The origin of mole sauce is highly disputed. There are theories that a group of nuns made the first mole and some that say it was created by the Aztecs, but no one seems to know for sure. What most people do know about mole is that it takes a lot of time. A lot of ingredients are included in mole which makes it almost a science to prepare. There is no doubt making mole is an art and a lot of passion and love must go into the sauce to make it just right. Without patience and a defined palate, a mole sauce can be a disaster. It’s based on this fact that I was knocked out of my seat when I tried the mole negro at Mezcal for the first time. The chicken and mole dish, along with several other dishes, was unbelievably delicious. The intense heat of the mole followed by the almost buttery finish exemplified the balance of flavors that’s so hard to achieve the technique is considered a “pinnacle of Mexican cooking tradition,” so much so that families in Mexico pride themselves on their own unique recipe.
When we think of the challenges that owner and Chef Ziv Erlich faces when making the authentic Mexican dishes, the food and the feat to make this food is even more impressive. In a country with a minute Mexican population and virtually no venue with Mexican ingredients, one could only make such rich, flavorful, and authentic Mexican food if they have drive and an honest respect for the culture. In fact, it takes someone like Ziv who has an understanding for the language, culture, and cuisine of Mexico to be able to tackle such a challenge.
Both of Ziv’s parents are educators and passionate about preserving Jewish culture in the diaspora, which is what led Ziv to Mexico and Venezuela during his childhood. His mother had always been a great cook and inspired Ziv’s natural inclination toward a culinary career. However, it was a local Mexican babysitter and housekeeper that taught Ziv how to eat and love food, explains Ziv with a passion in his eyes. Her intricate recipes and her efforts in the kitchen were so dynamic that it literally made Ziv fall in love with eating. Ziv explains, “Through my mom I learned how to cook, through our housekeeper I learned how to eat.” When he finished the army, Ziv worked in kitchens and learned basic cooking techniques. Afterward he dabbled at a career teaching Spanish in Israel, but eventually he was led to pursue his true passion. Bringing together his love for Mexico and his culinary drive, he sought to overcome the obstacle of bringing genuine Mexican cuisine to Israelis.
Since opening Mezcal in 2008, Ziv has expanded culinary boundaries and searched high and low for finding a way to make the most authentic Mexican food without many of the necessary resources. From the journey that led him to discover an Aztec man living in a small unknown settlement that provides Mezcal with authentic, homemade Mixtamal Tortillas, to locating a moshav in Israel that grows various kinds of chili peppers, Ziv’s passion continues to carry him down the right path. If he can’t find the exact ingredient, his knowledge about food and his ability to decipher flavors helps him locate the closest replacement. Take the tostada: two crispy corn tortillas topped with a generous portion of pureed beans, melted cheese, radish, avocado, lettuce, tomato and feta cheese. Feta is used instead of the traditional queso fresco. The taste and consistency is so similar to that of the Mexican tostada it makes the dish authentic, yet so definitive of the Mediterranean cuisine that it makes the dish distinct. Another example is the cactus salad, made with a staple ingredient in Mexico, cactus, yet Ziv pickles the cactus and adds onions, cucumbers, radish, lettuce, avocado and olive oil. He again illustrates that a blend of Mexican and Mediterranean ingredients and techniques will prove to be a true delight. If Tex-Mex can become a distinct food genre based on the blend of Texan food products and Mexican recipes, who says that Mediterranean Mexican can’t? I’d like to call it Med-Mex. What we love about Mezcal is that Ziv takes the risk and shows us that we can have excellent Mexican food in Israel!
Ziv’s clever yet authentic approach to Mexican cuisine doesn’t stop at the food. The style of the venue brings you back to the small, unpretentious taco bars in Mexico. The bar made out of clay bricks, borrowed from the Mashravia style in Muslim architecture provides a Mediterranean element, again flawlessly blending two distinct yet rich cultures without missing a beat. Centrally located in the hip, young and newly gentrified Florentine neighborhood, Mezcal might seem like a bit of a trek but Ziv makes every step worth it. If the food isn’t enough to get you there, the tequila and beer menu should provide an additional incentive. With over 40 tequilas ranging from El Jimador to Olmeca to Don Julio, bottles of Negra Modelo, and San Miguel on tap, you’re really in for a treat. Who wouldn’t want to wash all those spicy and smoky dishes with a refreshing beer? To top it all off, patrons are serenaded on a weekly basis by live musicians.
Feel like satisfying a craving for good Mexican food? Interested in experiencing the fusion of two elaborate and rich cultures? Do you want to see the evolution of Mexican-Israeli cuisine? Then Mezcal is the place for you. In this young and vibrant neighborhood here’s a place you can tickle your taste buds and hug your soul.
Photos: from official Mezcal site