Dining Out: Nuestra Mesa is focused on the flavor

Small, sophisticated menu is an authentic pleasure in Camas

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Why: Nuestra Mesa brings a south-of-the-border option to Fourth Street in downtown Camas. Owners Todd and Tania Moravitz collaborated with Chef Luke Thomas to refine their menu and offer a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine from several regions including Oaxaca, Yucatan, Sonoran and Veracruz. The restaurant’s menu isn’t extensive, but the choices range from simple tacos to more elaborate entrees. One of the specialties is the Sopa de Frijol Negro (black bean soup), which contains the Mexican herb epazote. Of the entrees, Todd Moravitz says the Mole Verde is a must-try, as is the Puerco. But even the chips and salsa are unique at Nuestra Mesa, which opened this month.

Atmosphere: The restaurant has a slight family dining feel about it, but at the same time, it is perfectly suited for a date crowd. The music selections playing in the background are an eclectic mix that the owners often change. This adds to the overall hip vibe which Nuestra Mesa easily pulls off.

Inside, the attractive wood floor is flanked on one side by an old brick wall and the other by walls painted in burnt orange and hot pink. A mixed assortment of tables and chairs are arranged to create a main walkway down the length of the restaurant’s long, narrow space. The bathroom is lavished in decorative items, while the dining area is simple and uncluttered.

What I tried: My dining companion and I began our meal with an order of chips and salsa and we each had a cup of Sopa de Frijol Negro.

We both agreed the soup alone was worth the visit. It was remarkably smooth and silky. Topped with crema and epazote, this soup has a flavor all its own. It was the only soup on the menu, but after tasting it, I understood why. The chips and salsa were better than most, but the chips are thick, so if this doesn’t appeal to you, opt for a different appetizer. The salsa contains roasted tomatillo, roasted white onion, cilantro, lime, Serrano chili and garlic. I found it to be mild but flavorful with just a hint of the lime and garlic.

For my main course, I decided to try the Puerco. This dish is a slow-roasted Carlton Farms pork belly that sits atop a sweet-potato-and-plantain mash and is accompanied by braised chard with red bell pepper.

My dining companion had the Mole Verde. The base of this dish is jasmine rice flavored with cilantro and just enough jalapeño to add the pepper’s essence without its heat. The rice is then topped with a braised Draper Valley chicken thigh and mole sauce, which is made with tomatillos, garlic, onion, pepitas, Serrano peppers, lime, salt and pepper. To finish it off, pepitas are sprinkled atop and chunks of chayote squash are placed around the edge.

After tasting my companion’s Mole Verde, I concluded that both entrées were equally delicious. The chicken fell away from the bone and the meat of the pork belly was easily separated from the small amount of fat, which kept it moist during roasting. The pairings that accompanied the meats bumped them up a notch beyond ordinary. Both entrées possessed various degrees of spicy heat, but none crossed over to extreme. I enjoyed the texture of the mash. The sweet potatoes are mashed smooth and small-chopped plantains are then folded in. The braised chard was soft, slightly oily, and had a deep green appearance similar to collard greens. The chard acquired an exotic and appetizing flavor from ingredients such as apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, vegetable stock, garlic, onion and rendered pork fat.

This was one of those dinners that begs the summary of just a few words: complex, interesting and flavorful.

Other menu highlights: The tacos at Nuestra Mesa are made with fresh corn tortillas and served with radish, lime and cilantro. A wide range of tacos are available including chicken, pork belly, chorizo, steak, beef tongue, slow cooked beef, mahi-mahi, shrimp, as well as a roasted vegetable version. Each has suitable add-ins.

Other observations: On my visit, the restaurant was full and we waited about 20 minutes to be seated; this was without anyone in line before us. The wait staff was pleasant and very attentive, checking back often to make sure every need was met. The Moravitzes visited all the tables to meet and greet diners with a comfortable, confident ease.

Cost: Appetizers are $7 or less. A cup of soup is $2.50 and a bowl $4.50. Tacos are $4 and less and entrees cost as much as $13.

Hours: Nuestra Mesa has not yet set permanent hours. It is currently open from about 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Telephone: 360-210-5311.

Where: 228 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.

Health score: Nuestra Mesa has received a pre-opening inspection, but has not yet been inspected for a health score. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.