Like the hotel it occupies, The Merk arrived on the scene in a blaze of glory. Opened in January, The Merk is already gaining traction in the ultra competitive dining field of downtown San Diego. Designed by Pininfarina (they also design Ferraris, so you know it’s gonna be sexy) The Merk comes across as a trendy, must-be-seen at haunt.
The venue itself is divided into three sections in a long, narrow space, reminiscent of New York or Chicago. The main floor is the central dining area where the front of the house is open, mixing up the tables with long flowing, incredibly comfortable lounge seating running the length of the walls. These are so comfortable they literally settle to fit your bum like an orthopedic mattress. We are talking cozy here. The complimenting chairs are draped with a luxurious red cloth flowing to the floor, engulfing the chair itself, creating an illusion of free floating comfort. The back section of the dining area is more intimate with secluded booths and dim, sultry lighting. In between the sections rests a gorgeous bar area with a lustrous carnelian stone bar top that literally shimmers with light.
The upper level entices you with an acrylic bridge that separates two areas above. This glimmering gateway is a show stopper, running its length right above the bar area. You can’t help but stare up at it. The bridge divides a spacious banquet area from an isolated few tables. Downstairs at basement level is the rocking Minus 1 Lounge with a DJ to belt out the rhythms until the wee hours.
Even with all of this visual stimulation we came for the food and The Merk delighted us with their evolving menu and concepts. We started with some wine from the well done by-the-glass wine selection. Not going too grand we savored the Hall Cabernet which had a nice, spicy essence that danced on our palette. For appetizers we started with the Seared Scallop (baby greens and chopped romaine, roasted onion, gold and red peppers tossed with sweet garlic vinegar dressing, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds) pleasantly prepared and gave us delightful layers of texture with its components. The Cicorie Di Campagna (frisee lettuce heated in a pancetta dressing topped with crostini and poached egg) was an absolute showstopper. This treat subtly hypnotized us with its distinct flavor, consistency and uniqueness. The pancetta was a tasty and warmed salad made us all sigh with pleasure. We also tried their Minestrone soup which delivered on all counts. Completely house made with generous portions of vegetables and pasta.
For our entrees we sampled many from the nine menu offerings. We relished their Penne Pasta (marinara and meat balls), the Pesto Crusted Salmon (with asparagus and lemon butter sauce), the Chicken Feta (lightly crusted breast filled with feta, spinach, mushroom, basil and sundried tomato) and the Rib Eye Gorgonzola (charbroiled and sprinkled with gorgonzola and herbs). The penne was a spicy meatball treasure and a satisfying robust pasta treat. Rich, thick sauce and killer meat balls satiated all the senses. The salmon had a delicate crust adding a nice spin on the texture but lacked a little seasoning. The chicken was another hit with its exceptional blend of ingredients stuffed into its center. Every bite was a new sensation and the feta took it to another level entirely. The rib-eye rounded out the meal with a well cooked, very flavorful cut. The cauliflower gratin cake was a nice addition.
The desserts were just too tempting to pass up, so we didn’t shy away from the Espresso Chocolate Mousse (with cinnamon hazelnut biscotti) that was so incredibly rich, whether eating it straight up or dipping the biscotti. We also shared the Pear Galette (rustic tart steeped in brandy and topped with Tahitian vanilla gelato) that literally has us almost kissing the plate, it was that good. Anything sweet with brandy is sure to please! Lastly we tried the Canoli (one chocolate and one pistachio) that, while good, lacked flavor especially when compared to its predecessors.
While with any new restaurant, there are always a few kinks to sort through, for being open less than a month, The Merk is well on its way to prominence within the culinary heart of San Diego. Great and friendly service took us through our various courses with knowledge, humor and smiles. Add good food and it doesn’t get better than that. There is also the Krust Pizzeria next door serving to-go pizzas that shares its menu with the Merk. How’s that for options? Enjoy!
The Good – Hands down the Cicorie Di Campagna was fantastic, a meal in itself.
The Bad – Again, a little bit of work with some of the seasonings and not having to ask for salt and pepper wouldn’t hurt.
- City: San Diego, CA 92101
- Phone: 619-814-6375
- Name: The Merk
- Address: 820 5th Ave