OCEAN SPRINGS — If you dine at Mosaic Tapas Bar at 1010 Government Street, it is possible you will be seated at a table next to a stranger. It is also possible you will make a new friend. Most likely you will enjoy eating something entirely different at the same time.
The name Mosaic refers to a variety of different cultures mixed together like a mosaic picture made up of many different items. Tapas (pronounced TAH-pas) is the name for a wide variety of appetizers in Spanish cuisine that evolved from the influences of many diverse countries and cultures.
“We are mosaics, different things from different places,” says Arturo Barajas, co-owner and manager of Mosaics. “We call it international food, which we serve in small portions so that people can get a taste of different things and share. The food is actually from various countries like Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Italy and Spain. We also have Turkish decorations with couches, pillows and tapestry wall hangings.”
Barajas moved from Mexico City to the U.S. in 1998 and worked for casino and chain restaurants in Gulfport and Florida. He was planning to move to L.A. to open a restaurant there when he drove down Government Street and saw a vacant building he thought had a lot of potential. He put together the concept and presented it to his business partner, Christina Mezo.
Six months ago the restaurant opened, providing quite a buzz on the dining scene in Ocean Springs that has burgeoned many new restaurants and bars opening since Hurricane Katrina took out the U.S. 90 bridge to Biloxi.
Mosaic is the antithesis of “fast food,” in more ways than one. At Mosaic, patrons are encouraged to relax and stay around awhile. It has an informal, living room atmosphere with comfortable couches and pillows.
The visit is likely to start out with something unusual from the drink menu.
“We feature exciting drinks like the caipirinha from Brazil, a drink made with Brazilian cachaca rum, which is sugar cane liquor made in Brazil,” Barajas said. “You add crushed ice with brown sugar and limes, and you make a really good drink out of that. Besides that we feature fresh fruit mojitos, which is a Cuban drink that has ground mint with fresh fruit and lime, sugar, rum and soda water. We have cranberry, mango, lime, raspberry, blackberry and other flavors.”
There are no walls providing dining privacy. Tables and chairs are close together, making it easy to share conversation with other diners. The tables are small, and so are dining portions. The idea is to eat slowly, and enjoy conservation and music that often includes live entertainment.
Some of the best sellers are the seared tuna served with green onion aioli sauce, with seaweed salad on the side. Another favorite is dry rub pork tenderloin, served with tomatillo/mango salsa. Barajas said the rub has brown sugar in it, so when grilled it melts and penetrates the meats.
“It has a bit of spicy kick to it,” he said.
On weekends Mosaic is a favorite gathering spot.
“The more crowded the place looks, the more attractive it is for other people to come and try it out,” Barajas said. “Friday or Saturday we have a full house. We encourage other people to come see us on slower days to enjoy the same atmosphere and service we provide. We try to interact with people so we are the entertainment. We dance with the customers. We try to always get their names and make their first time to visit us so fun that they will become our friends so next time we are just friends taking care of other friends. We become a bigger group of friends.”
The friendship idea spreads to diners. When it gets busy, the staff will ask people at larger tables if they mind sharing. Then it becomes “just a bigger circle of people who are friends.” They promote what co-owner Christina Mezo calls “mosaic friendship.”
Another thing that is unique, and has caused a double take by more than one person strolling down Government Street looking inside, is that although cigarette smoking is not allowed in the small restaurant, people can be seen puffing on a hookah pipe filled with a smoking mixture that is mostly molasses, honey, some flavorings and a small amount of tobacco.
“It doesn’t smell smoky,” Barajas said. “We don’t allow tobacco smoking inside, only hookah smoking, because we have all those pillows and decorations we don’t want to ruin. It is a really cool atmosphere. The hookah means friendships and you only share the hookah with people you care about or are friends with. It is the same with food. You wouldn’t share food with anyone not a friend.”
Hookah bars have been trendy in big cities for a while now, but this is the first one on the Gulf Coast — and probably in the state. So, the novelty does attract some folks inside.
While most of the clientele are local people, about three weeks after they opened the word started spreading and they started getting customers from Gulfport, Mobile, Pass Christian and New Orleans.
“I was very surprised people would drive from New Orleans to have dinner in our place,” Barajas said. “I was very proud of it. They hear about us in New Orleans and we haven’t really done any marketing in New Orleans. The word is spreading and we are very interested in becoming a franchise for expanding and opening in another place so other people can share the same service. People tell us Mosaic should come to their city because this is a very cool place and they would like to be able to come more often. We are thinking about opening a restaurant in another city similar to Ocean Springs with a lot of arts, small downtown shops and restaurants.”
For more information on Mosaic Tapas Bar including entertainment listings, see the Web site www.mosaictapasbar.com. The restaurant is open Tuesday though Saturday from 5 p.m. until.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.