Small Bites: At Roseville’s Mito, flavor comes second to imperfect theatrics

13 July 2023

At a restaurant like Mito, there’s a catch.

The new Latin fusion restaurant opened in May in Roseville, and its transformation — from the former Grumpy’s — is stunning. Colorful pulsating lights, neon signs, a live sax player and… is that a table magician?

Mito is a restaurant built around an immersive atmosphere, a theatrical experience.

But here’s the catch: This introduces hundreds — thousands! — of tiny details that might not have otherwise existed. And successfully pulling off the experience means nailing each and every one.

This is tremendously difficult to accomplish. Managers and servers are now also stage directors and performers. The high menu prices aren’t just food costs; they’re admission tickets.

The food and drinks during a recent dinner at Mito were, by and large, pretty good. But the theatrical elements were a little rough around the edges, which made the overall experience feel less satisfying than it might’ve had the theatricality not been thrown into the mix at all.

We started with the Salsa Tour ($19). The six salsas — one of which was actually refried beans; flavorful, but maybe a cop-out — were each served in its own square stone crock, on a hefty branded wooden board. I loved the aesthetic of the dish, and the salsa verde was particularly good.

Rather than chips, you get two small crisped tortillas for dipping. Pro tip: Ask for extra! Two tortillas do not match the portion sizes of the salsas.

The salsa appetizer arrived at the same time as the rest of our meal, though, which was problematic for a couple reasons. Our entrees were just sitting there while we started with salsa. And when everything is served with larger-than-life visual flourishes, dropping them all simultaneously onto a life-sized table makes things awkward and overcrowded. My dining partner set a spare basket of tortillas on her booth bench.

Mahi mahi is fried in squid-ink tempura in the Taco Negro Ensenada at Mito, a new Latin fusion restaurant in Roseville, on June 18, 2023. The ink, likely intended as a striking visual, overpowered the flavor of the fish. (Jared Kaufman / Pioneer Press)

Overly ambitious aesthetics claimed another victim — flavor — in the Taco Negro Ensenada. The taco featured mahi mahi fried in a tempura-style batter that contained squid ink and, ultimately, was simply dull. For a $9 taco (singular), that’s not ideal.

Likely intended as a striking visual, the ink flavor wasn’t balanced out and ended up obliterating all the clean and sweet qualities typical of mahi mahi. Even visually, though, the tempura did not retain the striking jet-black color of the ink; a trip through the deep-fryer gave the oblong fish a much less appetizing appearance.

The Pollo Loco, served on its own large wooden board and stuck through with a knife, was quite good. The grilled half-chicken was moist and flavorful; the skin was well-spiced, as were the potatoes. A cheese-stuffed hot pepper that came on the side was a fun, if somewhat disjointed, touch. The dish needed a sauce to tie it together, though; the salsa verde, left over from our salsa tour extravaganza, worked in a pinch.

Whoosh! A flash of fire caught my eye a few tables over.

With blowtorch in hand, an employee was flambéing a massive steak that was hanging by its bone.

This is the Silencio Tomahawk, a 32-ouncer, finished tableside with flamed mezcal before being cut and salted. Another example of what I mean about theatricality: The blowtorch man seemed somewhat disinterested and rote and lacked the showman’s flair that would potentially validate the steak’s $180 price tag at a place like this.

However, there was one area where Mito successfully pulled off its ambitious goals, and it’s probably all I’d return for: the cocktail menu.

The Oztotl cocktail, with mezcal, rum and passion fruit, is served atop a smoky cavern at Mito in Roseville on June 18, 2023. Everything on the menu is served in larger-than-life ways at the new Latin fusion restaurant, including quirky specialty drinks. (Jared Kaufman / Pioneer Press)

Each drink description is paired with a quirky and fanciful illustration that, in a truly delightful surprise, matched how it was served. The Tooth Fairy, a raspberry-pear situation, is served in a tooth-shaped ceramic mug. The mezcal-blueberry Moon Walker is served in a small fishbowl in the arms of a toy astronaut.

It’s a well-executed concept that’s made even better by the fact that the drinks are fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the balanced and strong Oztotl, which includes rum, mezcal and passion fruit and is served in a tall glass atop a mysterious, craggy undersea cavern.

The server poured a liquid into the cave, and it erupted in thick science-fair smoke. And you know what? For a $16 cocktail, I was more than satisfied — I was entertained.

Small Bites are first glances — not intended as definitive reviews — of new or changed restaurants.

Mito Latin Cuisine: 2801 Snelling Ave., Roseville; 651-330-8677;

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