I was invited to lunch yesterday at (The Mercer) Kitchen, one of the ubiquitous Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s many properties. (Its proper name is written out with parentheses around “The Mercer.”) The restaurant occupies part of the ground floor and basement of a hotel at the corner of Mercer & Prince Streets, in SoHo. It’s an impressive space. The ground floor is a bar, with comfortable chairs and small cocktail tables generously spaced. In the back of this area are floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, suggesting a library.
The restaurant proper is downstairs. Part of it is in the vault space below the sidewalk. Look up from your table, and you see (and sometimes hear) people walking over the grillework up above. There is glass in the interstices of the grille, but keep reading: evidently the seal isn’t quite perfect. Near the back are several long communal tables — evidently a staple of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants. These tables look on an open kitchen — yet another JGV staple. The décor is dark and sleek.
I ordered from the $20 prix fixe lunch menu. An appetizer of Wild Mushroom Bruschetta with Prosciutto failed to impress. I am the world’s worst cook, so when my reaction to a dish is, “I could easily do that,” it’s not a good sign. It seemed to be no more than mushrooms and ham on slightly soggy rye toast.
Things improved as we moved to the main course: Roast Duck Breast with Bok Choy, Ramps and Rhubarb. The rhubarb, a pale pink sauce framing thin duck slices, was what made the dish.
Dessert — Gianduja Parfait with Coconut Soup — was heavenly. One of my lunch companions speaks seven languages, and he explained that gianduja is a hazelnut chocolate. I wonder why the restaurant couldn’t tell us that on the menu. Is “gianduja” a common word? I don’t think so.
In the middle of the meal, we noticed a flurry of activity around the tables near us. It turned out the staff were hanging umbrellas on the sprinkler pipes just below the grillework that separates the restaurant from the sidewalk above. By the time they were done, the entire front section of the restaurant was ringed with a protective cocoon of upsidedown umbrellas, resembling the famous scene from Mary Poppins. What a bizarre sight! Rain was forecast, but none fell before we left, so I didn’t get to see what that was like.
It was a satisfactory meal, but I won’t be dying to go back.
(The Mercer) Kitchen (99 Prince Street at Mercer Street, SoHo)