A Mercatto location opened up in the MaRS building during the summer and since then I’ve been there three times.  Three times may not sound like a lot in a six month span but considering I like to try new places all the time, I thought this was quite frequently especially given the long list of Italian places I’ve been wanting to try in little Italy.  The new location is also up the street from where I live so as the weather gets colder, my “willing to walk for food” radius gets smaller.

At first you take note of the ambiance.  It clearly feels like a new restaurant with the trendy looking bar and stylish furniture.  At the same time however it still feels like a warm and comforting old school Italian restaurant with an open kitchen and the classic Italian art on the wall.  My first visit was with a friend of mine and we decided to do the whole three course thing so we could sample a bit of everything on the menu.  The first appetizer was the caprese salad.

The tomatoes were fresh and juicy.  I was intrigued by the colors and wondered if they were just dyed that way or if they were genetically modified to be like that.  Whatever the case, they were great.  On top of the tomatoes were fresh slabs of buffalo mozzarella.  The cheese was smooth in texture.  It was like biting into something soft and chewy but it fell apart if you kept it in your mouth long enough.  The olive oil drizzled over the plate was good.  You could tell it was one of those aged olive oils but I have trouble really telling the difference.  All I know is that the older aged ones have more taste (almost more pungent). I think I also would have liked balsamic thrown on top as well but overall I still thought it was delicious.

Next we tried the deep fried cheese balls.  Yes that’s right, we had two cheese appetizers.  The cheese balls were fresh and hot right out of the fryer but were surprisingly not greasy tasting.  As you bit into the ball, you would go through a crunchy layer of breading, a layer of melted cheese and then a layer on unmelted cheese.  They also gave us a side of marinara sauce for dipping which was delicious.  I’m probably impartial since I love cheese to an almost unhealthy level but I thought this was fantastic!

For one of the mains we split the Maialina pizza which came with sausage, pancetta, salami, tomatoes and mozzarella.  The picture doesn’t do the pizza justice in terms of size.  These things are huge!  Great value for what you are paying.  The only trouble is by the time you get to the end, it can get a little cold.  The toppings on the pizza were delicious.  This particular pizza was a little salty but given the meats that were on top but I kind of expected this.  My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough tomato sauce.  The tomato sauce that was on there was amazing but I think more would have balanced out the toppings a little more.  The crust was great.  Crisp most of the way through and soft in the middle which, I have heard from my friends who recently went to Italy, is how it’s supposed to be.

The next dish we shared was the “naked” ravioli.  When ordering, the waitress told us that the whole “naked” thing meant that there actually wasn’t pasta even though it was listed under the pastas.  We thought it sounded interesting and gave it a go anyways.  What came out were oven baked balls of ricotta cheese with spinach in tomato sauce.  I thought they were delicious!  The tomato sauce was great like in the previous dishes and baked cheese is always a winner in my books (wow, I just realized now that there was cheese in every dish so far).  The balls were crisped on the outside and warm and gooey on the inside.

I think the dessert was some sort of panna cota thing.  I remember it being light with a hint of sweetness but with some sea salt mixed in.  I was pretty full at this point so my friend had most of it.  Since that first visit in the early fall the menu has changed slightly so some of these items like the naked ravioli are no longer on the menu.  Maybe they change their menu every few months to keep things exciting.  My second visit was when my parents were in town.

The first appetizer we tried was a plate of meatballs.  The meatballs were made of veal meat and very tender.  The tomato sauce it came in was also delicious: fresh, sweet with a hint of tartness.  In all honesty, I think I prefer the meatballs from California sandwich (they are more tender and meaty) but you could tell Mercatto uses higher quality meat.

Next we tried the spicy shrimp.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly.  They weren’t rubbery but had a nice bounce to them.  The sauce was sweet and tomatoey which was nicely balanced with the spicy peppers dispersed throughout the dish.  Sometimes I didn’t notice the peppers and you get hit with that shot of unexpected heat which wakes you and your taste buds up.

My dad ordered the maialina pizza.  Both my parents thought it was good and had similar remarks to what I thought the first time I had it.

We also tried the pappardelle with wild mushrooms, truffle and grana padano.  If you like mushrooms (which I do very much) you will like this dish.  I find truffles to have an overpowering taste but since I like that taste, I liked this pasta.  The pasta itself was cooked al dente and was delicious from start to finish.

The last main we had was the manzo: braised short ribs with caramelized onions, rough mash and horseradish.  The meat was very tender and had a lot of flavor.  It tasted of a good beef marinade, a little sweet with a good balance of other saltier spices.  The rough mash was delicious and it was nice to use to slop up the leftover sauce.

For dessert we shared the gelato which is made in house.  The brown one is chocolate, the one of the left was blood orange and the top one was coconut.  They were good and refreshing.  Not as good as Dolce, but a sweet refreshing way to end the meal.

My last visit was a couple weeks ago when I took a friend for her birthday.  My friend had the ravioli (non-naked) which was filled with ricotta, herbs and brown butter sage.  She seemed to really like it.  It also came with a number of ravioli pieces which was surprising since most places only give you a handful of pieces (I’ve been to one place that gave me one piece).  I had the quattro stagione pizza which is divided into four quarters.  One quarter had artichokes, another mushrooms, another had olives and the last quarter had proscuitto.  Each quarter was delicious.  The veggies were fresh and the proscuitto was awesome (as it always is).  I actually didn’t mind that the ingredients weren’t thrown all together.  It gave you a chance to appreciate each one individually.  If you rotated between quarters it may for an interesting meal.  For dessert, my friend ordered the chocolate lava cake.  I only had a bite since I was pretty full after the pizza.  The outside layer of the cake was warm and delicious.  It wasn’t too light or too heavy.  The inside was filled with warm, melted dark chocolate.  Very rich.  It came with a scoop of ice cream and a very sweet berry sauce. Mixing the cake, chocolate lava, ice cream and sweet berry sauce was simply culinary bliss.

There are a whole host of appetizers, pasta and pizzas I still want to try.  I’m sure as the weather gets colder and my “willing to walk for food” radius drops to practically nothing, I’m sure I’ll find myself at Mercatto on a regular basis.  Oh, one more thing, the wine system they have there is amazing!  They have they system that automatically pours the right amount into the glass, keeps the bottle refrigerated at the right temperature, and keeps the open wine drinkable for months!  It looks really cool behind the bar too.

~ by jlowjlow on December 13, 2009.

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