Mercy Me, the West End’s “Sorta South American” cafe from the power couple behind Call Your Mother bagels and Timber Pizza Co., just unleashed a brand-new dinner menu filled with charred branzino, bright blue corn cakes, and mole engineered from colorful cacao pods grown in Puerto Rico.
Rising chef Samuel Diaz steps in at the nearly 2-year-old hotel restaurant with fresh dish ideas while staying true to Mercy Me’s loose, Latin-hopping roots. His debut dinner menu quietly went live two weeks ago across Yours Truly’s bohemian chic, lobby-level restaurant dotted with disco balls (1143 New Hampshire Avenue NW). There’s no brunch needed; Call Your Mother’s newest outpost in the lobby takes care of that.
“Sam’s gonna be the next big thing in D.C. — you heard it first,” Dana tells Eater.
Born to Puerto Rican parents in the Bronx, Diaz has cooked everywhere from Takoma Park’s treasured raw bar Republic to Europe, where he staged in San Sebastián and London at Jason Atherton’s Michelin-rated Pollen Street Social. At Mercy Me, he embraces cooking styles and flavors from Cuba, Peru, Mexico, and his native Puerto Rico.
Diaz started a relief nonprofit when Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017, and a small cacao farmer he met along the way now ships his football-shaped fruits direct to Mercy Me.
“He wants to plant one million trees and he’s at 500,000 now. I’m trying to help him out,” says Diaz, noting Puerto Rico and Hawaii are the only two U.S. territories that grows cacao.
And to do his part to alleviate the Chesapeake’s blue catfish problem, Diaz relies on the invasive species to build a fish and chips main.
“It’s the best catfish I’ve ever had,” he says, noting its sweet flavor profile comes from all the rockfish it’s eating. “There’s so much of it in the Chesapeake, so we try to use it.”
The “chips” part of the dish is a fried medley of tostones and white and Japanese sweet potatoes, served with tamarind sweet chili.
Other homemade dippers like Peruvian aji verde and aji amarillo go well with much of the menu. An experimental brown butter sauce he came up with in the kitchen is poured tableside over a burrata and roasted squash starter.
A pair of family-style orders (whole fish or 22-ounce porterhouse) require two hands to reach the table, joined by three sides. Butterflied branzino, marinated in cumin, lemon, and lime, gets “charred really hard” before taking a trip into the oven. The Chesapeake’s crown jewel rockfish also makes appearances as the whole fish of the night. The bone-in steak arrives sliced, accompanied by vibrant chimichurri, picked fresnos, and hot peanut sauce. Come spring, Diaz plans to expand the sharable section with pig roasts on the secluded back patio.
He goes nuts with corn in a side of fluffy pancakes, made with blue corn and yellow kernels peeking out of each disc, served alongside a cup of creamed corn butter. Sides also include pupusas paired with pickled slaw and gluten-free Caribbean rice “moro” and beans. Just a handful of familiar items reappear on the new menu, including picada (cured meats and cheeses) and a sofrito smash burger he slathers with bacon jam. A refreshing quinoa salad studded with bright red Peruvian drop peppers gets an extra crunch from sugar snap peas, topped with pea shoots and Cotija cheese.
Opening chef and Doi Moi alum Johanna Hellrigl parted ways with Mercy Me last June to enjoy life as a new mom and pursue a new opportunity in food technology, she tells Eater. Her husband Micah Wilder stays put at beverage director at Mercy Me. Wilder, who’s also co-owner at Chaplin’s ramen bar and Zeppelin sushi in Shaw, sends out spritzes, creative concoctions like a clarified milk punch with rum, agave, and chai, and tropical frozen drinks. Look for future cross collaborations with Diaz’s menu (hello, cacao cocktails).
- Call Your Mother Brings Hit Bagels to the West End Neighborhood [EDC]
- Everything to Eat at Mercy’s Me’s South American-Style Brunch [EDC]
- The New Latin Cafe From the Call Your Mother Crew Opens for a Takeout Test Rum [EDC]
- Hitmakers Behind D.C.’s Call Your Mother Deli Will Open a South American Cafe [EDC]
- The 16 Most Anticipated Restaurants In D.C., Spring 2020 [EDC]