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La Merenda

Thinking Big with Small Plates

Jul. 10, 2013
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Chef/owner Peter Sandroni opened La Merenda in February 2007. Customers were instantly wowed with his selection of international tapas including such items as lumpia Shanghai, lobster arancini and scallop ceviche. Over the years the selection has continually changed and none of the above are on the menu any longer. Weekly specials have included options such as a splendid veal spiedini. The menu has increasingly focused on locally sourced ingredients. You will find bread from Rocket Baby, smoked meats from La Quercia and Rushing Waters trout. Ordering several items is the way to go. Prices are moderate from $2 to $11. You can explore the world of food in one meal.

The interior is painted in warm tones but with a feeling of industrial chic. The ceiling is exposed, the walls are concrete block and the windows are glass block. The dining room is furnished with wooden tables and a wide assortment of chairs. A newer addition is the outdoor patio. Here the tables and chairs are better matched and have a simple, contemporary elegance. Various degrees of shade are provided and there is a fireplace and outdoor bar. A kitchen garden is underway to provide the ultimate in local sourcing.

What’s the current summer menu like? It includes sustainable ceviche, Indian butter chicken and Chilean pork, to name just a few items. The prosciutto salad ($8) has thin slices of La Quercia ham over arugula with pistachios and Dolcina gorgonzola dressed in a sweet pistachio vinaigrette. Shrimp escabeche ($8) is Caribbean flavored. The main ingredients, pieces of shrimp and chopped tomato, are tempered with a bit of vinegar. Spoon it onto the provided tortilla chips. Siu yuk ($8.50) is pork belly in a Chinese preparation, with a sweetened soy sauce dotted with sesame seeds and served over locally grown baby bok choy. The sauce makes for rich dining.

Many items are vegetarian and a few are gluten free. Kale ravioli ($8) are stuffed with cheese and the greens, which also provide a bed for the ravioli. Kale adds a hint of bitter flavor offset by wild mushrooms. Trout is an item always found on La Merenda’s menu. The current is trout “rundown” ($10), cooked with red peppers and pieces of tomato in a Bahamian curry sauce with a lot of pep, is spicier than many of the curried dishes served at local Indian restaurants. The sauce goes well with the bed of cilantro rice. For completely different flavors, try the duck confit crepes ($9). The crepes are perfectly prepared and filled with rich pulled duck meat and a bit of mushroom. The contrasts of flavors at La Merenda are many.

The bar provides beer and specialty cocktails. The wine list includes many bottles under $30—unless you arrive on a Monday night when all bottles are half price. The beers are crafts and imports, plus the specially brewed La Merenda National Avenue Ale. The outdoor patio seems the right place for a mojito or a caipirinha, a Brazilian rum concoction. While the lobster arancini and lumpia Shanghai of La Merenda’s past are sorely missed, chef Sandroni continues to explore the food universe and provide delights. Few chefs can do everything so well.

La Merenda

125 E. National Ave.




Handicap accessible: yes


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