Note: Mercat closed as of August 2012.
Mercat is one of those intriguing—but not quite compelling—restaurants that I missed the first time around. Frank Bruni gave it a star three years ago, finding the “wonderful … but uneven” food somewhat undercut by the oppressively loud surroundings.
Fast forward to 2010. Mercat is still busy, but it’s no longer packed—at least not at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday. At that early hour, at least we could leave the earplugs and migraine medicine at home. I realize that, by downtown standards, the evening had not yet begun.
The menu offers Barcelona-style tapas: “Mercat” means “market” in Catalan. The concise bi-fold menu offers shareable plates ranging from $7 to $18. Five of these set us back $59—a very good deal given the quality, and that the portions were ample.
Bombes ($9; above left) are meatballs with chicken, pork, and beaf, with rice and a potato crust used as binders, and an aioli sauce. It’s remarkable how often these plate-sharing places serve three meatballs to a portion. Mercat solves this by serving two very large ones.
Espinacs ($7; above center), or spinach with golden raisins and toasted pine nuts, is less memorable. Botifara ($9; above right), or house-made sausage, was the only real dud: the meat was dry, and the casing was a bit tough.
Chickpea stew ($12; above left) was remarkably good. Who’d have thought so much could be done with chickpeas? Arros Amb Anec ($15; above right), or bomba rice with duck and orange zest, is a terrific and amply portioned paella-like dish, but with the rice more moist, and less crusty.
Plates came out at a decent pace, neither too fast nor too slow. However, we made the mistake of ordering wine at the same time as the food, and the bottle didn’t come out quite quickly enough. Plates weren’t replaced as often as they should be.
Minor complaints aside, Mercat is a terrific tapas restaurant, especially given the prices and the portions. I wouldn’t want to be there when it’s crowded, though.
Mercat (45 Bond Street between Lafayette Street and Bowery, NoHo)