Friday, October 29, 2010

Mercato, Charleston, SC

One of the Gems of Charleston

Inside Mercato
A family wedding in New England has limited my restaurant visits this month. I’m back on track with a real gem.

We were referred to Mercato by a golfer we met during a ride-along. He had said it was some of the best Italian food he’d ever tasted and we decided to give it a try. Other than knowing Mercato was voted the Best New Restaurant in 2007, I didn’t know anything else about it.

I couldn’t decide if it was “fortunate” or “unfortunate” that the restaurant is on N. Market Street abutting the “Historic Market”.  Tucked in between t-shirt, candy and jewelry tourist traps lies Mercato.  The street itself is somewhat touristy, but the restaurant is far from it.

When we arrived we noticed signs for “live Jazz”, which was a nice surprise. The hostess could not have been nicer. She asked where we’d like to sit and described the different seating venues available. We chose to sit upstairs.

As we walked up stairs the hostess talked about the traditional Venetian painting of the walls – which were a dark red. We were seated at a lovely table near the center of the room. In our view were other patrons, of course, and an open-air “station” that made various menu items – slicing things to order. A nice, made to order touch.

Assorted Cheese Plate
Our waitress, Natalia, was very attentive, and yet, unobtrusive.  The restaurant works via a “team approach” and we did not want for anything the entire evening.  Plates came and went, water glasses were kept filled, and questions were asked about our satisfaction, all effortlessly, yet perfectly timed.

For our appetizers we chose the Tuscan Bean Soup and the cheese plate. Prior to this we were served hot Italian bread along with some of the best olive oil that we have ever tasted.

White Bean Soup
One thing that I have to say about Mercato is that the food and its’ presentation were exquisite. Everything we ordered was fresh, served as requested and beautiful.

The Tuscan Bean Soup was a nice warm blend topped with a light wild mushroom truffle oil.  The cheese plate was served with three cheeses – one was similar to Brie, a Pecorino and a Gorgonzola. All were served at room temperature allowing the flavors to burst through.  Accompanying these selections were small slices of dark raisin bread, a date and fig compote, fresh honey with toasted almonds and a fennel/apple mixture to cleanse the palate after the tasting. We tried not to eat too much of it as we wanted to save room for our entrée, so we set it aside assuming that we’d have it for dessert (the cheese, that is).

Pork Osso Bucco
Our entrée selections, Pork Osso Bucco and Veal Saltimbocca did not disappoint. The Osso Bucco was a pork shank served with Anson Mills polenta, citrus gremolata (I had to look it up, but it was fabulous chopped herb condiment typically made of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley”)and rosemary pork sauce (this, I understood).  It came to the table looking like a large, beautifully seared pear.  It was spectacular.  The kind of meal that you feel like you should smoke after. Seriously.  The meat fell off the bone. The dish was simply, perfect.
Veal Saltimbocca

The Saltimbocca’s veal and accompaniments were hot and incredibly tasty. My mistake was that I forgot to ask for something other than the garlic and olive oil spaghetti that is served with it.  It wasn’t something that I usually would order, but it was piping hot with a hint of garlic. The only thing and I even hesitate to mention it, that could have been better was the prosciutto that was cooked with the Saltimbocca.  It was very tough, similar to beef jerky. BUTTT… Veal Saltimbocca was not on the menu, Chicken Saltimbocca was, and the chef accommodated my special request, which was also something not many restaurants do.

Our waitress recommended some desserts and even though we were full and still eyeing my cheese plate, we decided to take her recommendation and split the Blood Orange Sorbet.  We thought that everything else was spectacular, so the desserts had to be great – it was.  Colorful as well as flavorful, we fought over it to finish it. Alas, the cheese plate went by the wayside as we were just too full.

As I walked in the restaurant I was uncertain if I thought the location was appropriate for the caliber of the restaurant.  I’m still on the fence about this, but what I did like was that they catered to everyone. There were couples "dressed up" on dates, casual businessmen and women and tourists in jeans. The music and the atmosphere made everyone very comfortable.

I would highly recommend Mercato and can’t wait to go back to try more of the many things that they offer. I vow that next time I’m taking on the cheese plate like Grant took Richmond. 

We give Mercato our highest ranking, 5 plates out of a possible 5

Mercato on Urbanspoon


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