Mercer Kitchen

147 Mercer Street, New York NY 10012; map; 212-966-5454; jean-georges.com
Service: Business casual
Setting: A modern, subterranean space
Cost: Three (big!) courses, $26

The dining landscape has changed a lot on the corner of Prince and Mercer in the last decade and a half. I used to work in an office in 575 Broadway—the building that now houses Lure in its basement. Lure is coming up on its six year anniversary, but prior to that, the space was the stage for several failed restaurant concepts. There have been others. Match was located up the street towards Houston and was briefly in vogue, characterized by its Asian fusion food and its red velvet ropes, pulsing music and nightclub vibe; there was Zoe, with wood-fired pizza that yuppies and businessmen breaking their Atkins diet would rave about. But even Jerry's is gone, a diner mainstay one would think could navigate recession. I mention these now-defunct restaurants because Mercer Kitchen, which has been open since 1998, has taken elements of each restaurant and has managed to survive where other have not. The majority of the menu remains French-influenced new American, but one can find some comfort food staples on the menu, as well.


Pizza is often offered on the Mercer Kitchen fixed-price lunch: $26 for three courses. I sampled a pie with taleggio cheese, pancetta, and delicate slivers of summer squash. The topping flavors were nicely integrated—the salty, smoky pancetta, mld creaminess from the cheese and fresh tasting squash. Unfortunately the crust was a bit of a letdown: pale and rather limp with little flavor.


I was most taken by the main course—a grilled hanger steak in a soy ginger sauce and some expertly wilted bok choy.


Not only was the beef perfectly cooked to medium rare, but it was sliced in two ways which had the remarkable effect of changing the experience. Piled in a mound in two layers, the top portion comes sliced with the grain and ate like a steak. But the bottom layer was sliced in long strips cut against the grain. The result tasted more like a Korean BBQ short rib or brisket.


For dessert, having had a pizza and a steak, I naturally went for the heaviest, most decadent dessert option—a strawberry pie sundae. It was magnificent. A thick disk of shortbread crust, scoop of vanilla ice cream ensconced in not-too-sweet strawberries in a tangy syrup, covered in whipped cream and accented with wisps of basil, it made a find end to the meal.


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