Mercat, Noho, NYC

The Bolt Bus got me to NYC in 4 hours last night. It’s our last long weekend at school (yikes..) and I decided it was time to head back to the city and see the boy. As soon as I stepped out at Tick Tock Diner, I knew the weather Gods had been kind. It was a perfect New York night – clear skies, full moon, warm enough for sandals, cool enough for sleeves.

After a quick stop at home, we headed over to Bond Street for dinner. I’d made the reservation on Open Table and was extremely surprised to discover that the awesomeness of Mercat was only a 3 minute walk from our apartment. What a place. Rustic but minimalist, dark but candle-lit, Mercat is warm, airy and unobtrusively positioned on one of NoHo’s more trendy cobblestone streets. The walls are red-brick and unfinished, the kitchen is open-plan and the music, like the menu, is decidedly Catalonian.

Our table wasn’t ready until 9.45pm but our waitress was friendly and the service was quick and helpful. Encouraged by Yelp’s glowing reviews, we made sure to order Patatas Brava, Croquetas de Pollastre, Fideua Negra and Coca D’Anec. We also decided to try the Vedella (hangar steak), Remolatxa (warm beet salad) and vegetable croquetas. While the steak was a little tough and the capers in the salad a little contradictory, the Coca D’Anec (coca bread topped with duck, pears, spinach and hazelnuts) was absolutely divine, combining distinctly interesting flavours with a beautiful assortment of colours and aromas. The Patatas Brava were predictably addictive, the Croquetas were crisp and perfectly gooey on the inside and the Fideua Negra (noodles with squid and squid ink) surpassed all expectations.

The dishes were definitely smaller, tapas-sized and perhaps on the saltier side, but I didn’t find that it detracted from their flavour in any way. I tried the first cocktail on the menu – a delicious concoction of watermelon juice, sauvignon blanc and mint, somewhat questioningly named “Gypsy Tears” – and quickly ordered a second, with less ice. The boys drank gin cocktails (“the Dandy”) and, for dessert, we shared the obligatory churros con chocolate.

The Damage: $180 for three with two drinks each. Definitely on the pricey side but to be expected with NY tapas.
The Verdict: Mercat is chic and stylish but not overly trendy. The menu is interesting, the food is delicious, the service is friendly and the location, in my opinion, is lovably perfect.

New York v Boston or Boston v Cambridge?

Every so often, when I’m in New York, someone will ask me “how do you like Boston?”. And, every so often, I will hesitate before pulling out my stock answer “it’s fine, you know, its a great student town, but really, it’s nothing like New York.” The reason behind my hesitation is that Boston is actually a great town…err city. It’s clean, it’s incredibly pretty (when not covered with snow and freezing rain), it’s safe and importantly, it’s within easy reach of some wonderful weekend road trips. Despite these and many more merits, Boston’s failure to deliver on the restaurant front has unfortunately landed it squarely in my “nothing like NY” bucket.

It’s not that Boston food is bad, by any means. In fact, the abundance of fresh seafood gives the city a unique advantage and character. However, the more I eat out, the more convinced I am that Boston’s dining experience consists of a few basic cuisines (Italian, Seafood, American), a staid, stuffier ambience and good, but not stellar, food. Underwhelmed by recent trips to Market Jean Georges, Stephanie’s on Newbury and Casa Romero, I decided to spend some more time exploring my own back yard – the small but upscale city of Cambridge, MA. And what a good decision it was…

I just got back from the Cellar, a cute but inconspicuous little place on Mass Av that rightly lives up to its unpretentious name. Much like a Nottinghill gastropub, the Cellar is split into a downstairs bar and a more upscale upstairs restaurant (“Garden at the Cellar”). Neither place takes reservations and the space is small, so you’d do well to get there before 9pm on a weeknight and before 7pm (I’ve been told) on a weekend. Eyeing the line at the restaurant, we decided to head downstairs and quickly found seats at the bar. There’s no waitstaff downstairs and the menu is slightly shorter, but our bartender was very friendly and told us we could order from either place. A quick look at the deliciously-worded list and we decided to order tapas style, choosing a few small plates to share. Our food arrived quickly and was absolutely divine. The Pancetta Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese and Apple Hash were scrumptiously juicy and bursting with flavour. The Chicken & Thyme Croquettes were crisp, grease-free and perfectly spiced. The Homemade Tater Tots were surprisingly delicate and the Mini Burgers on Brioche with Crispy Potatoes were melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Yum! To top it all off, our bill was less than $15 per person – absolutely incredible when you consider the rip off prices we usually end up paying for dinner. Are you listening Boston?

The Ambience: Dim-lighting, lively vibe, background music at perfect pitch. Crowd is mostly older students and young professionals. Perfect for small groups, drinks and dates.
The Verdict: Cellar – je t’adore! Your terrific menu, delicious food and great prices make you a firm favorite and I look forward to seeing you again soon 🙂