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The latest in a series of tapas joints to grace Manhattan kicked-off Tuesday evening after a number of setbacks and massive speculation (myself included).  Of course I had to see this with my own eyes.  Opening night and Noho’s newest resident was abuzz, brimming with tapas loyalists, gourmet groupies and trendy types.  Every chair was taken in the narrow 90-seat space, industrially-outfitted with unfinished wood tables, brick walls and an eating counter with a view into a white subway-tiled open kitchen: think Casa Mono meets Boqueria on a dimmer.  But Mercat’s most inviting accessory was a centerstage ham-and-cheese station, which will no doubt allure potential loiterers (myself included).

Owner & native Barcelonian, Jaime Reixach, has enlisted chefs David Seigal (Bouley) & Ryan Lowder (Jean Georges) to employ his Catalan-inspired vision of small plates, which take the form of snails & chorizo skewers and sepia ink-stained noodles. While the menu’s peppered with the usual suspects – padron peppers, patatas bravas & salt-cod fritters – some dishes weren’t as markedly Spanish on paper: guinea hen with wax beans & cranberries and grilled hanger steak with roasted vegetables & horseradish.  The wine list is entirely Spanish, hosting five white & red wines by the glass as well as a vivacious strawberry-red cava that makes for the perfect you-can-wait-at-the-bar aperitif.

While the fare’s not as boldly seasonal as Boqueria or relentlessly authentic as Tia Pol, Mercat will likely succeed in the clamorous pursuit of tapas.  For starters, the house-cured salt cod fritters prove atypically light & fluffy: battery, salt cod-spiked pillows emit an irresistible and undeniably funnel cake-like fragrance (in a good way).  I received further funnel cake confirmation from a neighboring table.  A platoon of “stringy potatoes”, cradling a fried egg, also whisked me back to the potato stix of my youth.

Dusted in cornmeal, crispy sweetbread nuggets were pleasingly set on a vibrant backdrop of shaved fennel, capers, oranges & red onions.  The real standout was the monkfish a la plancha.  Simple but brilliantly flavorful, the monkfish proved flaky and moist, strewn on a forest-green bed of terrifically fresh ramps and further elevated by a paprika-tinged romesco sauce.  The only thing missing from the dish was a hunk of bread to lap up the remains of the smoky romesco.

But neither a bouillabasse nor a stew, the Catalan fisherman’s stew sadly ran adrift in a shallow bowl of mussels with one lone, head-on shrimp, wading in an overly garlicky, oil-drenched sauce.  While the churros suffered a sugar-coated death, the melted chocolate was dangerously drinkable.  Though there are some noticeable kinks, Mercat holds much promise.  Besides, the hip masses pouring through the door certainly didn’t seem to mind any opening night wrinkles.

45 Bond St., btwn. Lafayette & Broadway

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl

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