Often, when it's not yet the busy bustle of track season, Hubster and I will venture to points unknown...in search of a great new restaurant to sample. This past Saturday, we did just that. On the recommendation of one of my wine representatives, whose opinion I trust, we meandered down to Red Hook, New York to try Mercato. Unsure of how long it would take us to get there, we arrived a touch early before they began service. A short stroll away, we discovered Flatiron and bellied up to their beautiful bar to enjoy a cocktail before dinner at Mercato. We almost never left! Their concoction of Tito's vodka with pink peppercorn infused simple syrup and lemonade was the ideal sipper for the hot and sunny day. (Definitely going there to try their menu next time) But...we were there to try Mercato this day and strolled back to the eatery. Warmly greeted by Brooke, we were escorted to our table. This is a homey sort of place, for sure. No fancy floors or central air here...no. But, it does have a vibe to it that made me absolutely know that I was about to enjoy food prepared from the soul. Our server was aware of our interest and expertise in wine and left the list for me to peruse at leisure. As I expected, the list is very heavy on Italian offerings...which is just marvelous with me. I ADORE cool, esoteric Italians. Hell...I even married one. Sure...there was a Pinot Grigio listed...but I was delighted to find Falanghina...Greco di Tufo...Pecorino...Gavi..Fiano..not to mention 4 delightful rosato options. The reds were equally thoughtful. Yes, yes, they had Chianti..but Sagrantino? Teroldego? Cannonau? I knew if they paid as much attention to detail with their food as they do with their wine offerings, I would be one very happy customer. Since we were taking our time deciding on our food, I went ahead and ordered a bottle of rosato. I have a passion for dry pink wines and preach my passion to all who will listen, or at least pretend to. So...a nice chilled rosato on a warm and sunny day was perfection. We decided on the Spinetta Sangiovese Rosato. With its salmon pink hue and a bouquet of apricot and red fruits, this was a wine that I knew would complement our entire meal, no matter what dishes we decided upon.
In order to get the most representation from the menu, we chose 2 antipasti, a primi, and a secondi. Begininning with the Coach Farm Goat and Pecorino Gnudi over a Kale Puree. This was heavenly...the pillowy texture of the gnudi and the slight tang from the goat cheese coupled with the slight bitterness of the kale puree was the perfect foil for the wine, as I suspected it would be. In fact, this was my favorite dish of the evening. We continued with one of the evening's special starters...prosciutto wrapped asparagus with egg, truffle emulsion and parmesan shavings. I do admit that I am a card carrying truffle fanatic. The earthy and salty flavors...with both crunchy and silken textures was perfectly balanced. A great dish and one that I will be attempting to replicate in my own kitchen very soon.
Continuing with our Primi...Rigatoncini Carbonara with Egg, Guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon), Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano. I find it difficult to find places that actually prepare their pasta al dente. "To the tooth" should be exactly that. Here...it was. Many people might have found the texture of this pasta to be a little too al dente, but in fact, it was truly what "al dente" should be. Another pet peeve of mine is overly sauced pasta preparations. Once again, I was pleased when the pasta was the star of this dish, not being overwhelmed by excess sauce. Do not misunderstand...i love a good sauce as much as the next girl...probably more...but the pasta is not meant to SWIM in sauce...it is meant to merely take a quick dip in the shallow end. This dish spent the appropriate time in the pool.
We moved on to the Branzino. While the fish was expertly prepared, the side was a bit disappointing. The parsley potatoes seemed like an afterthought really. While al dente is my preferred pasta preparation...it's NOT preferable for my potato. Also, a decided lack of seasoning on the potatoes hurt my foodster feelings. Certainly not representative of the meal, so perhaps it was just a mea culpa. Had the Gnudi been served on the side, I would have turned culinary cartwheels.
To finish..we chose a dessert on the lighter side. I love Panna Cotta in all forms. This was airy, light, and accompanied by macerated sour cherries. Nice. With a nice little glass of Moscato d'Asti (the REAL stuff...from Piedmont...you know...with acidity and flavor??), the Panna Cotta was a great finish to an almost flawless meal. In the mood to take a little day trip? Mercato is worth the drive...and then some.