Mercatino- Upmarket Digs, Downmarket Food


Mercatino is the new restaurant that is open underground at 201 Portage Avenue. It’s part of their renovation and creation of a conference center in the basement.

Over the years I’ve gone through the underground at Portage and Main, hundreds if not thousands of time. I’ve also eaten many times at the various restaurants and food courts. The food court at 201 Portage is the one I’ve visited the least, but I’ve still purchased a few meals there. My favourite food place in that food court would have been Deek’s chicken of 20 years ago. At the time they served a rather nice roast chicken dinner.

Mercatino TV

There’s a really big TV down by Mercatino, where you can catch up on all sorts of sporting news. I’m sure it will be popular when the Winter Olympics start.

When I saw them close the area off and start to renovate I was curious as to what kind of food would be available once the renovations were finished. After the renovations were finished, I noticed that there was only one restaurant, Mercatino, and it looked a lot like Marcello’s. One of the things that also caught my eye was that it had a lot of tubs of candy and chips, etc. such as you would find at a convenience store.

Although I had been waiting to see what the restaurant choices might be, the first thing I noticed was the dining area. The old area, had been lots of dark would and comfortable chairs, almost a Food Court meets Sir John’s kind of vibe. The new is all light, bright, and white. There are several long communal tables, many of which are equipped with plugs and USB ports. That strikes me a bit like it’s allowing people to say “I’m not eating lunch while working at my desk, I’m eating lunch while working in the lounge.” There are a couple of couches scattered around as well. On the whole the area is quite inviting and a definite upgrade on the previous surroundings.

Mercatino seating

In one corner there is a couch with a coffee table and out of shot at the front more seating.

Mercatino sofa and chairs

Another sofa along with some comfortable chairs.

All in all they’ve done a fantastic job with the renovations as far as the decor is concerned. As far as the food is concerned that’s a different story entirely. I will say starting off, that the one thing I didn’t try was the buffet. It’s $1.99/100g, so that’s pretty much the same as Marcello’s, but to get bang for your buck you can only order lightweight(literally) food.

Mercatino Meals

Mercatino advertises itself as fresh, fast food. Technically, I guess, they can say that. However, fresh also implies getting the best flavour out of the food, and here, Mercatino falls well short. Before I get into that I’ll say some of the things I liked about Mercatino.

First off, if you are dining out and your main concern is quantity versus price, Mercatino delivers quite well on that. All the dishes I tried delivered a substantial portion and a more than reasonable price. Mercatino is a Calgary based restaurant, and for their coffee they have chose to go with a Calgary based roaster, Fratello. They serve a very tasty Americano and you get it in various sizes starting with an 8 oz. The coffee prices are in line with any of the other local specialty shops. The raisin bread with cinnamon butter was also quite good.

Mercatino Americano.

A quite good Americano from Mercatino.

The staff are friendly and helpful. The place is also adequately staffed so there are always people around to take your order etc. Unfortunately, that’s where the good ends. The rest barely rises to the level of mediocrity.

On my first visit I decided to order the Udon noodle bowl special. One thing about the menu that seems a little odd is that there seems to be one dish from every major world cuisine, (taken in it’s broadest terms. When it comes to preparation, the Udon noodle bowl reminded me of something I would get from Bodegoes. As I watched it being prepared, it seemed to take a fair bit of time to put together, and when I went to eat it, it just seemed to be a mushy mess. Other than the fact that the noodles themselves were Udon, there was nothing about the dish that suggested any sort of Japanese heritage. This was one of the worst two or three meals that I’ve had dining out. It’s only because I don’t like to throw out food that I finished it.

Mercatino Udon Bowl.

There was nothing distinctive as far as flavour in this bowl, and the overall feeling was one of mush.

Yesterday, I went back for a second visit. This time I chose two items. The first was a Lemon Vegetable Soup, and the second was the Truffle Bacon Mac and Cheese. Of all the dishes I ordered over my visits, the soup was the best after the raisin toast. The vegetables were not crunch, but not soft, and while the lemon didn’t come through all that strongly, the over all flavour and texture was quite pleasant.

