Even when you live in the greatest city in the world, sometimes you need a bit of good old fashioned escapism. This is precisely the reason to go to La Mercerie, a French cafe in Soho where you can eat flawless food in a space that makes you feel like a royal visiting their vacation home.
La Mercerie isn’t reinventing or redefining French cuisine. They’re not trying to innovate. From morning till night, they deal in technically perfect Provencal fare and fantasy. Even from across the street, the space looks mirage-like, lush and sparkling against the beige facades and cobblestones of Mercer street.
In the imaginary kingdom of La Mercerie, your morning coffee comes in a handmade porcelain bowl accompanied by a pain au chocolat still gooey from the oven. Slim beige taper candles are magically lit at the exact moment when the sun begins to set. Your needs are anticipated and catered to in a way that feels almost familial. When the waiter suggests a Sauternes with your foie gras, it has the tenor of a parent suggesting you brush your teeth before bed. And all that touches your table looks and feels expensive, because it is.
You can purchase almost everything you interact with at this restaurant, but we don’t come here to shop for $90 teacups. We keep returning to La Mercerie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, on random Tuesdays and special occasions alike, because it temporarily erases the existence of dirty subway cars and cramped apartments. It allows us to imagine a world in which the lighting is always flattering, the vegetables always at their peak of deliciousness, the pastries eternally warm.
We like the fantasy world of La Mercerie, but the thing about living in a fairytale is that there’s usually a price to pay for so much excess: your firstborn, perhaps, or an involuntary honeymoon with a transfigured prince. $37 for a plate of roast chicken with skin that shatters like the glass of a magic mirror, we can handle.
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Buckwheat Crépe Compléte
This little parcel of joy is served at lunch and on “le jolie weekend” menu, and you should absolutely arrange your schedule around it. The buckwheat crepe is subtly nutty and earthy, filled with comté and ham, and topped with an achingly perfect sunny egg. There’s creme fraiche drizzled on top, which is absolutely gilding the lily in a way we can get behind. There are few savory breakfast items in Manhattan we like more.
Riz Au Lait D’Amande
Warm rice pudding might seem like an odd choice for breakfast, but this dish is really porridge in its most evolved form. The sweetness comes mostly from the fruit compote drizzled on top, and the rice pudding itself carries delicate notes of cardamom and vanilla.
Pain au Chocolat
This is not a stunt pastry. This is a pain au chocolat made for eating, and perhaps for dunking into a bowl of cafe au lait. It’s bitter, buttery, and best enjoyed warm, at an outdoor table.
The produce-forward dishes vary seasonally, so we can’t tell you exactly what will be in the salad at La Mercerie. We can, however, assure you that it will highlight the best vegetables currently available in New York City in a simple yet sophisticated manner. Example: this salad of lightly pickled eggplants with microgreens. If you were planning to skip the salad, don’t.
Torchon de Foie Gras
This decadent appetizer is served with little slices of toasted brioche and a tangy chutney. Does foie gras need to be served on fortified bread? Absolutely not, but we love it anyway.
Oysters might not seem particularly exceptional. Lots of restaurants serve them, and they’re usually pretty alright. Here, though, the oysters are served on a particularly stunning bed of ice, with seaweed butter and brown bread. It’s an experience.
Poulet Fermier Croustillant
The skin of a roast chicken should not be allowed to be this good. Once you have it, you’ll start dragging the side of your fork along the skins of other roast chickens, chasing that particular sound, and you’ll come up disappointed every time. The chicken is served with green beans and a jus that gets some zip from garlic and ginger. A dish that will keep you up at night.
A crock of pure comfort that will make you forget other braised beef stews that have vied for your heart in the past. It’s served over storini pasta and gets added depth from ample use of lardons.
Profiteroles Au Chocolat
There’s nothing unique about the profiteroles at La Mercerie other than the fact that they’re the best in New York. We know, because we are physically incapable of not ordering profiteroles whenever they’re on the menu. A pile of light, airy choux is stuffed with floral vanilla ice cream and doused tableside in a gravy boat of warm, bittersweet chocolate. We would eat this dessert every single day.