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Mercato: New American / Italian Eatery

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MercatoAs a rule, I’m always willing to try new things in the wide world of cuisine. If I see a new protein on a menu I haven’t tried yet or some exotic vegetable garnishing a dish, it’ll probably be what I order. I’m especially fond of taking folks up on restaurant recommendations, and if someone tells me a place is their favorite spot in the city, and I just have to check it out, then it’ll make my short list of things to do.

Which is how I came to find myself at Mercato, the New American/Italian eatery residing at 12th and Spruce. Besides word-of-mouth recommendation, I caught chef Mackenzie Hilton recently on an episode of Chopped Champions, and it felt like an omen. With Restaurant Week approaching, I made my reservations and joined a few friends to get a sample.

MercatoMercato is a tiny, 38-seater dimly lit yet bursting with energy. From our table I watched several cooks move seamlessly around a prison cell-sized kitchen with remarkable agility to feed the packed crowed that literally spilled into the streets. With the bustle of Restaurant Week clearly having an effect on the overworked staff, I expected my appetizer, a lump crab meat and cantaloupe napoleon, to be an unmitigated disaster. And to my great relief, it wasn’t. Garnished with watercress, mint, red onion and fennel, the appetizer was clean and refreshing, only a bit too mild.

For my entrée I enjoyed lobster and shrimp pyramid pasta, overstuffed raviolis served with asparagus, tomatoes and green onions glazed in a tart parmesan brown butter. I thoroughly enjoyed this entrée, the smoky asparagus contrasting the delicate lobster flavor beautifully, topped off with a sharp punch from the parmesan butter.

As I finished my meal with a refreshing affogato, I already began planning my next trip to Mercato. New twists on Old Italian cooking; what’s not to love about that?

Address: 

1216 Spruce Street

Hours: 

Mercato is a cash-only BYOB, open seven days a week; Monday through Thursday, from 5 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from 5 to 11p.m., and Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.