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Shitshows: Merkato 55

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Every day this week we will feature a Shitshow Week Review, a new assessment of a restaurant that at first glance seemed totally and completely off the rails. To give these places a fair shake, we revisited to pass a new judgment. The fundamental question: shitshow or not a shitshow?

2008_05_merkatoshitshow1.jpg

For the inaugural review of Shitshow Week, the Eater Shitshow Assessment Team (ESAT) headed to the Meatpacking District's Merkato 55 on a Friday night at 9 p.m. to see just how the service, food, scene, and all the rest held up at "Marcus Sameulsson's" pan-African behemoth. Deathwatching of this bad boy was inevitable, and it entered the hospice officially after Bruni's one star review. But is it a full blown off the rails, honest to God shitshow?

Crowd: Considering Merkato 55's neighbors Spice Market, Pastis, and 5 Ninth were all packed, it's not a great sign that "Samuelsson's" place had a bar that was half full and an upstairs dining room with massive openings (see above) for big parties. Those who did fill the tables were an entertaining mix of button down shirt office types, foreign tourists, early 30's ladies out to prep brutal hangovers with exotic cocktails, and one excitable couple making out Cheap Shots-style in the corner. Nice.

Space: One of the reasons the place doesn't pack it's tables is its massive size. Think again if you thought New York's giant restaurant trend ended with Morimoto and Buddakan— we can't even imagine the overhead on this place (or how its reflected in the menu prices). However, the size isn't the only thing that's off-putting about the restaurant—there is also the vaguely offensive decor. The tapestries with faces, the mural on the bar with the word "Africa" painted over it, and all the thatch accents and clay pots are reminiscent of an Epcot Center food court, not a supposedly swanky, hip restaurant.

Food: Which leads us to the food. In a word, the food is overpriced. At once dumbed down and gussied up for the MePa crowds, you could find a more affordable, more authentic plate of food at any halfway decent Ethiopian or Moroccan restaurant around town. That you have to order and pay for injera or any kind of bread when eating saucy and spicy food was itself an issue.

Some things were terrible (the meatballs), some were alright (that doro wat chicken some critics have raved about), and some things we would come back for if they weren't so overpriced (the chickpea dumplings). It's hard to walk away from a meal here without the overwhelming feeling that you've been duped.

Service: Service was perfectly fine. It was great at the bar, a tad pushy at the table, but overall completely proficient.

Final Judgment: Without a doubt the restaurant was ill-conceived and poorly timed. It's too big, mildly offensive, and overpriced. So is it a bad restaurant? Yes. Should it be Deathwatched? Absolutely. But can it be classified a shitshow? One or two critics and a handful of PR drones will disagree, but we say, definitively, yes. Merkato 55 is a Certified Shitshow.
· The Worst Table in New York: East Village Edition [~E~]
· Ladies and Gentlemen, Girls and Boys, It's Shitshow Week! [~E~]

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