TALLINN - Mercado, the expansive new dining area in Ulemiste City, is reminiscent of a food court but with a classier and more cafe-like feel to it. The food is more gourmet than usual lunch-counter fare, as Mercado boasts Imre Kose, Estonia's celebrity chef and the man behind Vertigo and Bestseller, as its chef de cuisine. The place seats over 550 people making it the biggest dining establishment in Estonia. Though Mercado is open until 9 p.m. every day except Sunday, by 7 p.m. it is practically deserted and the selection is limited.
Mercado has four separate stations'sthe Boulan-gerie, offering French-style bread and pastries, the Souperie, which offers soups, dim sums, pastas, and wok dishes, the Grill, where one finds freshly grilled meats and a wide variety of sides, and the Gourmet Market, which offers takeaway prepared foods and gourmet ingredients like cheeses and olive oils. The food is reasonably priced, and Mercado's offerings are quite diverse. The fact that it prides itself on preparing many dishes right before the customer, puts it a step above any other "fast food."
First-time customers may feel a bit lost wandering around the circular food stations, but the staff is extremely helpful. When asked about a pork shashlik (30 kroons), the woman at the grill not only explained to me that all the meat dishes are grilled fresh upon request, she also recommended a side dish to accompany the meat. In Estonia you often get the feeling that you're inconveniencing the wait staff; this is not a problem at Mercado.
The food itself is mix of fairly common dishes with some exotic choices thrown in. Side dishes (30 kroons) at the grill included predictable casseroles, but also yellow rice with raisins and nuts and French ratatouille. Salads with fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinegar are available, as are small boxes of sushi (65-100 kroons). More Asian-inspired options are offered by the Souperie.
My shashlik was smeared with a tasty barbecue-like sauce, but the meat was bit too chewy. My friend's mango chicken skewer, which was pre-cooked, was sweet and peppery but still cold in the middle, as it hadn't been on the grill long enough. The ratatouille was nicely seasoned and the Israeli rice was satisfying, but in general the side dishes suffered from the fact that many of them had probably been sitting out for quite some time.
The one station that did not disappoint was the Boulangerie. The mocha torte (50 EEK) was delicious, the taste of coffee offset by chocolate shavings and a slightly salty crumb crust. A tender pastry (25 kroons) topped with colorful fruit also contained a tasty almond cream, and Mercado's baguette (20 kroons) is one of the best crusty white breads I've had in Estonia.
Mercado is worth checking out for lunch. Unfortunately unless you work in the ulemiste area or have a car, it's a bit inconvenient to get to. However it's also open on weekends, pop over for a snack after a day of shopping in Ulemiste Keskus.
Open M-F 9-21, Sat 10-21, Sun 10-18
+ 372 517 9551www.mercado.ee