Dark, stylish dining with enough errors in service and execution to make you wonder whether the Jean-Georges brand has been spread a little too liberally and a little too thin.
Because of its location on a particularly upscale stretch of Prince Street inside the Mercer Hotel, Mercer Kitchen can fill quickly on a Friday or Saturday night, full of glamorous clientele crowding the downstairs bar and squeezing into small tables before a night out. Yet for all of its bustle, the busy basement space is not churning out food worthy of much notice.
Most of the main courses are wildly overpriced for the quality of the dish, and a better meal can be easily constructed with a few market sides, appetizers, and a pizza. Though even after you've built a full meal out of the left side of the menu, your waitress may still look at you flatly and ask, "And for your entrees?" as one did at a recent visit. A big disappointment was the Warm Whole Artichoke whose lack of salt and thick mustard mayonnaise dip just destroyed the subtle flavor of the artichoke meat. We were so disillusioned after spending $15 on something we could have cooked at home far better for less than $4 that we didn't even bother making our way to the heart. Fortunately, the Kabocha Squash and Ricotta Toast was a soft and pleasant version of bruschetta, balancing the sweetness of the squash with spice and a thin, savory layer of ricotta. The Sashimi Salmon, Raw Bar offerings, and Carpaccio of Black Sea Bass with lime, coriander, and mint are also light and fresh dishes that grace many tables.
Continuing its success with raw food, the Raw Tuna and Wasabi pizza is a clever addition to a menu that appeals to its local, pretty masses, though the Black Truffle and Fontina Cheese pizza is likely the best on the menu. Its thin crust gets soft and soggy quickly, but a few bites of the rich mushroom flavor will make the texture easy to ignore.
Less easy to ignore are the flagrant errors in service from a staff that seems geared to turn over tables as quickly as possible. All of our appetizers, sides, and entrees arrived on the table far too quickly and all at once, forcing our server to crowd our two-top uncomfortably. The issue here, of course, is that by the time we made it to our main course, much of it had cooled. At one point, a staff member also swooped in and swiftly grabbed a plate with a bit of food left on it without saying a word like some sort of dish-seeking ninja, even though we were far from finished. With little reward to the overall meal, it makes one question if a dinner here was ever worth it. But if the bar scene and the dark, flattering space are what you're after, you'll be just fine.