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Merkato 55

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Bijoux Emerges From the Shadows

Like all hot spots these days, the lounge under Merkato 55 is accessed through a “private” door and a service hallway

Charlie Trotter Details Emerge; Frank Bruni's Cross-Country Trip

The first details on Charlie Trotter’s still-unnamed restaurant on Madison Square Park emerge: It will have 80 seats as well as a bar and lounge. [NYT] Merkato 55 may be turning New Yorkers on to African cuisine, but there have been plenty of excellent, albeit under-the-radar, restaurants offering the continent’s cuisine for years. [TONY] Related: Merkato 55’s Most Popular Dish: Doro Wat The Modern’s new wine director, Belinda Chang, is the kind of sommelier we want to be someday: “I’m definitely obsessed with magnums. They’re so fun to pour!” [NYS]

Merkato 55’s Most Popular Dish: Doro Wat

Merkato 55, Marcus Samuelsson’s tribute to the pan-African cookery, has only been open a few weeks, but already one dish has begun to break out — and oddly, it’s the most traditional thing on the menu. Doro wat, chef Andrea Berquist tells us, is essentially the national dish of Ethiopia, “so there was a lot of pressure to do it well. But I’m happy with it. It’s definitely our most popular dish. I did 50 orders just last night!”

Another Triumph for Dovetail; Another Disappointment for Bar Boulud

Citing cleverness, finesse and his own “hugely positive” experiences eating there, Frank Bruni gives Dovetail three stars to go along with Adam Platt’s. [NYT] Related: This Dove Flies Poor Bar Boulud, on the other hand, continues to get pilloried. Randall Lane gives it only three stars (of six), and no doubt it would be a lot worse if not for the world-class charcuterie. [TONY] Related: Daniel Disappoints Restaurant Girl, too, got her licks in on BB, giving it two stars (of four) for Syrah-heavy sauces, unreliable service, and mishandled snails and tartare. This has got to be killing Boulud. [NYDN]

Merkato 55 Opens Tonight — and Here's a Sneak Preview of the Food

Merkato 55 is only a few hours from opening, and it has been covered from nearly every angle except the most interesting one: What will the “Pan-African” food we’ve been hearing about actually look like? These first images of some of what will be Merkato’s signature dishes represent chef Marcus Samuelsson’s vision, as executed by chef Andrea Bergquist. So what should we get, we asked Bergquist? Her answer was direct: “Start off with the kodogo bar. It’s something special that you’re not going to find anywhere else in New York: 25 different small bites from the continent of Africa. It’ll be like a trip around Africa — or, at least, we hope so.” We hope so, too.

Meatpacking Makeover: Pizza Bar to Go Dry; Gin Lane to Make Way for a Restaurant

We’ve learned from nightlife broker Alex Picken that Pizza Bar has been bought out by its landlord and is likely to be repurposed for dry use. “Meatpacking rents have gone up,” says Picken. “You’ve got guys paying peanuts, and you’ve got fashion stores paying the cheese.” (Landlords are asking as high as $300 a square foot, we hear.) Picken has also heard that the space that recently housed Gin Lane is acquiring a new lease holder who will turn it into more of a restaurant. Picken, a meatpacking expert of sorts, is unfamiliar with the operators, so we probably aren’t talking about Kyky and Unik, who were recently bought out of PM and are experiencing delays with Merkato 55. More meatpacking movement: UrbanDaddy has the scoop on a new French restaurant operated by the owners of new club Kiss & Fly. It’s called Bagatelle — that’s a French word, not a portmanteau meaning “douche-bag clientele.” Related: In the Bag [UrbanDaddy] Meatpacking Rent Party: Lotus and Pizza Bar for Sale Breaking: Avalon Closed 'For Reservations,' Other Clubs Bite the Bullet

Crosby Connection Will Rise Again; Los Dados the Last Breath of Meatpacking

Meatpacking District: With the wave of recent restaurant and nightlife closings, this area seems doomed, but Los Dados and long-delayed Merkato 55 might be able to salvage the hip destination, at least "on its western perimeter." [Zagat] Midtown East: Midtown Lunch finagled a sneak peak of Sakae Sushi’s conveyor belt and loses his cool: "If you’ve been to an outlet overseas, you may end up disappointed by the first US location which lacks some of the uniqueness or ‘cool’ factor of the locations in Asia. That’s because they felt a more subdued location would be more appealing to the clientele of Midtown.… Even when we get something cool, we get screwed." [Midtown Lunch] Park Slope: Lebanese Laila has closed, which doesn’t seem like a surprise since it was across the street from "the better, cheaper Olive Vine." [TONY] South Slope: The Fourth Avenue soup man has officially given up his spot in preparation for a new fancy condo. [Eat for Victory/VV] Upper West Side: China Fun is getting in on the New Year shill fest: Submit 500 words (or fewer) on why you want to celebrate the Year of the Rat at China Fun (info@chinafun-ny.com), and you could win a banquet for eight. West Village: After losing its lease, Italian sandwich destination Crosby Connection is moving from its hole-in-the-wall to an actual restaurant space a couple of blocks away. [The Gluttoness]

City Backs Down on Calorie-Info Law; Gordon Ramsay Accused of TV Fakery

The city, stared down by the adamant opposition of big restaurant chains, has pushed back implementation of its calorie-info law for three months. [NYP] The former manager of Dillons, the midtown restaurant to be “rescued” by Gordon Ramsay on his new show, is suing the chef, claiming the program was “a prime example of fake TV” with planted customers, rotten meat put out for dramatic effect, and worse. [NYP] The city’s best hamburgers are all the product of one great butcher, Pat LaFrieda, whose custom grinds, though secret, are geared to each restaurant’s cooking methods. [Men’s Vogue]