Last week Doug, Kendra and I went out to dinner. It was kind of spontaneous as I thought I was going to just throw together something from my kitchen and had pretty much planned to do so in my sweats. But, at the Eleventh hour, we decided to go out. Something chill.
Our go-to in this situation is Cheebo. I have an affinity for their chopped salad. But their bar doesn’t cater well to three (it doesn’t have a corner) and I am not wild about the dining room experience there. I threw out a few suggestions and we ended up settling on Mercantile. I had a really nice lunch there a couple of weeks prior (excellent chestnut apple soup, celery root soup and the Frenchy sandwich) and a few glasses of wine (specifically a rosé I was particularly fond of) back closer to when they first opened - these two visits left me curious for a dinner. Plus, they have a corner at the bar.
I think Mercantile is very cute. It’s rustic with wood ceilings, antique wallpaper and jelly jar glasses. It’s both a café and a gourmet market, selling everything from small tins of mustard seeds to wine. It is also the latest addition to George Abou-Daoud’s Hollywood imperium (the Bowery, Delancey, the Mission Cantina). Unbelievably, chef Kevin Napier serves up his international comfort dishes in one of the smallest, most pared down kitchens I’ve seen in a while. I’m talking about two hot plates and a salamander. In his gnomic kitchen he manages to pump out brunch, lunch and dinner, serving up omelettes, biscuits and gravy, lovely soups, foie gras terrine, a badass duck confit salad, a yummy Cuban sandwich, beef shortrib and mac n’cheese.
In addition to a simple and well-priced wine list (sold by the glass, carafe and bottle), they also offer beer and liquor.
This recent evening we split a bottle of red and started things off with a cheese plate ($14 for three cheeses). I appreciate the descriptions of the cheeses with words like stinky and gooey, or earthy and hard, or musty and semi-hard. We went with one of each; a couple of sheep’s milk cheeses and the third with sheep, cow and goat’s milk.
We ate every ounce of our cheeses – we even had to request more bread on which to smear them.
We followed this with a salad of broccoli, burrata and pine nuts. I really fancied the flavors and temperature of this warm salad. I would have preferred a slightly charred broccolini to the steamed broccoli – but that’s just me.
Doug opted for the BLT for his main course. This was bacon, lettuce and tomatillo jam with charred jalapeño goat cheese and pickled red onion on toasty sourdough bread with an accompaniment of mixed greens ($11.50). Although Doug seemed a little thrown by the lack of the traditional T, he thought it was a cool twist.
Kendra ordered the salad of Fennel-Crusted Albacore with potato salad, haricot vert, soft-cooked quail egg, olive tapenade and arugula ($13). All three of us found this dish to be superlative. The tuna was seared to perfection with just the right amount of dressing, the potato salad was surprising and a great touch and the quail egg was beautiful.
I went for the Mushroom Soup ($6); a dairy-free puree topped with a dollop of crème fraiche and chives. I found the soup delicate and rounded. I was actually surprised it wasn’t finished with cream. I also had the Roasted Chicken Salad: butter lettuce, avocado, bacon, cherry tomatoes, chicken crispies, onion rings and tobasco ranch ($13.50). I’ll be honest, I ordered it solely because they used the words chicken crispies in the description. I liked my salad just fine. But I can leave it at that. It was just fine. It was slightly under-dressed with an enormous amount of the lettuce. The crispies were a little overly fried – a little overly crispied.
During the course of our meal, we were entertained by both the music and our bartender/server (whose iPod was playing said music). After Kendra and Doug left I lingered for a while to try a few other wines and chatted with our DJ/bartender/server, Kyle. Good man.