Restaurant: Merge, Buffalo, New York
It had been a long day. By the time I rolled into Buffalo, I had already gotten up early to do a shakeout run while still in Ohio, stretched, did my ab routine, pack, get the car loaded up, and make the seemingly endless drive from Columbus, Ohio all the way up to Buffalo, New York…with one stop in Erie, Pennsylvania for lunch. Getting into Buffalo, I got checked into my hotel, hit up the race expo (I was there for a race, naturally), went back to my room, did more stretching, did some foam rolling, got things ready ahead of time so the evening wouldn’t be as hectic, and watched Food Network.
Because…that’s what I do.
But, before I knew it…it was time to head out to dinner. I was meeting up with my good friend, Kat, and her boyfriend, Adam, for dinner that night. It was the night before a race, so we wanted to have plenty of options for everyone. Kat requires brown rice pasta…so we narrowed it down to three places, but in the end…chose a place called…
Kat was very high on this place when we were trying to make the decision. She said not only can they do a lot of their foods vegan/vegetarian, but a lot can be done gluten-free as well. AWESOME! Sounded perfect. And…the menu was a little different from anything I have down this way, so that was a bonus too. We were to meet for dinner at 5:00 p.m. So, at around 4:15, we set out to walk from our hotel up to Merge. It didn’t take us as long as we expected…so…we stood outside in the slightly chilly air. Right around 5, Kat and Adam showed up…and we stepped inside.
I already liked the place. Dimly lit…with a stage off to the right as you walk in. We were greeted and Kat gave the reservation. We were shown to our table and seated. As it was pre-race, I stuck with just water to drink. I hadn’t been too good about hydrating that day while on the road, so I wanted to make up for that a bit now. The waiter went to retrieve drinks and we sat and perused the menu.
Now, I had looked at the menu numerous times, trying to figure out what I wanted for dinner. Normally, pre-race means a gluten-free pizza. And that was completely available. HOWEVER…there were so many other delicious sounding items on the menu, that I thought, perhaps, to screw with tradition again…and do something completely different, but enough that would fuel up my muscles and top off those glycogen stores for the next morning. I was flip-flopping. On one hand, the gluten-free and dairy-free pizza was one with Daiya cheese, red onion, asparagus…it sounded awesome. But…again…I can get good gluten-free pizza in Louisville. So, it was down to trying the Gluten-Free and Vegan Mac & Cheese that Kat had told me so much about…or the special of the night…the Gluten-Free Eggplant Caponata…or the Gluten-Free Arugula Pesto Pasta.
So…while I was trying to decide, the rest of the table ordered. Kat went with the an appetizer of the Dairy-Free Stuffed Potato Skins ($10.00) which comes with a fresh corn salad with turkey bacon, Daiya Cheese, and a Chipotle Cream and then for an entree went with the Gluten-Free Eggplant Caponata ($18.00). Adam went with the Daily Pizza ($10.00). Jenn chose the Sweet Basil Gnocchi (which included roasted red peppers, red onion, spinach, roasted garlic and a white wine sauce) for her meal ($15.00). Cathy went with the Coconut Lemongrass Stir-fry ($15.00), which is a mix of organic tofu, snap peas, red onion, carrot, and rice vermicelli, served with toasted cashews, bean sprouts, and fresh lime.
And I was still stumped!
I went over my choices with the waiter to get his opinion and to maybe help me make a decision, because I was seriously waffling. Pizza…or something different…pizza…or something different…tradition…or not….AH! The waiter said he highly recommended the Arugula Pesto Pasta. Kat made sure that the pesto didn’t have Parmesan in it (as someone with a dairy allergy…she knows all about the importance of asking about things like that because so many pesto recipes include Parmesan…and being lactose intolerant…I avoid all things dairy before a race). He said that it was vegan…and so…I went with it. Why not?!
There it was…tradition once again bucked…
I went with the Gluten-Free Arugula Pesto Pasta ($15.00), which was brown rice pasta with local tomato, red onion, spinach, and tossed with toasted walnuts. Oooh…I’d get some nice vitamins from that spinach and some Omega from those walnuts. Nice choice. Glad I had some help in making it!
