Restaurant Review – The Merk (Gaslamp Quarter)
When you enter The Merk restaurant, low red lighting greets you, along with a side brick wall and upper glass walkway. Tables were set with black linens and red square side plates, adorned with red candles. The unisex restroom offered cloth washcloths for drying your hands. The restaurant was sprinkled with an assortment of seating, including private leather booths and long black tables. Clearly, the owners put much thought and energy into creating a nice environment for their guests.
The Merk is part of The Keating hotel, located in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. It focuses on Italian cuisine and diners can always spot the Merk’s favorites by picking out the dishes highlighted in red on the menu.
Trying to pace myself through all the dishes was a challenge. Leading the way was the house specialty of fried calamari and zucchini fritti, filled mostly with fried calamari. The chili honey dipping sauce offered a delightful side tang. Accompanying our appetizer was the Keating Kosmo and Walnut Biscotti Martini, which were itself desserts in glassware and I enjoyed licking the caramel cookie rim until it became a little too obvious.
Next my guest tried an arugula salad which came with goat cheese that tasted as though the chef had churned it right in the back. Extremely creamy, it melted as soon as it met our mouths. I found myself ordering the namesake Keating salad, which was tossed with pine nuts and gorgonzola and if I didn’t have a main dish coming I could have enjoyed a nice one of these with some grilled chicken on top.
Moving on to the entrees, my pesto encrusted salmon was cooked to perfection and possessed a very bold flavor. I couldn’t get enough of it. What could I get enough of? The cauliflower underneath. The smoky, burnt, flavor did not sit well with me and I left the vegetable sitting on my plate.
The final standouts were the cannolis and seasonal gallette topped with Tahitian vanilla gelato. A delightful sauce over a tart of fruit, it tasted extremely fresh.
Our server John was extremely welcoming and whenever we asked for a recommendation on a particular dish, he offered several suggestions. He made sure our every need was met, and even if the food hadn’t been exceptional, I would probably return just because the service was so awesome. The manager even came over to see how we were doing.
The Merk was a welcome treat, especially for its ambiance. It’s the perfect spot for your upcoming private party and I’m looking forward to returning to sample more of the dishes that the restaurant has to offer.
The Merk Restaurant
820 5th Avenue
Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover
Prices: Moderate. Most dishes range between $11 and $19.
Value: Very good
Noise level: Quiet
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking section: Patio
The Bottom Line: If you want to enjoy a great meal with excellent ambiance, The Merk is a perfect choice.