At Mele Bistro, the food is promising, it’s navigating the menu that’s difficult.
Words by Stefanie Gans Photos by Jonathan Timmes
Rings of calamari, naked in its pure beige exterior, blend into a beurre blanc puddle. The unadorned calamari was tossed in a heap on a gray-blue pottery plate. It lay bare, no fry. No breading. It was silky, with a slight give and rather excellent. It might be a special. It might be on the labyrinth of a menu. You’ll probably never see it again.
It is with both charm and chaos that Mele Bistro exists in a Rosslyn strip mall. Frank Smiley bought the restaurant over two years ago, then known as Village Bistro, and changed its name in May. In that time, he renovated the space and reworked the menu. While the restaurant feels warm and eclectic with arty mosaic tiles, a glowing onyx bar and deep red walls, the physical menu, and its haphazard arrangement of dishes, needs an overhaul.
The menu is hard to comprehend—and this is coming from someone who deciphers menus for a living. Dishes repeat on multiple pages, with varied pricing, sides and sizes. Many items on the menu are either sold out or simply not available (even on repeat visits). Pages titled “traditional dinner menu,” “dinner specials,” “small plate specials” and “specials” leave diners flipping and turning and generally confused about what to eat, or what this place is about, which is a shame, as is the slow and sometimes negligent service (tables received meals without silverware, even after asking, and servers rush through questions about the menu). This is only upsetting because the food here can be lovely.
A garlicky gazpacho hits the right key between salsa and soup, topped with a dollop of avocado. Mussels, plump and doughy as gnocchi, mingling with orange segments, in an orange glaze, don’t overpower the bivalve. Shrimp succeeds in a creamy sauce dotted with corn and tiny tomatoes. A filet of grilled Dorado is expertly seasoned, altogether moist and crisp and light. It’s draped over risotto dyed magenta from beets, which doesn’t taste of the earthy vegetable, but is still beautiful and a chewy counterpoint to the fish. A drizzle of a creamy-tart sauce finishes the dish.
A skirt steak served sizzling—mimicking the fajita effect—felt out of place with its Tex-Mex plating at a French and Mediterranean bistro. A scallop and pasta dish sunk in a watery pesto.
Samples of cakes are brought tableside. What should have been a pristine model of sweets from the kitchen ended up revealing one slice visually damaged, perhaps from too much table-hopping. It was just another affront on a night with hurried service. I said no to dessert, although it probably would have been delicious. I wanted to say yes.
Try the Hawaiian fish flown in daily.
Appetizers: $5–$16; Entrees: $14–$38
Lunch and dinner daily
1723 Wilson Blvd., Arlington