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Mez has a sweet (if expensive) spot



Once, I illicitly took Asian take-out into an Asian-themed movie. This was at the time theater owners had their employees check to see if food and drink were being brought in. I realize that the concession stand is the profit center for the business and I respect that, but I wasn't taking in popcorn or candy or something I could buy at their concession stand.

Typically, concessions offer only calorie-laden food. Yes, some of the mammoth multi-screen theaters offer coffee drinks and sushi, but certainly not a spicy chicken slider with grilled onions on a soft roll, or escargot with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.

The EpiCentre Theaters, which opened last December, do offer these small plates, however. This theater is a creation of real estate and EpiCentre developer Afshin Ghazi. The food prepared for moviegoers, bar patrons, and diners is from the kitchen of its partner restaurant, Mez.

The interior of the 220-seat main dining room of Mez is supper-club dark. The walls are black, the tables are black and, at 8:15 p.m., the dimly flickering lights are lowered even further. The lounge areas offer a broad expanse of windows and seem to hum with the vibrancy of the Center City bar crowd.

Movie patrons order food and wine, by the bottle or glass, from the concession stand and are given a pager; when the food is ready, patrons are buzzed. There is no regular service in the theaters. Food for the theater is put in pasta bowls to help eliminate spillage since the tray tables are of airline proportion.

At the helm of the Mez kitchen is Macedonia-born Executive Chef Klime Kovaceski. However, Kovaceski left the Balkans after culinary school for the Netherlands and then Miami Beach. But if you're looking for an abundance of ajvar, the savory roasted red pepper and eggplant condiment with a spicy garlicky kick slathered on Balkan bread and meats, think again. The American and Mediterranean dishes on the menu are a combination of inspiration from owner Ghazi and Kovaceski, and pay homage to crowd-pleasing recipes: lasagna, cedar-grilled salmon, lobster, and rib eyes. In fact, the extensive menu has 23 entrees and 17 small plates.

One common element of these dishes is sweetness. The excellent and sturdy veal chop sits astride a pool of sweet sauce. The sweet macadamia nut encasement on the brilliant piece of thickly cut halibut totally occludes the taste of the fish, made more sugary with a passion fruit balsamic glaze. The Mez house salad is also swept away by a tide of sweet with candied pecans and a tamed vinaigrette.

Although many of the dishes are served with sides, additional sides are offered family-style and include grilled asparagus and steamed broccolini. The Caesar arrives with romaine enveloped with prosciutto. Kovaceski's signature shrimp cakes are a mixed affair with notes of basil and tomato, but the taste of sea mute. Better was the Illegal Bread, a nod to Chef's homeland. This phyllo cheese pie was right up there with those from Ariston, a 100-year-old shop in downtown Athens.

If you like sweet, you cannot go wrong with the dessert list. Pastry Chef Mary Jayne Burris produces dishes of intensity and volume.

Kovaceski, who comes out of the kitchen nightly to chat up customers, says Mez's menu will evolve into more complex dishes during the next several months. Additionally, Ghazi is planning a Moroccan-styled restaurant to open next to Mez -- and share the kitchen -- later this year.

Mez is not for the faint. Maybe when you go into a place to be entertained, you won't blink at these prices, but I'm in sticker shock looking at the menu. The entrees here are pre-2008 prices: The filet is $30 and the lobster $32. More than half the entrees are at least $25. Small plates range from $4 for a bowl of olives to $12 for duck leg confit with honey-roasted carrots and ginger.

Yet Mez has a welcome vibrancy even if I can't see my food after 8:15. But then, if you can't look good in this lighting, go home. Besides, I, for one, would rather pop olives than popcorn at the movies.

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