Don Bauder 5:30 p.m., March 27
Brick+Mortar replaces Hotel Hell's MerK Bistro
Last month, I speculated about the future of MerK Bistro, the restaurant associated with (but oddly not attached to) downtown’s The Keating Hotel after both businesses were ripped apart then cobbled back together by chef Gordon Ramsay on his FOX show, Hotel Hell. Even with a revamped menu (which, in my opinion, read like one from nearly any other small plates, comfort-based San Diego dot on today’s semi-whitewashed culinary map), it was obvious it was going to be an uphill battle—especially since they let go of Brian Rutherford, their exec chef since the birth of the business five years prior.
Last week, I learned that MerK is no more. The Keating owner Eddie Kaen was approached by partners Justin Safier and Travis Lester (a former San Diegan) of Broseph's Restaurant Group (BRG) about supplanting MerK with the second iteration of their Brick+Mortar concept. Kaen deemed it a good idea and quickly scrapped MerK. Brick+Mortar (820 Fifth Avenue), which is conceptually identical to the original Brick+Mortar restaurant located in Santa Monica’s Edgemar Center for the Arts, serves modern American fare in a luxuriated neighborhood bar environment.
The initial menu is divided into salads, shared plates, flatbreads, and main dishes…much like the MerK’s last menu. The dishes on the new bill of fare do sound a bit more diverse. More interesting dishes include smoked calf’s tongue with a pickled carrot terrine, corn fritters with mole-braised shortribs, and a flatbread topped with murgh makkahi chicken (known as “butter chicken,” the fowl is coated in an Indian-spiced yogurt marinade and grilled or cooked in a tandoor oven) and raita (an herbaceous yogurt-based condiment). There are also plenty of Gaslamp standards including crab cakes, tuna tartare, beat salad, and protein-starch-veg-sauce options for the less adventurous.
Manning the stoves at Brick+Mortar is Laurent Saussy, the individual who has constructed the menus for all five of BRG’s restaurants. He will work with chef Donald Hopper, who was retained from the MerK’s existing team. Many of those who were not kept on have moved on, accepting positions at Kitchen 4140, Saltbox and other local spots. Rutherford is out of the kitchen (and a bit homesick for it), but employed and still immersed in the local food scene.
Brick+Mortar is open daily from 8 a.m. to midnight. A new interior design concept will be slowly implemented, but hey, if you haven’t been there (and many haven’t), it’s new to you already. I wonder if Ramsay will recognize it when he blows back into the Gaslamp for a follow-up visit.