Just before Christmas, Felipe Avalos opened a new ambitious Basque restaurant Mercado on Kent on Williamsburg's South 2nd Street. The chef is Peru Amandoz, who has trained under such greats as Juan Mari Arzak and Ferran Adria, and he serves a Basque style tapas menu with both small and large plates. The bi-level space seats 80 and also features retail a bakery and a market with breads made in house by Balthazar alum Johnny Peralta. Looks pretty fabulous, but does it live up to expectations? Bloggers, readers, and Yelpers have been in over the past few weeks to weigh in. Their reactions are ahead.
The Great News: This is the only Eater comment on the place that won't go immediately into an Adventures in Shilling post (though perhaps it should): "Fabulous food on a mysterious corner! We walked by on our way to dine at one of our regular haunts when we came upon this eclectic Bauhaus-ish building with the fires roaring as mentioned above. The vibe was right, and the food was killer. We'll def be back." [Eater Commenter]
The Mostly Good News: Eat Big Apple provides a well seasoned review on a variety of dishes at Mercado on Kent: "Small plates soon began to arrive. I was very surprised to see the pork belly stuffed piquillo peppers to arrive covered in a light, fluffy cheese that’s been baked inside the oven. Not exactly the Basque style presentation I was expecting. However as soon as you dig your pepper out, the flavors are exceptional...In some ways, Mercado on Kent is ahead of its time, and will do quite well as the neighborhood flourishes. Even in it’s early guise, missing a few key licenses and certifications, you can sense the potential already, and I’m hoping it improves from here." [Eat Big Apple]
The Crazy Excellent News: One commenter on Time Out New York says, "It is a place not to be missed! The food is spectacular and the freshly baked bread is out of this world!" [Time Out New York]
More Good News: Per an Urban Spoon review, "The food and menu were traditional Basque cuisine and the prices were really affordable. Having gone to school in North Spain my expectations were high and were met. I had the Shrimp and Prawn salad with the Prawn dressing, blown away. The Beef Cheek Sandwich is served on a cocoa ciabatta bread that is made on site in the fully operational bakery. The server said the stole the baker from Balthazar. The ambiance was lovely and rustic contemporary and on quite street that has some culinary clout. The service was spot on, which is hard to come by in Williamsburg. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and not pretentious. Definitely adding Mercado on Kent to my favorites list." [Urban Spoon]
The Not So Good News: One Yelper writes in about their not so great experience. "Presentation: I would give them five stars, even six stars for presentation. I guess sometimes presentation can be deceiving! Food runner brings over olive oil and various rolls of bread that looks SO delicious. I reach for the first one that looks like raisin bread or could it be chocolate chips?! It was chocolate chips! WOW! Grabbed it and it was hard as a stone. Almost chipped my tooth it was so hard. My mom tried the sourdough one, and it was even harder. I carefully ripped apart each piece of bread from the different rolls. I was so hungry I wanted to try them all and see if it was still tough to eat. It was!! The most memorable item on the menu was the croquettes...They were good, but too small to really enjoy the flavoring...My mouth was salivating for that chorizo burger I ordered! Chorizo burger with tomato bun - It was a mixture of beef and chorizo (correct me if I'm wrong, but thats what I tasted) fairly dry, not enough flavor and I didn't even eat the bun. The side of fried onions and lettuce was more exciting." [Yelp]
The Bad News: From a friend of Eater: "I went to Mercado on Kent this weekend with high hopes after all the good press they have been receiving. When we arrived, the host took us to the counter overlooking the kitchen, even though the restaurant was essentially empty at that point. When asked if we could move to a proper table the host begrudgingly obliged only after a five minute wait. The rest of the meal continued with the same type of service, but being they are still in their opening weeks I felt it could have been initially overlooked. The food itself was the biggest disappointment. The rolls were hard. The salad was fine, no complaints there. The crab toasts reminded me of some bad catering job. The suckling pig (the priciest item on the menu) was laughable. The chorizo burger was again, fine, but really nothing to write home about. I really wanted to love this place, but after the food and service, I'm not sure if and when I'll return." [Eater Tipline]