I always approach a restaurant that I love with trepidation. The memory of a great meal past might be entirely replaced by the reality of a subsequent bad meal, and the nostalgia, the lingering memory of the first experience, the one that made your mouth water, is forever gone.
Well, that was a bit dramatic. But it’s a real disappointment to go to a place that you thought was wonderful and get a meal that was just ok.
I became a fan of Mercato in Red Hook, up the Hudson River in Dutchess County in August last year. We went there after an ill-conceived visit to the Dutchess County Fair, where we had spaghetti and meatballs on a stick and fried ravioli, among other “specialties”. Nowhere to be seen were the prize-winning pies and jams. It was just, well. Hot and ugly. There. I said it. So our dinner at Mercato that night was beautiful. I can’t remember what we ate, but it was beautiful, and the impression stayed with me and made me excited.
We revisited Mercato last weekend — it was the one restaurant I had to go to during a short trip to the area. I was going to just enjoy my meal, but then I read in the special’s board that chef Francesco Buitoni was a semi-finalist for a James Beard award this year (under Best Chef: Northeast category), so I decided to take pictures as well.
And to report. I am not giving up on Mercato. Yet. Our meal was not bad, just not great. I will go back soon enough as we’ll be summering (and springing) in the area.