First bite: Celeb-chef modified Merk Bistro


Screaming kitchen priest Gordon Ramsay was in San Diego early December - he performed a menu redesign on one of our Italo-Gaslamp restaurants for his upcoming Fox show “Hotel Hell.”

And when I scrambled into a black velvet banquette and tucked under a white tablecloth at the narrow, newly made-over Merk Bistro, I thought, “Looky here, a menu prototype.”

It’s almost standard to let charcuterie boards join hands with pizzas and burgers to form a comforting ring around a few serious entrees.

Actually, the Merk had pizzas pre-Ramsay.

They’re made in the Merk’s sister Krust Pizzeria next door. One night this week, sitting under an exposed brick wall dressed with B&W pictures (light bulbs, hotel doors) and a painted black wall screaming for some decor, 20something girls and a family of three were easily drawn to the thin-crust pizzas ($11-$16).

So how did Ramsay come to the Merk’s rescue?

The boldface name chef brought in burrata.

It’s on the Just Cheese pizza (with parmesan and mozzarella).

And where the Merk’s old menu had a beet salad with arugula and goat cheese in the past, post-Ramsay the salad is roasted candy-sized beets, milky burrata, herbaceous frisee, dill and cilantro, and hazelnuts in a sharp sherry vinaigrette. Complex.

Ramsay also dialed down the Italian concept. (Because the Merk sits on Fifth Avenue across from de'Medici? I wonder.)

Gone were risotto, caprese, minestrone, pancetta wrapped filet, and linguine, in came a half-roasted chicken, Caesar salad and an 8 oz. burger. Sure, there’s lasagna - though I just read that ribbony pasta may have come from Greece.

But the Merk’s new and great fish stew - listed as pan-seared local seabass with Carlsbad mussels, clams, peewee potatoes and spinach in a tomato broth - is most certainly a cioppino.

The Merk’s chef Brian Rutherford is still clanging pots there and gets credited on the menu. But I’m told Ramsay deserves credit for the stew...and for redesigning the Keating hotel’s lobby.

The Merk Bistro: 820 Fifth Ave. Gaslamp: 619-814-6375 or Outdoor patio seating. Full bar with TV. Happy hour 5 to 7 p.m. where the cheeze pizza goes for $7. More info about the new Merk Bistro is here. Stay tuned for when the Merk makeover episode airs on “Hotel Hell.”

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Source: DiscoverSD