Half way through my dinner at Mercat recently I said to myself that on a scale of 1-10, I would give the room a 10, the wine list a 10, and the food somewhere around 6 or 7. Let me explain:
The dining room is fabulous--great long bars at both ends with a ham bar in the center and scattered tables in the back. It’s spacious and really comfortable. The second level of the restaurant is a glass enclosed wine cellar with a spectacular selection of Spanish wines second only to the list at Casa Mono. The menu has a selection of tapas, cheeses, hams and some interesting main courses. The food is good but I was not blown away. Oddly enough that really didn’t matter.
What I was looking for at Mercat were the ingredients that make eating in Barcelona so special: the great Joselito pata negra ham, lomo (the sliced loin of the pata negra), that great Barcelona chorizo, the tomaquet de sucar tomatoes, and the piment de pardon. This is all simple stuff but it is very special simple stuff, and each of these things make Barcelona tapas the absolute best (for the gold standard in Barcelona tapas see the Hungry Girl Special at the end of this blog). So, judged by that standard which is probably unfair, Mercat falls a little short. But hey, do I always have to be fair?
The prices on most restaurant wine lists are currently outrageous. A mediocre wine that sells for $20 at your local wine story often goes for $80 to $100 in a restaurant. Who says there is a recession? Mercat, on the other hand, has an outstanding selection of delicious wines for under $ 60.00. I had the 2005 Organza de Sierra Cantabria, a white wine made with Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca grapes. It’s a light, crisp wine that is well made and was just perfect with my meal. In fact, I loved this wine so much I am going to get a couple of cases for the summer.
Mercat uses Shishito peppers instead of the Piment de Padron for their Padrones which were sautéed in olive oil and salt. (I told them about Happy Quail Farms which grows Piment de Padrons year round and they were happy to know of that source). The Patates Bravas, fried potatoes topped with the spicy garlic mayonnaise were perfect except the for squiggly design decorating the top.
The Croquetas De Gamba, which my friend Doug described as Hush Puppies by another name were delicious as well, with yummy chunks of shrimp in them. The Pa Amb Tomaquet was not great. This is a classic Catalan recipe in which bread is rubbed with garlic and tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil. Considering all the amazing breads you can find in New York, why did Mercat use this lifeless loaf?
Next we tried the Pebrots Rellenons -- piquillo peppers stuffed with beef short ribs served on a bed of caramelized beans. This was really good. We finished with churros served with a chocolate dipping sauce. Again, good but not amazing.
Everything I had was good and well made and I enjoyed my meal. Mercat is going to be a regular place for me, because there are a lot of times when I don’t want to be blown away. I want a good honest meal, a great Spanish wine, and a little something that evokes the memory of Barcelona even if it can recreate it perfectly.
45 Bond Street
New York, NY 10012
If you find yourself in Barcelona be sure to go to Villa Viniteca as often as possible. It’s actually two places--a wine shop and a grocery store/cafe across the street from each other. The wine store has the finest possible selection of Spanish wines along with a impressive selection from around the world. The grocery store sells the best hams and cheeses in Spain along with other Spanish foods. Go in to the grocery, sit down, order some wine and get a plate of the sublime Joselito Grand Riserva Pata Negra which is very difficult to find elsewhere. As an accompaniment order their Pa amb Tomaquet. When in season it's made with the famous Tomaquet de Sucar tomatoes, the best I've ever tasted!