The Punch List: Eat at Mercat Bistro

Mercat Bistro  (photo: Daniel Driensky)

Mercat Bistro (photo: Daniel Driensky)

Farro, mint, cucumber, tomato salad at Mercat BistroFarro, mint, cucumber, tomato salad at Mercat Bistro

Mussels at Mercat Bistro

Mussels at Mercat Bistro

Giant Grilled Shrimp at Mercat

Giant Grilled Shrimp at Mercat

In Catalon, mercat means market, which the folks behind Mercat Bistro translate into a design “where nothing is quite perfect but put together offer an eccentrically vintage experience.”

I’m not sure what an eccentrically vintage experience means. Sometime into your second glass of wine at this Balthazar-inspired French place, though, you’ll see Mercat Bisto for what it is: a safe bet.

Yeah, the service could be a little crisper and the wines more fairly priced, but I love the space, a narrow shotgun of dark grey tones punctuated with a blend of styles and textures. I love the way Laura Lleal’s design mixes tiled walls, wood plank floors, big windows of sunlight, open back chairs and a long zinc counter that separates the semi-open kitchen from the dining room.. Mercat Bistro is the kind of place that makes you want to linger.

Nothing on the menu is over-the-top or particularly French, unless you’re going to count the $45 rotisserie chicken and fries (“For 2″”) or that the menu employees “asperges” and “coeur de laitue” rather than asparagus and lettuce hearts.

If you’re looking for cassoulet or crepes, Mercat Bistro is not for you. (Head instead to Boulevardier or Rise No. 1).And I have no idea why any roasted chicken could be worth $45. Maybe they rub it with truffles and foie gras. Or maybe it’s the fries. Either way, I skipped the poulet (my word, not theirs) and went straight for the grilled giant prawns (their words, not mine), a hot-dog sized shrimp on perfectly al dente paparadelle that sang in notes of butter, lemon and caper.

Besides, who needs chicken when there’s a plate of excellent housemade ricotta and a wedge of honeycomb ($7); a bowl of PEI mussels lounging around in a bath of Pernod, shallots, garlic and tomato (($14); or a salad of kale, mint, cucumbers, tomatoes and nutty faro, all tarted up with a tangy dressing and all of which tastes as good as you’re imagining it tastes ($9).

Except for the few times the waiters stumble on pronunciation (asking about the charcuterie plate is worth a chuckle), you’ll be well cared for here.

A lunch or dinner at Mercat Bistro will never make you feel like you’re dining in Paris. I’m okay with that. Mercat is a Dallas-y version of a Paris bistro, which is probably why the well-dressed couple at the table next to me ordered the $45 chicken and never blinked.

Mercat Bistro is located in Saint Ann Court, the office building of Harwood International, 2501 N. Harwood Street at Moody Street, Dallas, or 214.953.0917.