When she first moved to Philly, the GF lived across the street from Varga. And while we heard great things about sister restaurant, Mercato, for some reason we never popped in, though we have been to Varga's other sister restaurant, Valanni. But with our good friends living nearby, we decided to finally stop by to celebrate my boy J's bday. And being that Mercato's BYO, we brought a few wines to start the night off.
Dining inside is close quarters and homey. But we decided to go al fresco and enjoy the late July breeze. We had plans to go out after, so apologies in advance for the camera pics (Samsung S6 Edge).
Dinner started off with some Italian bread, along with whipped ricotta and olive oil with pepper sprinkled on top.
Trio of Bruschetta [$12]
We ordered two of the bruschetta to share among two couples. The 2nd came a bit late though because our server may not have heard or understand that we wanted two orders. That being said, the 2nd order did come out fairly quickly thereafter. The whipped ricotta and pickled watermelon was definitely my favorite, with the acid providing some balance amidst the rich, creamy ricotta. The chicken rillette with peas was nice, though the pears and figs ate somewhat sweet for my carnivorous tastes.
Pan Seared Jersey Scallops [$30]
Roasted eggplant puree, golden raisins, tomato agrodolce, arugula
With the exception of the belly of this pig, the rest of the diners had the scallops. They were sweet, seared well, and nicely seasoned. The roasted eggplant puree provided some "meaty" undertones, but was balanced by the sweet and sour from the golden raisins and the agrodolce.
Short Rib Ragu [$23.50]
Ricotta gnocchi, broccoli rabe, shaved locatelli, truffle oil
The truffle oil was the faintest of faint and I was completely fine with that. I wasn't fine with the fact that the short rib was incredibly chewy and lacked any salt. The bed of broccoli rabe was a nice counterpoint to the heft of the beef, but again, there was a general lack of seasoning. The ricotta gnocchi were also a bit tough. Generally a disappointing dish.
Despite the misstep with the bruschetta, service was good overall. Dinner was very relaxed and timing was great. However, I'll admit that I went away from this cash-only meal a bit disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were a bit high going in? I'll need to stop by again to give Mercato a fair chance, but in a city with plenty of BYO options, consistent execution is always appreciated.