Just got back from an enjoyable evening at Merkato 55. The decor was warm and attractive - dark wood with African accents such as lamps made of thin strands of the small white shells that you often see in African jewelry. The upstairs room, where my friend and I sat, was dominated by two enormous bunches of pussy willow branches jutting out of rustic vases.
Our waitress was perky and endearingly eager to please. She described in detail every item on the menu except for the sides - the breads, chutneys, small plates, entrees, etc. We found this unusual and a bit tedious since much of the information was already written. We ordered (much of it based on CH recs - thanks!) the African bread basket, apple coconut yogurt, falafel, lobster salad, chickpea dumplings, lamb meatballs and a side of collards, in case we didn't get enough veggies.
The bread basket came with a spiced corn bread, sesame coated pitas, and a zatar bread. The zatar bread was the best with one side nicely crisped, and the inside chewy. The other two were tasty but ordinary. The apple yogurt was a sweet accompaniment. The falafels were delicate and flavorful, but not special enough to justify $7.
The lobster salad was a treat. There was a decent amount of tender meat mixed with chopped vegetables such as water cress and scallions, and a creamy, slightly nutty base, and topped with a lobster claw and a wedge of grapefruit. Unfortunately, I hate scallions, so I couldn't enjoy the dish as fully as I'd have liked, but it was a minor deterrent.
Next came the chickpea dumplings and lamb meatballs. The chickpea dumplings were fluffly, like good gnocci and nicely charred, so that each bite had a flavor of toasted cumin. They were tossed with swiss chard, smoked chickpeas, tiny cubes of salty potatoes, small round flakes of a grain I couldn't identify, and some herb with a floral flavor. It was a dish with many layers of textures and flavors - great comfort food. The lamb meatballs were also good. They were served on a bed of couscous with a tomato-based sauce, and a fried egg. The meatballs had a strong lamb flavor, and were very firm in a pleasing way. The best part was having runny egg on each bite of meatball. There were also currants in the sauce to provide a fruity contrast to the acidity of the sauce and the richness of the meat.
We were too full for dessert. The service was attentive and friendly from the hostess to the busboys. I'd like to try the pistachio lassi some time. Thanks again Chowhounds for your dish recommendations - they were spot on.
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