When owner Eddie Benaim transformed his upscale Bezu restaurant in Potomac into a more informal spot, he wanted to offer a mix of different cuisines and food styles in a casual setting with less expensive prices. Thus the name: Mix Bar and Grille.
“Mix” also could refer to the quality of the food. After sampling a sizable chunk of the menu, I found a combination of terrific offerings, promising dishes that need tweaking, and a few clunkers that require rethinking.
When I visited, the place had been open only about six weeks, and I suspect that at least some of the kinks will disappear once the kitchen hits its stride. Chef Pedro Matamoros—a veteran of the Silver Spring dining scene, with stints at 8407 Kitchen Bar, the defunct Nicaro and most recently, the Golden Flame—executes an appealing menu here, comprised of hot and cold starters, serious entrées and lighter fare, including sandwiches, flatbreads and salads.
Appetizers are clearly the stars, beginning with the tuna tartare. The ramekin-size mound of silken cubes of ahi tuna, avocado, soy sauce and pickled ginger with a hit of Tabasco is an updated version of a longtime Bezu starter. Burrata, the creamier and more glamorous sister of mozzarella, gets properly pampered, perched on a splash of balsamic vinegar and draped with strands of roasted red pepper. Tender pieces of grilled calamari are zinged with roasted garlic and hot chili peppers; too bad I had to share this dish.
When it comes to the salads, the smoked salmon with frisée is a lovely choice. Slices of high-quality smoked fish overlap around a knoll of the curly endive, lightly dressed with hazelnut vinaigrette and bits of goat cheese.
Otherwise, the salads have been oddly inconsistent. At lunch one day, the proportion of greens in both the beet and kale salads was way off. My dining companion joked that she needed a shovel to locate the beets and goat cheese in her garden plot of arugula, and the kale salad was a forest with hard-to-find tomatoes, mushrooms and shaved parmesan.
At an adjacent table, however, a diner was served a kale salad that looked far more composed, and at a subsequent dinner, a beet salad served to a nearby diner had visible chunks of the purple vegetable surrounding a sensible pile of greens.
Unlike the salads, which seem skimpy on ingredients, the flatbreads (8-inch pizzas) come with generous, quality toppings. There were no duds among the three I sampled, but my favorite was the flavor-packed wild mushroom, accompanied by pungent black olives, herbs and truffle oil.
The compliments come with a major caveat: The kitchen needs to work on the crust. Each of the flatbread bases I tried suffered from being too thick and pliable. Mix’s new brick oven needs to turn out thinner, crackly crusts to provide a sturdier platform and contrast for the creamy cheeses and rich toppings.
As for entrées, I demolished the Chinese braised short rib, a meaty, tender chunk of beef served over puréed Yukon Golds that was comforting and satisfying in the way that long-cooked meat and mashed potatoes should be.
Other entrées I tried mostly suffered from being too shy on flavor. The rainbow trout Milanese looked pretty but was overcooked and bland; the silky salmon was supposed to be grilled with Latin spices, but the kitchen seemed to miss the beat; and the pesto-crusted lamb chops served with polenta and peperonata were surprisingly blah considering the ingredients.
While the entrées would improve with some tweaking, I’d put the two side dishes I tried into the category of “needs rethinking.” Brussels sprouts, the now ubiquitous vegetable that everyone used to hate, won’t garner too many converts here. Served sliced with applewood-smoked bacon, they tasted mushy and bland. And the butternut squash-goat cheese gratin was an odd-tasting square that remained uneaten after everyone at the table took a bite.