Mercado Restaurant serves authentic Portuguese cuisine with a focus on shareable main courses, such as meat and seafood-filled grazing boards in the Castlefield Design District.
With the pandemic looming over their businesses, Oliveira and Luisa close both down, deciding instead to combine the sit-down concept of the old Mercado with the hot table component at Casa.
The new and improved Mercado has a hot table section next to the entrance of the restaurant that features trays of traditional Portuguese meats, hearty vegetables and seafood dishes such as bacalhau that are ready to eat and available to go.
Cabinets filled with grocery items such as cans of codfish shipped right from Portugal, Portuguese olive oil, teas, spices and other non-perishable goods for sale are located near the entrance.
The main dining area has a rustic, old-school European feel. The sounds and smells of sizzling and sauteeing food escape into the room from the restaurant's large kitchen pass.
Mercado expanded their seating area, decorating the room's walls with knick-knacks that could be found in a Portuguese grandmother's home including tributes to Catholic saints, the country's famous Rooster of Barcelos, and a collection of ceramic plates with lobsters on them.
Operating in the current environment, Mercado didn't only increase their seating, add a takeout area and a brand new patio covered by 100 umbrellas, but also shifted the focus of their menu.
Prior to the pandemic, Mercado's food menu concentrated on items that were large and meant to be shared such as their famous meat and seafood grazing boards.
Noting that fewer people are comfortable with sharing platters, they introduced a number of chicken and fish main courses, although they kept the popular grazing boards.
What stood out to me about the food at Mercado was the elevated and modern plating - right down to the plates used - of the traditional Portuguese flavours and ingredients.
Ninho de Alheira ($21) uses katafi pastry to create what resembles a nest (Ninho is nest in Portuguese).
The dish features a fried egg over sausage from northern Portugal, hickory potato sticks and frisée.It's a mix of sensations in the first bite. The fried potatoes are crunch, the egg yolk is rich and it covers the meat and frisée below.
Bacalhau a Bras ($22) is a modern take on traditional Portuguese cod fish salad. Cod fish is stir-fried and cooked with potato sticks and eggs.
Here, the salty fish is balanced by the fresh frisée and tangy feta cheese garnish.
Costoletas de Cabrito ($46) has four seared French lamb chops arranged on top of a vibrant pile of colourful vegetables that includes potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, green beans and rapini.
A drizzle of red wine reduction adds a touch of cinnamon spice to the dish of juicy meat and tender vegetables.
This elaborate display of grilled meats is called the Beira Mar ($145). Beira Mar is like the surf and turf platter of your dreams, where all the meat can be cooked to the level of your liking. Since all of the meat and seafood is fresh from the grill there's a smoky flavour present in each bite.
There are pieces of slow-cooked pork belly topped with onion marmalade on opposite corners of the board. Sitting on one corner of the board is a prosciutto-wrapped steak medallion. There's also a whole charcoal-grilled chorizo sausage and a crispy grilled piece of octopus tentacle.
The board also features juicy jumbo shrimps, two pieces of tender scallop and a 12-ounce steak that went well with the side of chimichurri sauce.
The new Mercado is located in an industrial area near Eglinton Avenue West and Caledonia Road.