MEATPACKING DISTRICT— Multiple reliable sources indicate that Marcus Samuelsson has parted ways with Merkato 55, a restaurant that he's spent the last year touting as his own—as a special, first-of-its-kind tribute to a cuisine very close to his heart. He's taken credit for dreaming up the concept and creating the menu, and was credited— as recently as four days ago— with this being his way of bringing African cuisine to New York. He said to Eater in June, "I'm doing important things here." That was then, this is now, we'll go ahead and suppose. While Merkato 55's spokespeople had no official comment on the move, Samuelsson's name is suddenly nowhere to be found on the Merkato 55 website, nor is the restaurant listed among the projects of Samuelsson's Townhouse Restaurant Group.
We haven't been shy about our feelings on Merkato so we wont rehash them here. But, of course, anyone paying close could have seen pile-up coming from a mile back. Samuelsson has been criticized over the five months of the restaurant's existence for initially not being in the kitchen; he's known to have a very small stake in the restaurant; and a luke warm review cycle certainly didn't help matters. The announcement last week that investors and promoters Kyky and Unik had opened a new nightlife hot spot on the lower floor further highlighted that the space—huge and in the Meatpacking District—would work better as a club than a restaurant. No word yet that they're shutting the food service down or shifting to Wednesday-Saturday operating hours, or starting to require bottle purchase for admission, but those moves can't be far behind. Net/net here is that the massive divide between what Samuelsson wanted to do with the food and the operators wanted to do with the space became too great to overcome.
Back to Samuelsson for a moment, we're glad to see him abort despite what surely were mixed feelings. He's got new restaurants in Chicago and Tokyo, and he's going to want to make sure those don't turn into stink holes, too.
· Deathwatch: Merkato 55 [~E~]
· Eater IMterview: Learning to Stop Worrying and Love Merkato 55 [~E~]