Anyone tried Merkato 55 yet?
I'm planning to have dinner with a friend of mine to Merkato 55 next weekend. I would like to know if anyone has tried their food yet and what would you recommend getting there? If applied, what drinks as well?
Thanks in advance!
Just tried it this past Friday night. I was excited to go having followed Marcus Samuelsson's career for awhile and also intrigued by the African style cuisine. As I expected, there were some standouts and some flops -- flops in terms of uninteresting, rather than inedible. Menu was written as a preview menu for February, but I don't sense there will be much change in the next couple of months.
We started with a selection of African breads, some very straight forward like pita (I didn't get the sense this was made on premise due to the char marks, so a little disappointed) more unusual like a pumpkin bread. We also order a couple of spreads the standout being an Apple Yogurt dip. The Foie Gras Date chutney was a little cloying and didn't meld well together. Just felt like they cut up some dried dates and mixed it up. We also had a Shrimp spread that was very spicy and had a more SE Asian flair to it and also heavy handed.
We didn't order any small plates, but received one on the house for the delay in receiving our large plates, which they brought without us even complaining, so that was a nice touch. We received the Oysters served raw with harrissa mignonette and melon granite. I love oysters so was excited to try this, though when I did, was surprised at the lack of vinegar flavor from the mignonette and overwhelming sweetness of the melon granite. The oysters were served on a bed of rock salt probably meant for presentation, but we immediately sprinkled some over our oysters and it made all the difference. This is the one dish we tried that I would say was not very tasty. The combination just didn't work for me.
Now this was not the case with the Chickpea Dumplings and Chicken Doro Wat. The dumplings was one of those vegetarian dishes that makes one wonder why I don't order vegetarian more when I go to fancy restaurants. The creativity of the dish was noted. The chicken, which the waiter described as their signature dish, consisted of two legs served in a pot and fell off the bone into the sauce of spices and cottage cheese. There was injera bread served on the side, but in the pot, so it absorbed some of the sauce and made for a tasty reference to Ethiopean. Their injera was definitely less tangy than I've had in strictly Ethiopean restaurants, but also more delicate. My friend also ordered the rack of lamb, but did not have anything exceptional to say. In addition, for sides we had Kale, which was southern styled but with different spices, and Blackened Corn. I thought the corn was again on the sweet side.
Merkato 55 had an extensive drink menu, which in MPD fashion included about 10 mixed cocktails designed exclusively (don't know by whom) to the restaurant and all named after African dances. There was a reference on the menu to a future infused liquor drink menu. I enjoyed my cocktail, though at $14 a pop, wasn't blown away. The wine list was also extensive, featuring South African wines (as the only African wines). The South African wines were pricy compared to the French/Italian wines, which I know a lot better, so we went with a French burgundy that was about $45 and not bad. The beer list had all the usuals and Tusker beer from Kenya.
Overall, I would say that despite the pedigree and nice decor, Merkato 55 felt like yet another Meat Packing District restaurant with that same loud, club thumping music full of twenty-somethings with too much money to spend (myself included ;) . The restaurant definitly felt like it still had some service issues to figure out (our sommelier wandering with our wine not knowing which table it was for, our waiter felt like the only person working that night despite a room full of bus boys, reservation that I was initially told unavailable because they were booked, but when we arrived the room was half empty) but I would revisit, perhaps not on my own dime, and try some of the even more interesting dishes like the Pork Belly.
Ironically, my only other experience with this type of African-esque upscale cuisine was at Jiko, in the Animal Kingdom Lodge in DisneyWorld and considered a CH favorite, and perhaps it was the environment, but ultimately I'd say this was a very nice taste of Africa in a somewhat "Disneyfied" fashion.