Lemon Vegetable Soup Mercatino

A fairly tasty,and reasonably filling bowl of Lemon Vegetable Soup.

I didn’t take a picture of the mac and cheese. It was less overcooked than the Udon Bowl was, but the macaroni was still very much on the soft side. The other thing about the dish was that it was very salty. When it comes to the overcooked nature of the dishes, it seems that they are precooked and then tossed into a saute pan when an order is place. This final process seemed to take quite a few minutes, which may be what causes the dishes to be overcooked.

Mercatino Breakfast

I wasn’t particularly satisfied with either of my meals, but I decided to make a third trip and see if breakfast would be any different. It was, a little.

I ordered the Bacon Sandwich on an English Muffin. I could see when I place my order that the eggs and bacon were pre-cooked and sitting in a warming tray.

Mercatino breakfast sandwich

The Bacon and Egg Breakfast sandwich from Mercatino.

It’s good that they used real and not processed cheese for the sandwich. Unfortunately as everything is left in a warming tray, and then cold mayonnaise is added as a dressing, the overall effect was to serve a room temperature kind of sandwich. The feeling of biting into a hot sandwich with maybe a bit of egg yolk running is what makes an Breakfast Sandwich appealing. The ingredients here were all good, but they don’t quite work together as they should.

Finally, I ordered a Raisin Bread with Cinnamon Butter. This was actually quite nice. The cinnamon came through in the flavour, but was not overly strong.

Mercatino Raisin Bread

The Raisin Bread with Cinnamon Butter was the culinary highlight of my trips to Mercatino. It was good, but it shouldn’t be the high point, because while it’s good it’s not outstanding.

One thing I noticed as I visited the Mercatino website is that this is the sixth restaurant that they’ve opened in the last five years. Perhaps they’ve overreached themselves in being able to monitor the quality of all the locations. Mercatino could be quite a good edition to the Portage and Main area. However, for now I’d say grab a coffee and enjoy the decor, but give it a pass on the food until they’ve had a chance to work on improving the quality.

Mercatino Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

 

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Mercatino- Upmarket Digs, Downmarket Food

  1. I have very little experience with eating out, so am reluctant to expound . . . but I sort of make my own “fast food restaurant” when it comes to sausage and bacon. I slow cook up a bunch at once, and then just keep it in the refrigerator, and parcel out in small amounts. I reheat in a covered 8-inch, non-stick frying pan on the stove, and the result is just as if it were freshly prepared.

    Enough additional grease comes out to provide a film for the pan to then cook an egg or two in the same pan – if needed, add a small nurdle of butter. It is easy to fry, scramble, poach, or make a simple omelette in about three minutes. A couple of pieces of raisin bread in the toaster; a glass of orange juice or a piece of fruit, and a full-course breakfast is available in no time.

    A variety of delicious breads can be used to vary this breakfast, along with biscuits, cornbread, gingerbread, or even French toast. If you like cinnamon toast, mix a bit of cinnamon into some sugar and put it in a shaker for individual uses. It is delicious on top of hot toast with freshly-melted butter on it.

    I don’t care much for hard-boiled eggs as a breakfast, but if you want to focus on the accompaniments, a couple of previously hard-boiled eggs can provide the protein while you make something yummy to go along with them. Or fry up a hamburger patty, or ham slice in place of the eggs.

    So many possibilities, I’m making my mouth water, and I’ve just finished eating my own breakfast !

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been cooking delicious meals for so long, that it always pains me to pay good money for what usually turns out to be not-so-good food at a restaurant. My best advice is to invest in a couple of really good quality pans so that clean up doesn’t become so onerous as to preclude partaking of delicious, homemade food.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoy dining out because that’s when I learn from their mistakes and will try their dishes in my kitchen. Its cheaper as well. I enjoy reading your posts. Mark was a chef and before he would let anything our of the kitchen, he would practice until it was perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s