Today, Frank Bruni drops one star on Merkato 55, finding the highs and lows that we expected. The highs:
With the qualified exceptions of Morocco and Egypt, Africa hasn’t received much high-gloss treatment on the Manhattan restaurant scene…
Merkato 55 fixes that, and how.
With some 150 seats on two elaborately decorated levels in the overexposed, overwrought, when-will-it-be-over meatpacking district, it does more than give many African cuisines a degree of conventional polish they don’t usually get…
That is not a bad concept, and Merkato 55, at its best, is a bold adventure, ranging across the entire African continent in search of dishes you don’t see often enough and dishes you haven’t seen before.
The menu mingles inspiration with too many hedges: the tuna tartar that astonishingly exists in every cuisine’s canon, at least once that canon has been translated for modern-day New York; a lobster salad with ambiguous sub- or supra-Saharan bearings; a thinly veiled steak frites; a rack of lamb — supposedly graced with an Ethiopian berbere spice mixture, including garlic, red pepper, cardamom and fenugreek — that could be any restaurant’s rack of lamb.
My companions and I had lovely service and we had laughable service, usually on different nights but sometimes on the same one.
We and Eater both win $2 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.
Eater NYJ Bankroll $86.50 $97.67 Gain/Loss +2.00 +2.00 Total $88.50 $99.67 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Won–Lost 38–15 38–15