Bar Mercado (Inman Park) – Smaller is Better

Pisto Brusels & Burrata_0386This was my first time at Bar Mercado and I really liked the vibe, the energy and the overall setting. I am a big fan of Spanish tapas since they usually offer bright and complex flavors. With four people, this would give us a chance to sample a few of the dishes.

We ordered several of the smaller tapas.

There were two outstanding vegetable options. The ARTICHOKES ($6.5) were crispy artichokes, topped with lemon-garlic aioli. They were lightly salted, perfectly crisped and offered great flavor and textural contrast. I rate this dish a 10.

The second outstanding choice was the SETAS ($9) (oyster mushroom, sherry, herbs). The Spanish have perfected sherry complementing mushrooms and the variety at BM was fantastic. The addition of sprigs of thyme added more complexity to the dish I loved these two choices and give this dish a 10+.

Less to my liking was the PISTO ($11.5) (burrata, brussels, delicata squash, tomato and bell pepper, tomato bread). This is better described as a stew with chunks of a few vegetables in a rich tomato sauce. The sauce completely overwhelmed all the other components to the point, other than the Brussels sprouts, none were distinguishable. I can only give this dish a 4.

We also ordered, but I did not try, the ENSALADA ($8) (local greens, shaved brussels, pear, pomegranate, spiced pecan, manchego, tarragon vinaigrette). The others were enjoying this so much while I was eating the artichokes and mushrooms, I did not have a chance to sample. They all loved it.

We also ordered two of the larger seafood plates.

The LOBSTER PAELLA ($18) (Maine lobster, chicken, chorizo, bomba rice) was very good but contained very little lobster meat; I did notice one claw. The rice was cooked with some offering a little crunch on the outside (it is supposed to) and there was a good rich flavor. I would rate this an 8.

The bad news was the last dish and how the server handled the situation. The GAMBAS AL AJILLO ($11.5) head-on shrimp, garlic, sherry, ciabatta were inedible and the two of us who took a bit of the shrimp both stopped eating them. They were mushy and very fishy, I would venture they were borderline rancid. When the server came over I told her, “the shrimp are bad, they are mushy and fishy and you should tell the chef to check them since I think they may be rancid.” She thanked me.

Overall, we had a great time at Bar Mercado. We will definitely return, choose some of our favorites from this visit and try others. Most of the dishes were excellent, but the shrimp was a real downer.

 

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Consulate (Atlanta) – Some Really Good Options (Zambia)

When another couple asked for a recommendation for new spot to go for dinner, we thought The Consulate would be a great choice. On our other visit we really liked the vibe, the food was delicious, plus sharing tapas would give us lots to choose from. The special country that half the menu would focus on was Zambia. I have never been, so I had no idea about the cuisine and was excited to try. We were a little concerned about the spiciness of the Zambian cuisine, but there was zero to worry about, it was more about flavors than spiciness.

We ordered a few items from the Zambia side of the menu and some from the regular.

The Cucumber Mango Salad ($12) included red onion, cilantro, baby spinach, cherry tomato, cumin, cinnamon, peanuts, clove, sprinkled with lime juice. This refreshing dish boasted both tangy and flavorful components and would have been much better with riper and sweeter mangoes. Given the under-ripeness of the main ingredient I can only rate this a 7.

The Sauteed Chinese Eggplant ($10) was served with red pepper, basil, garlic in a ginger sauce. The eggplant was ultra-soft from the sautée, while the red pepper strips were firm and crisp. I really liked the combination with the ginger sauce. I rate this dish an 8.

The Piri Piri Roasted Cauliflower ($12) was a simple head of cauliflower sprinkled with smoke paprika, rosemary, garlic and oil. You take a knife and cut into sections and enjoy. This was our favorite of the appetizers with the crispiness of the stalks and the pungent toppings. I give this a 9

We moved to the larger plates and we ordered a few. Unfortunately, several were not in the same league as the smaller plates.

My favorite was the Korean Pulled Duck Confit ($17), which was served a la tartare in a cylindrical shaped mound with a few crostinis. It included slowly cooked pork with chunks of butternut squash, dried cranberries, garlic, scallions, encased in a Korean bbq sauce. The flavors were incredibly rich and I would order again. One person at the table thought the sauce was a little too sweet. I rate this dish a 9.

The dish from Zambia we ordered was Zambezi Chicken Cutlet ($14) served with crushed peanuts and topped with an African Groundnut sauce. This was a basic breaded cutlet with a little sauce on top. I was underwhelmed by the dish but the sauce was interesting for a 6.

The only two dishes were really not to my liking.

The Char Siu BBQ Pork ($12) was oven roasted, with five-spice powder and served with a dark honey glaze. This dish should not have left the kitchen. There was so much fat and sinew in our pieces, it was either a big seller and we received the left-overs or the kitchen did not notice the poor slices. The sauce was delicious though and I will give it a 3 for the sauce.

The other non-recommended dish is the Pan Fried Shrimp Dumplings ($11) stuffed with both Chinese Black Fungus Wood Ear and Shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, carrots, celery, ginger and served with a sauce. The highlight of the dish was the wrappers, which were excellent, but the stuffing was tasteless and was screaming for an identity. I also rate this a 3.

