This venue is closed.
Merkato 55 isn’t an Ethiopian restaurant, exactly; it’s an “African” one. And it’s not opening on some distant corner of the Lower East Side; it’s on Gansevoort Street, in the epicenter of the meatpacking district. Opening chef Marcus Samuelsson’s reckless, slightly loony ambition, it seems, was to bring the jumbled palates and cuisines of an entire continent together under one roof and simultaneously to make them cool.
These days, the shelf life for the average disco–dining spot in the meatpacking district is about three months. But right now there’s no swankier destination in town for “Akara” shrimp fritters fried the way they might actually do it on the Nigerian coast, or plantain fufu, or a semi-believable approximation of stewed chicken doro wat, served in a cast-iron pot, with soft rolled Ethiopian injera bread. The big, two-story space even looks like an African restaurant, albeit one hatched in the fertile mind of a downtown–New York restaurant designer. Weird, twisting root arrangements are stuck here and there between the rows of black tabletops, and the lamps are hung with what look like strings of puka shells. Batik imprints of elephants and noble African faces line the walls, along with sanitized, blown-up images of exotic spice markets (the restaurant is named for a famous outdoor market in Ethiopia) and colorful, chaotic fish stalls.Note
The cocktails are named for various African dances. Try the vodka-laced Agbekor, spiced with a single floating chile pepper.Ideal Meal
Kifto tartare, octopus or chicken soup, spicy chicken doro wat, coconut-and-avocado milkshake.