Looking for a great place for dinner in Taos? El Meze a great favorite on the Taos dining scene, has been serving delicious, Mediterranean and North African inspired food since 2007. Owned by Fred Muller and Annette Kratka — he’s the talented chef and she runs the front of the house and creates the decadent deserts – it sits in tiny El Prado on the north end of Taos.
Fred Muller calls his cuisine “La Comida de las Sierras,” (the food of the mountains). He loves using fresh trout, wild mushrooms foraged from local mountain forests, and corn, chile and other produce from small, local organic farms. “This is how I like to eat and how I like to cook, clean flavors, rustic and simple,” he writes. Muller, a southerner by birth who grew up in Europe, is drawn to American regional cooking. He believes that to “understand regional American cooking you have to understand the history of the people.” Fred’s Place, his former Taos eatery, closed in 2000, offered his innovative take on the local norteño cuisine. In 1995, his book LA COMIDA, The Foods, Cooking and Traditions of the Upper Rio Grand came out. He discovered that the area food was influenced by that of Spain, which in turn was influenced by the Moors of North Africa who occupied the small Iberian country for hundreds of years. At El Meze he brings those flavors to the fore.
In summer, there’s no better place to sit than on their patio with its breathtaking view of sacred Taos Mountain. Savor a glass of wine as you read the tempting seasonal menu. Chef Fred loves the spices and flavors of the Mediterranean and incorporates them into his dishes. Graze the intriguing appetizer offerings, which they call “Share Plates”; the amble portions make sharing easy and fun. You can make a meal of these. These can also order one instead of an entrée; coupled with a salad or the Herb Frites, redolent of thyme and local lavender, it’s a meal.
The choice of “Large Plates” is short but sweet. Diners will always find the restaurant’s signature Truchas Yerba Buena on offer, the presentation of this New Mexico bounty will change seasonally. The current preparation features preserved lemon, mint, cilantro, and garlic, plus Moroccan spices. I love to order the lemony oven roasted chicken when it’s on the menu. The bird, also flavored with big cloves of garlic; fennel; rosemary; and olives is served with grilled rustic bread for dipping in the addictive natural juices. Unless you have gargantuan appetite, you’ll be taking some home to enjoy another day.
On our last dinner a few days before summer’s official start, we shared the Andalucian-style chicharrones (nothing like the crispy Mexican version), which was in a mouth-watering red chile. The chicken was on the menu and I didn’t have to think twice. For his main course Steve chose the Buffalo Short Ribs Adovada, cooked to melt-in-the-mouth tenderness in Chimayó chile paired with grilled romaine hearts topped with lemon/anchovy dressing. Our knowledgable and delightful server, Carlos, suggested the wine pairings.
As night descended, oil torches were lit on the patio and diners were offered blankets against the evening chill. It was a convivial crowd and we chatted with some of our neighbors making suggestions on dishes and discovering where they hailed from and where they were headed. Dessert was am easu decision. We shared Kratka’s decadant Dark Chocolate Soufflé Cake. It will delight any chocoholic.
El Meze is open Monday through Saturday from 5:30pm to 9:30pm; they are closed on major holidays. Reservations are recommended; in warmer weather, opt for the patio.