Back in mid-August, I met up with two of my best girl friends for a catch-up meal at Italian eatery Mercato. This was actually my first restaurant meal since starting low-carb, so I was equal parts anxious and excited. Anxious, because eating out presents many challenges as a low-carber, but excited because I enjoy hanging out with my friends so food often becomes a secondary thing when the evening is really about getting together, sharing laughs, stories, and making new memories.
Mercato is located in the hip Mission district, its corner location prominent and hard to miss. I’ve passed by Mercato numerous times; I often drive past it on my way home from the market. The place is always packed with groups of people enjoying themselves so there had to be something good going on in there, right? My friend Kris gushes about this place (I trust her opinion on Italian eateries because she is, in fact, Italian), which is why we chose to have our dinner there. What I didn’t know until I walked in is that they also have a market attached to the restaurant, so not only can you enjoy a meal, but you can do your shopping there as well.
We were seated near the window where we had a nice view of the dining room. The interior is dark, but warm; only a few tables were occupied, but it was still lively and vibrant. There’s ample seating at the bar and also around the open concept kitchen, where you can interact directly with the chefs. Their concept is family-style – all the dishes are meant to be shared instead of ordering individual entrees.
To start, we were given complimentary bread and olives. Not gonna lie, that bread looked mighty delicious. Just look at its pillowy softness! I was still craving carbs – especially breads and pastries – at that stage, so it was difficult not to give in. Kris actually noticed me staring longingly at the bread and had a good laugh at my expense. I guess that’s what I get for staring at bread like a crazy woman. My willpower was at full strength that evening, so I let my friends enjoy the bread and I tried not to stare too much at it. #lowcarbproblems
For sides, we chose two vegetable dishes – the Fagiolini (baby green beans with shallots, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and toasted pinoli), which Kris had raved about, and the Asparagi (grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto di Parma with lemon and olio). The green beans were indeed some of the best I’ve ever had. They were so fresh and still crisp, with a lovely caramelized onion flavour. The toasted pine nuts were a nice texture and flavour contrast to the beans as well. The asparagus was also quite delicious because anything wrapped in salty cured pork is a winner. They were perfect with a squirt of lemon to cut through the richness and saltiness of the prosciutto.
For our mains, we shared the Bistecca (Fiorentina style bone-in rib steak with rucola, lemon and olive oil) and the Pesce di Spada (grilled swordfish with a zucchini, wild arugula fregola and caperberry insalata). That steak was something special. It was cooked to the perfect temperature, it was tender, juicy, and full of meaty goodness. The lemon and course sea salt were the perfect accompaniment to the fatty, rich beef. I thought the swordfish was a bit plain, but cooked well. Overall, this giant board is a low-carber’s dream.
First low-carb restaurant meal success!
The portions are quite generous so we had a decent amount of leftovers to take home with us (mine didn’t last long as Mark promptly devoured the contents of my takeaway box). We were actually having so much fun that we didn’t notice that a couple of hours had passed until we were politely informed that the next party had arrived for their reservation at our table. We’re the types to linger and continue chatting long after the food has been eaten and we didn’t realize that we were limited to a 2-hour seating. Ah well, it was no problem for us. We hopped over to the coffee shop across the street to continue on with our evening.
I was pleasantly surprised by my first experience at Mercato. The prices are skewed to the higher end, but they make up for it with quality food and generous portions. We had great service throughout the evening. It wasn’t too difficult to find dishes that I was able to eat and my friends were so good about my new lifestyle that they stuck with things that I could have, even though I insisted that they get whatever they wanted (my friends are awesome). I love the family-style concept, the liveliness of the place as it gets filled with diners, and a nice selection of low-carb friendly dishes. I will definitely return to Mercato again, because where else can I get a giant steak served on a giant cutting board?
2224 4 St SW
Calgary, AB T2S1W9
Phone: (403) 263-5535