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The Payoff: Merkato 55

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 lows:

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

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