Krog Street Mar­ket’s Bar Mer­cado worth a re­peat visit

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Re­mem­ber how you crawled out of your mother’s womb and, 20 years later, sashayed into the Ea­gle or Blake’s? Sud­denly, most of the con­fu­sion evap­o­rated. You felt at home. That hap­pened to me too, but it hap­pened again, in a stranger way, an­other 25 years later. I was sit­ting at a table over­look­ing the Alameda de Her­cules plaza in Sevilla, Spain, and I lit­er­ally re­al­ized that I felt like more of my­self than I ever had in my life. On that day I fell in love with the coun­try and wished to hell I could live there.

Some­how, Spain in­tensely binds the phys­i­cal and the psy­cho­log­i­cal. Fla­menco is the best ex­am­ple, but so is the food. I love to graze, to stuff dif­fer­ent fla­vors in my mouth. I love small plates – both the nib­bles of tapas and the larger, sharable por­tions called raciones. Ev­ery meal in Spain can be in­tense, even when grab­bing a snack from a street ven­dor at 2 a.m. in Madrid.

So you can un­der­stand why I was so ex­cited about the open­ing of

Bar Mer­cado at the Krog Street Mar­ket (99 Krog St., 404-480-4866, reser­va­tions taken, barmer­cadoatl.com).

It’s owned by the same peo­ple who op­er­ate the in­ven­tive Ibe­rian Pig and the high-priced Cooks and Sol­diers, as well as the Ital­ian Dou­ble Zero and Sugo. Mer­cado has taken over the space va­cated by the Cock­en­trice, which was di­rectly ac­ces­si­ble from the food hall. The vastly re­mod­eled, brightly-col­ored new space was in­spired by a restau­rant in a Madrid food hall. It is only ac­ces­si­ble out­side. Don’t get lost.

Chef John Castel­lucci, for­merly ex­ec­u­tive chef at Cooks and Sol­diers, has de­signed a menu of mainly ir­re­sistible tapas and raciones, di­vided into slices of cheeses and cured meats, as well as com­posed dishes of veg­gies, meats and seafood. Some are tra­di­tional, oth­ers are a bit Amer­i­can­ized, at least in my ex­pe­ri­ence. Con­sider the Cata­lan spinach. Here, Castel­lucci lightly sautées the spinach, but it’s still quite leafy. He adds pine nuts, radishes and golden raisins. It’s more like a salad than the ubiq­ui­tous “es­pinacas” in Spain. There, the spinach is usu­ally cooked to a vir­tual puree and of­ten stud­ded with bits of meat. Hon-

Novem­ber 10, 2017

es­tly, find­ing veg­gies in Barcelona was so dif­fi­cult that I once OD’d on meat and sought out a veg­e­tar­ian restau­rant. It turned out to be op­er­ated by Boomer-age Amer­i­can hip­pies serv­ing ut­terly passé con­coc­tions.

Castel­lucci pro­vides nu­mer­ous other veg­e­tar­ian tapas – or I prob­a­bly should say meat-free, since some con­tain cheese. Try the crispy ar­ti­chokes and (es­pe­cially) the seared egg­plant with saf­fron yo­gurt, black-olive caramel and fried chick­peas. There are clas­sic Above: The in­te­rior of Bar Mer­cado (Photo via Face­book) Left: The scal­lops at Bar Mer­cado are browned and hold their fla­vor in the face of gar­lic, cel­ery and a grape con­cen­trate called ar­rope. (Photo by Cliff Bo­s­tock) piquil­los stuffed with goat cheese and a shot of a usu­ally cod-based Viz­caina sauce. It’s not my favorite fla­vor. It es­pe­cially dis­turbed my braised oc­to­pus with pota­toes, pick­led red onions and chives. It didn’t help that the oc­to­pus was sig­nif­i­cantly over­cooked, mak­ing it my least favorite dish.

Among meat dishes, I loved the cro­quettes made with chicken, béchamel and mush­rooms. The beef meat­balls were shat­ter­ingly ten­der, served over a tomato sauce with pur­ple kale. There is house-made sausage with fresh and cured chorizo, chipolini onions and ap­ple cider. Scal­lops are quiv­er­ing but browned, and hold their fla­vor in the face of gar­lic, cel­ery and a grape con­cen­trate called ar­rope. Other dishes play with wagyu beef, hanger steak, Sapelo Is­land clams, pork ribs and much more. There’s even an al­ready-beloved ham­bur­guesa. I’m not telling what’s in it. Try it.

The menu also in­cludes my favorite white an­chovies and five cured meats and five cheeses. Un­for­tu­nately, I sam­pled none of these, want­ing to try mainly com­posed dishes this first visit. I’ll go back and you bet­ter go too.

Cliff Bo­s­tock is a for­mer psy­chother­a­pist now spe­cial­iz­ing in life coach­ing. Con­tact him at 404-518-4415 or cliff­bo­stock@gmail.com.

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