping back and forth the pages. Compounding this was the lack of light which made it nearly impossible to read the listing. After placing our orders, we attacked the basket of french bread that wowed us with its right-out-the-oven quality of a crispy exterior, its warm pillowy inside, and the tinge of sourness that belied its carbohydrate nature. The bottle of Spanish olive oil made it a good companion with its fruity and grassy notes, leaving behind a slight back throat afterburn. Rarely have we ordered more bread for us mid-centurions who really can’t afford indulging on bread.
Our appetizers arrived rather promptly. Mine was a plate of Pata Negra Chorizo from Spain. One bite into it confirmed its exceptional quality that one should expect from this pork appetizer. The meat, although still crudo, had a mild quality without any trace of porcine funkiness found in commercial meat, while its flecks of fat imparted an unctuous quality much like thin strips of lardo melting in the mouth. Such flavors brought me back to days of living in Spain and having its Jamon Serrano for my lunches. My friend’s Caprese Salad came with colorful slices of yellow and red tomatoes supporting shards of mozzarella. The cheese was its expected creamy and slightly elastic quality but it yearned for some salt and pepper to highlight its flavor. Unfortunately, the tomato slices was a total let down due it being out of season, and its hydroponic quality tasted of winter’s grey sky – seasonality has a great point after tasting this common restaurant faux pas. The rest of the group had the French Onion Soup and the Soup of the Day, but both were lackluster and didn’t impress any of us.
A friend’s main course was supposed to be Suzuki Sea bass, but the kitchen ran out of it, and it was substituted with the highly prized Hawaiian Hapuka Sea bass. One taste of it exuded a clean mild ocean-like quality that pointed to its deep-sea environment with the fillet perfectly cooked with a slightly crispy texture and flaky yet moist interior. I was not sure what were the black pieces on top of it, but I did not detect its essence on the fish. Another friend’s order was his perennial favorite – Trout Almandine. My first visual impression concerned me. The butterflied fillet was studded with almond slices that appeared blackened from the sautéing. But a taste of it proved me wrong. The trout was fresh-tasting and moist, with the almond imparting its gentle nuttiness with a bare hint of bitterness. In both dishes, the mushroom risotto was not bad, but it could have been better with a stronger stock, more cooking (evidence: slightly chalky kernels), and a bit of richness from butter. Overall, they were pretty good dishes that satisfied both diners.
My main course was a small plate version of Blackened Scallops. The plump pieces of seafood were well seasoned, and cooked to perfection with a slightly crispy exterior and a melt in the mouth interior quality. What I noted was the pieces were very fresh with no hint of ammonia that made each bite quite perfect. However, the same risotto was its companion with its flawed preparation, which only slightly detracted me from the main star. My other companion’s order of Seafood Linguine was lost in the service confusion, which was prevalent throughout the night. After constant notification to the kitchen, what he got was something totally unexpected. It was a fillet of Wild Salmon sitting on some sautéed vegetables and mashed potato. One taste of the fish hinted of a mild-tasting fresh piece of wild salmon that was not overwhelming in Omega oils usually found in farmed fish. The vegetables looked freshly cooked and the mash was proper with slight chunks in the mix, tasting of olive oil instead of the ubiquitous butter-cream version. My friend was not just happy to have received his meal but its quick disposal was an indicator of his satisfaction with it.
Even though the small plates of entrée were a decent portion, we were tempted by the dessert offerings. We managed to focus on three and we shared them among each other. Dulce de Leche was definitely the rich one made richer with its caramel tones from cooked condensed milk, additionally feeling quite dense with each forkful. Torta di Nona was a lemon curd pie that was quite good with a note of lemon juice and butter sweetened just right. However, I needed more lemon acid note to balance the tart out, but my friend found it perfectly balanced. As for me, I went for the Pear Tart. The topping was a layer of the sweet fruit sitting on a rather thick crust made with crushed almonds with its almond essence wafting through each bite. If the fruit-to-crust ratio were the inverse, it would have been exceptional. But we all seemed satisfied with this sweet ending.
Usually not one to write about the service, I’m breaking with custom here because the tasty food was overshadowed by how things ran that night. First, it was way too dark to read our menus, even for some millennials who had to resort to bright cellphone flashlights in order to read. We never could figure out whether the helpers were the Maitre D’, the runner, the waiter, or…. Our main courses arrived without the appetizer plates cleared and we had to hold them as we were being served. My friend’s order was not only forgotten, but another dish, although well-executed, arrived instead. We barely got a check-in from the staff since they were frantically scrambling around keeping the ship afloat. I must say that this is one of the few occasions in which the service was glaringly dysfunctional.
Mele Bistro has many elements going for it: a beautiful well-decored space with parking located in a dense area, and pretty good cooking coming from its kitchen especially the fresh seafood paired with locally sourced ingredients. I am recommending this establishment, with some reservation, based on the above qualities that are a hit when the right choices are made. I would recommend you to go during the slower nights, or when you are in the right frame of mind to put up with the inconsistent service. But I’m quite sure you will find gastronomic delights like in the cold cuts, seafood, and the sweet offerings. Give it a try and you may come out quite satisfied.