After reading other reviews we expected, found and accepted, and will confirm we experienced many during our visit.  We were 20 minutes late getting seated and the hostess was not transparent in her assessments. The service during the meal was incredibly slow, with long pauses before we started and at several intervals. Our server, though, was very good, she knew the menu inside-out, made recommendations and checked in often, as did the manager. We will definitely return to the Consulate, we loved the vibe and most of the food.

Thrive (Atlanta) – Good Option Pre-State Farm Event

We were heading to a concert at State Farm and this is our normal choice. When we arrived, we were asked if we wanted a “shared” table or one by ourselves. We decided on a solo table, it was a little strange and caught us by surprise but it appears the restaurant has many enjoy a community experience.

We were brought menus and the first thing we noticed were they were not the same. There were a couple of missing items and the one we were finally given had prices $2-3 more than the others. My gut tells me they have more expensive options when there is an event at State Farm.

With all of the recent complaints about slow service, I was a bit nervous about our 615 reservation and catching the beginning of the 8:00 concert at SF. We decided we would order all the dishes to be served simultaneously. Other than an initial miscommunication the server was excellent throughout the meal. Likewise, the food arrived in a reasonable amount of time, so we did not experience the angst others have mentioned.

We started with the “Springer Mtn Chicken Potstickers,” which included six packets of chicken with Ginger, and shiitake mushrooms, served with lemongrass Sambal, and Ponzu sauces. I would describe these as boring and tasteless. Thankfully they topped the dish with some pickled vegetables, which was the other positive. The Ponzu was not to my liking but at least the Sambal had some flavor. I would not recommend this dish.

I also ordered the “Rainbow Roll” with crab, cucumber, avocado, all topped with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, shrimp, and a touch of Teriyaki Sauce, plus a “Pink A Boo Roll” with tuna, salmon, shrimp, crab, avocado, encased in a pink soy wrap, served with spicy plum sauce. This is not a sushi restaurant, but a restaurant that serves sushi, but it is a good light choice before an event at SF. It was OK, nothing special. Would I order again, maybe.

We actually had time for coffee and tea and the espresso was very good.

Overall, it is a reasonable place for a pre-event dinner, not a destination restaurant.

The Grove (Lakewood Ranch) – Not Memorable Cuisine

My wife and I decided to try the Grove in Lakewood Ranch. Overall, the setting was great, the service was friendly and courteous, but my meal could have been much better.

We started with the Tomato Jam Flatbread ( $8). This was a basic flatbread with the tomato jam (replacing marinara) and topped with mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and basil. It is a good sharing dish, but nothing memorable. The jam overwhelmed to the other ingredients. I would rate this a 3.

My wife ordered the filet and she said it was very good. The side salad she requested was quite large.

I decided on the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($25) which was described as blue crab, tomato horseradish coulis, and slaw. When it was delivered to the table I was a little surprised as the normal domed-shape crab cake was more a potato pancake / Smashburger. It was flattened to a pancake shape. It was barely cooked, borderline room temperature and the flavor was not to my liking; it was bitter and overly salted, not allowing any of the carb flavor to shine. The scant amount of coulis was OK and the slaw was nothing special. This was not a well-executed or tasty option. The fries that accompanied the dish were also less than well-executed. Most were stuck together and those that were separate, benefitted greatly from the ketchup. I would rate this dish a 1.

With the patio fully occupied, I will chalk my experience to a bad few minutes in the kitchen and will give it another shot, but I will move to different choices.

Mediterraneo (Sarasota) – Great Pasta, Timing from Kitchen Needs Work

A few couples went to Mediterraneo in Sarasota. It was completely packed on a Saturday night, it was full of hustle and bustle and we really enjoyed the evening.

Once seated, the server immediately brings a plate of Bruschetta, toasts topped with diced tomatoes. It was delicious and was a good preamble to the remainder of the meal.

I ordered the Polpo (Grilled octopus over green peas pesto puree) ($15) and the Linguine Nere (Black linguine/ shrimp/ spicy tomato sauce) ($18.50).

The appetizer arrived in record time, which was a little surprising. It was one long tentacle sitting atop the pea puree. The temperature of the octopus was a little concerning, the thicker part of the tentacle was very hot and the thinner part was served luke warm. It was not possible in the short time between the order and the delivery for this to have been prepared to order. In addition, it was overwhelmed with salt. Overall, I was disappointed with the octopus but the pea puree was delicious.

The squid ink pasta, on the other hand, was excellent. While the pasta was just a tad overcooked (personal preference), the sauce was fantastic. The menu and the server (a nice touch) both mentioned that the sauce was  “spicy,” it offered just a little spice, but nothing to be concerned about. The shrimp were firm and tasty, albeit on the smaller side. Overall, I really enjoyed this dish.

The timing from the kitchen needs a ton of work. When my wife was barely finished with her salad, they ripped the plate from the table and placed the entrées. The was absolutely zero time (if there was a negative time concept, this would be it) between the appetizer and entrée course. This was very bad form on a Saturday night.

We will definitely return to Mediterraneo and ask the server to ensure there is a 15-20 minute gap between appetizer completion and entrée start.