Sesame Chicken, Vegetable Lo Mein, and Tofu from Cafe Mercato (648 Broadway, 212-777-5201)
The convenience store/grocery/deli hybrid is a strange New York institution, but a staple nonetheless. These haunts, which are typically found on the city’s busiest and most touristic thoroughfares, tend to offer a mix of Chinese-American and Latin cuisine as well as a sampling of mayo-heavy salads.
Most often, the food sucks, but we’ve noticed that some owners of these establishments have tried to jazz up this genre of forlorn food shop — by offering draught beer or sushi or even made-to-order bibimbap.
So how does this Noho market measure up?
Though the specialties are about as removed from the Chinese part of Chinese-American cuisine as can be, the quality impresses.
The lo mein has the nutty vibe of thoughtfully applied sesame oil, but without being greasy. The pasta is soft, and the veggies are crisp. The chicken, though suffering from the over-sweet requirements of the recipe, has a moist mouthfeel and has not been sitting out under heat lamps for too long. There’s not much to say about the tofu. Though apparently marinated in a soy-sauce dressing, the taste didn’t take, so it’s a little bland and mealy.
Overall, though, Mercato deserves high marks for these by-the-pound plates.