Growing up in an area with a lot of Italians, I took for granted good Italian restaurants. Unfortunately, throughout the many years I’ve lived in Latin America, one of the foods I’ve most missed is anything Italian. I have been constantly let down by soggy pasta, flat sauces, and overdone vegetables.
Il Mercatino changed that. I first went to this restaurant because all the food writers I knew were recommending it. And they were right. I immediately felt at home. The decoration is light and airy, and I can actually say the same for everything I’ve eaten from the menu. Light, adorned just to the right degree, and not overdone.
The light feeling starts at the entrance, where there’s a display of fresh pasta made in-house, and continues to the back where the warmth of a wood fired oven welcomes you. With all the separate spaces – the front porch, two inside areas and the backyard – I never feel crowded, since there’s always a semi-private spot where you can still be part of the dynamics of the restaurant.
The outdoorsy feel on the back porch is complete with a retractable roof that opens to let the sun in during the day. Next to the wood-fired oven, long white counters are adorned with fresh peppers, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, and asparagus. Potted plants hang on the walls, and white wrought iron chairs and sofas are topped with striped cushions. The lighting is delicate, too, and becomes even more intimate in the evening as the waiters light candles that cast a romantic shade.
The owner, Roberto, is from Sardinia (yes, that’s Italy – an island off the mainland) and makes a cheerful host. (He’s the bearded guy that will greet you as you walk in).
The king here is the artisan pasta – what I mean by that is it’s made in-house, by hand. Proof of that is at the entrance, where the large pasta machine sits surrounded by pasta of varying colors. The pastas come stuffed with enticing ingredients like lobster, smoked salmon, or ricotta with prosciutto and sun dried tomatoes. The flavors are not too intense, yet manage to surprise, often because of the quality.
Like the Ravioli agli spinaci: it’s so simple it can become boring – just spinach and ricotta ravioli in a tomato sauce, right? Well, here it’s not so simple. When a friend you’re dining with says, “I have to see your face when you put this in your mouth,” you could be in for something quite good or quite bad. When it’s followed by “This is the best food I’ve ever eaten,” it’s good. That spinach and ricotta ravioli is an excellent example of the charm of simplicity.
The Gorgonzola and walnut ravioli was prepared – as it should be – in a simple sauce of butter and sage. The first bite was amazing as I slowly processed the different flavors and buttery textures, and the last bite was still satisfying, though depressing. They should have larger sizes of these meals.
Meats and more
Il Mercatino also has main dishes, of course. Duck, pork, fish, lamb. Risotto, lasagña, fideua. Paupiettes is thinly sliced veal stuffed with sausage that is then tucked into the oven (are we hungry yet?). And although the smoked barbecue pork knuckle in a beer sauce doesn’t sound so good in Italian (Stinco di maiale affumicate sounds vaguely like an insult to me), it is good on the plate.
They put on pizza what few restaurants do in this part of the world; you don’t get prosciutto and arugula on every pizza here in Bogota. They have your basic Margherita, or Prosciutto e pere (caramelized pears) as well as Asparagi e pancetta (tomato, pancetta, asparagus, pecorino curls). The thin crust pizza spends a few quick minutes in the oven and comes out delicious.
The wine list is generous and they also have typical Colombian juices like lulo, maracuya, mandarine orange. The coconut lemonade (limonada de coco) is one of the best I’ve tasted.
Some of the portions were small for my large appetite, but are fine when they follow an appetizer. A cow bell by the kitchen rings when an order is up, which has ruined me; now every time I hear a cow bell ring I’ll have to go out for some good pasta.
- Appetizers: COP$18,000 – 34,000 (most are in the 20s)
- Main dishes: COP$22,000-64,000 (most are in the 30s)
- Pizza: COP$21,000-31,500
- Dessert: COP$11,500-12,500 (Tiramisu, Pannacotta)
I once heard a Spanish restaurant critic say that one of the Michelin stars is for how good the bathrooms are. If so, Il Mercatino would be sewing a star on their chef jackets. It’s one of the first bathrooms I’ve wanted to move in to…those cushions look so comfortable.
Carrera 10a #69-16, Bogota
Take a look at the Il Mercatino website.
***The above prices are given in COP (read here to find out what that is).