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Mercato's Bites
1/28/2006
By Danielle Gould

I write this article at 2 o’clock in the morning, as the food I ate at Mercato’s continues to tumble and try to settle.

When we first walked into the Italian restaurant located in downtown Olympia near the waterfront, everything appeared normal. In fact, my first response was “how come I’ve never heard of this place before?” The seating areas are somewhat sectioned off, reminding me a little bit of “Ramblin’ Jack’s,” (also in downtown Olympia). The red ductwork was ever present, although unobtrusive, giving the place a modern, yet romantic, and somewhat quiet kind-of-feel.

We barely beat the rush. There were two parties ahead of us. We stood in line while one greeter seated each individual party without taking our name on a list. With chairs lining the waiting area, it did not seem that this was normal protocol for the very professional looking restaurant.

The dinner rush literally walked in behind us, and before I knew it, doors were being held open to accommodate the number of people who had chosen their fate to be dinner at Mercato’s on this dreary Friday evening.

When the girl arrived back at the waiting area after seating everyone ahead of us, she proceeded to seat us. I was very surprised at this because there were so many people in line that I expected her to start a list so that her guests could have a seat, as opposed to standing, part way out the door.

We very quickly learned that the restaurant is bigger than it looks as we were led into a room located at the back, past the grill and hot plate of the cooks, where there was an abundance of food waiting to be taken to its proper table. All the prepared food sits right next to the walkway, at about the correct level for customers to breathe their colds onto as they pass by.

When we arrived at the table, everything, except the screaming baby near by, appeared to be quiet. I thought we had scored a nice place to enjoy our meal. It was the lull before the storm.

The best part about this restaurant was the bread and water boy. He seemed to really enjoy his job. He provided us with some thick, salty bread, and some vinegar and oil (I think).

Approximately two more couples were seated in the big room, and pretty soon my husband and I were leaning far across the table and yelling, trying to hear each other… I believe we eventually gave up on trying to converse, which is one of our favorite things to do at dinner.

When asked if they served raspberry iced tea, the ever-more-common answer of “no” was supplied. This is the most ridicules thing, in my opinion. It seems that any Italian restaurant hosting a bar would sell Italian sodas (of this I’m not entirely sure). Assuming they do, they would have raspberry syrup. Regular ice tea was offered. Put two and two together and viola! Olive Garden has also recently joined the growing trend of not mixing the two together, after readily doing it for my entire life. I have yet to try to order a raspberry Italian Soda without the soda, and an iced tea, so I can mix the darn drink myself, in protest. Needless to say, we both had water.

We ordered an appetizer to expedite our eating. “Garlic Knots,” I believe was the title. After 20 minutes or so, we received a plate with a heap of some knotted bread with chopped garlic over, and possibly in, the knotted part of the bread. As we neared the bottom of our stack, the bread got soggier and soggier. Smothered in the marinara sauce it came with, it actually was quite good, although I had expected a less obtrusive form of garlic, and a more spread out presentation.

For our meals, David ordered pork with asparagus, and I ordered lasagna. I’d like to report on how David liked his pork, but since he received the lemon chicken dish, I simply can’t! On the other hand, the lasagna was probably about one serving size, which is getting scant for restaurants these days. Although the appearance was good, it didn’t have much flavor. Granted, sometimes gourmet food does not have much flavor, but this was neither gourmet, nor flavorful. Stouffer’s provides a much closer-to-how-it’s-suppose-to-taste version of lasagna.

Nearly half of our meals were gone before we saw the waitress again. (It’s a good thing David’s not a picky eater.) I told her he didn’t get what he had ordered, and she whined her apology. She said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. That’s so sad!” Her theatrical presentation as she leaned across the table to console David with those words would have been much more appreciated if they had been in offering to do something about it. But she didn’t, at least not right away.

Once we had finished our meals, she returned with dessert menus in hand. She offered them to us, saying, “You could order something and get what you ordered.” Had I been in a better mood, I might have asked to speak to the manager, but honestly, I just wanted to get the hell out of there! Not to mention, it didn’t appear as though a managerial staff was even present in this forgotten little restaurant called Mercato’s! So, I’m warning all of you! They are very expensive and highly unorganized. If you do decide to try it anyway, our server’s name was “Jolene S.” I’d recommend requesting someone else.

One night later, I’m happy to report that good quality, fairly priced food, and wonderful service still does exist at The Olive Garden. Yes, we waited for an hour… but I think that anyone would for the extreme difference in service, taste, and noise level! I’m also happy to report that my request of ice tea, and raspberry Italian soda minus the soda, was granted. The server was more than happy to bring me a side of raspberry syrup as he filled my glass with iced tea over and over. And, they didn’t even charge me for a second drink!

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