So, we all sat around and talked about various topics, not just running. In fact, running didn’t really come up all that much that night. We were just having a good time and relaxing. Because that is important before a race. Trust me. The atmosphere of Merge is very conducive to that too. It was really, really nice. The appetizer was brought to the table and Kat let me try one of the potato skins. I didn’t put the corn and bacon topping on it since it was real meat, but the Daiya cheese and the chipotle cream were put on the potato skin…and it was phenomenal. Quite tasty. I want to recreate this at home…and just might this week! It was a great way to start off the dining experience.
But, before long our meals were being served up and we were all happily about to feast on our food of choice.
I actually was quite happy when I took my first bite of the Arugula Pesto Pasta. It was smooth and delicious. I love pesto as it is…but this was really seasoned well. It paired well with the brown rice pasta. And the fresh vegetables that were sauteed and added to the mix just made for a nice break in the texture and a lot of added flavor as well. LOVE. The toasted walnuts were the perfect way to add a bit of crunch to something that would otherwise be very soft. I told Cathy to give it a try and she loved it as well. It’s not every day I get a plate of green pasta (ah, pesto…you’re so much fun on food!) that had so much going on and so much nutritionally sound ingredients added to it. It was just what I think I needed that evening. You could tell everything was fresh. Because this pasta was perfection. So, I broke tradition again…it was worth it for this meal. Trust me.
Everyone else seemed to like their meals as well. Kat’s only complaint was there was too little pasta (she’s carbing up!) in her dish…and Jenn ate around all the vegetables in hers. The rest of us devoured everything in front of us.
The big question of dessert came up. And…we felt it was necessary. They had so many gluten-free and vegan options on their dessert menu…how could I pass up the opportunity?
In the end, Kat went with the Apple Cranberry Cobbler with Salty Caramel Sauce and Homemade Vanilla Soy Ice Cream ($7.00) for her dessert. Jenn and Adam both got the Vegan Carrot Cake with Walnuts and Cream Cheese Frosting ($6.00). And Cathy and I decided to split the Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Spiced Berry Compote ($6.00). I kind of wanted to split the Vegan and Gluten-Free Brownie Sundae…but Cathy is apparently anti-brownie these days. So…that was a no-go.
With our orders in, we eagerly anticipated our sweet reward and end of the night treat. After a short wait, the desserts were brought to the table. They all looked fantastic. Especially the carrot cake. If only that had been gluten-free. Then again, Cathy is anti-carrot cake as well…so it wouldn’t have done any good. GRRRR! Anyway…it all looked delicious and we spared no time digging in.
The Vegan Chocolate Mousse with the Spiced Berry Compote was…different. This wasn’t your usual mousse. It was probably made with cashew cream…which would be the reason for the grittiness to it. In fact, it also wasn’t very fluffy or light. More like a heavy pudding than a mousse to be sure. That being said…the spiced berry compote was beyond delicious. Ultimately, it was my favorite part of the dessert. Cathy agreed. When I think of mousse, I expect something whipped and airy and light…and this just wasn’t a mousse.
Jenn absolutely loved the carrot cake (damn it for not being gluten-free!). Cat and Adam split each of their desserts and both seemed quite happy with their choices. So, that was good.
We finished up dessert and wound up getting caught up in conversations again. And soon, because they are a hot-spot in town, we were asked to leave so other people could have the table. I needed to get back to the hotel anyway and get ready for sleep to be rested up for the morning ahead of me.
All-in-all…a great restaurant in Buffalo, New York. I would happily eat here again without any qualms. Everything I had was good, and sometimes even great. My pasta was the star, for sure. And even if the dessert didn’t wow me…it was still fantastic. Cathy stole a bite of Jenn’s carrot cake and raved about it. The atmosphere was amazing. The food was delicious. And the staff was quite accommodating. I couldn’t have asked for a better pre-race meal.
Merge, when I come back to Buffalo, New York sometime…I hope to come back.