Mercato has opened a second location in Calgary. Located in West Springs (near Coach Hill), the new family-friendly spot is not your average suburban restaurant, but West Springs isn’t your typical Calgary suburb either — this much is apparent by the sheer quantity of Mercedes and Range Rovers parked out front.
The new market and restaurant space is stark compared to the cozier Mission location. With exposed ductwork, high ceilings and an industrial garage door, the expansive room lacks the intimacy of its counterpart, but scores bonus points for featuring an antique Piaggio Ape truck in the centre of the dining room.
Even though the space is dramatically different, the food remains delicious (and for now, the menu remains the same). Arriving for our 7 p.m. reservation on a busy Friday, my husband and I are led to a spot along Mercato’s large zigzag counter (extra zigs mean more corners for conversation). Like 4th Street, the counter surrounds an open kitchen where the pounding of carpaccio and simmering of sauce is in plain view. The sights and smells are maddening — I yearn for every dish being made.
We start our dinner with cozze (mussels, $18). Served in a small, white, cast-iron pot, the dish features fresh mussels in a white wine broth spiked with jalapeno and rustic chunks of pancetta. Topping the dish is a grilled blood orange — a suggested hit of citrus to enhance flavour. The combination of ingredients is fantastico — the jalapeno adds a kick of heat to the sweet of the broth, and the pancetta adds a lovely punch of salt. The only thing missing is something to sop up this brothy magic. I think our server forgot the focaccia.
For our pasta order we try Mercato’s famous tagliatelle, ($15 half order, $23 full order). If you’ve never had this dish, you should. At first glance, the ingredients read like a basic pomodoro sauce, but it’s the simple dishes that are often the trickiest to perfect and, when executed well, guaranteed to impress. And I’m impressed. Crowned with large shavings of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, the handmade al dente pasta is perfection. Tossed in a light, savoury sauce, this dish sings with small bites of tomatoes, fresh basil and a nice dash of heat.
For our main course we get the bistecca (rib steak, $39/$76). Plated on a wood board, this single cut of beef ($39) is more than enough for two people. Topped with fresh arugula, grilled lemons and grey sea salt , the steak is cooked to a perfect medium rare and sliced for convenient serving. The great thing about this dish is the mix of flavours — the arugula is peppery and vibrant, the lemon is sweet and tart, and together they enhance the flavour of the rich beef. It’s a tantalizing take on steak.
On the side we try Mercato’s prosciutto-wrapped asparagus ($16), and like everything else, it’s pretty damn perfect. The asparagus is fat and fresh and the prosciutto is crisp and rich. It’s definitely on the pricey side, but worth it if you feel like splurging.
I’m stuffed by the end of this spectacular meal, but simply cannot pass on the lemon panna cotta ($8) — it’s just too tempting. It turns out to be the perfect dish to end with — the custard is silky and surprisingly light, with just the right amount of lemon and fresh vanilla bean. Bravo.
I can’t say I’ll be back to the West Springs Mercato due to its suburban location, but I can say that the food is worth the trip. Head chef Taylor Gant has done a splendid job bringing Mercato’s cuisine to life in the ’burbs. And for those in the surrounding communities, it’s a nice option for fine dining.