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All of the seafood sang on the Spanish seafood pasta. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

There’s a desolate feel to the now-defunct Shoppes at Brownstone Village, the central Arlington depository of tchotchkes, fancy baby gear, and all-around cute things which closed two years ago. But Mercury Wine Bar & Grill, once meant to share anchoring duties in the complex that also houses the more casual El Gabacho Tex-Mex Grill, is thriving, even without the retail base to draw folks in.

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Mercury Wine Bar & Grill

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2410 W Abram St, Ste 116, Arlington. 817-538-5888. 5-9pm Mon, 11am-9pm Tue-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri, 5-10pm Sat. All major credit cards accepted.

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The bartender told my dining companions, who had bellied up to the bar to wait for me, to order the calamari as a starter. After we all settled in at the table, we ordered the crispy squid while surveying the fairly diverse menu. The two-inch round, lightly-battered rings (no tentacles) were presented atop a sweetly smoky chipotle sauce. The squid was perfectly cooked and not too chewy, but the sauce made for a bit of a mismatch. It tasted fine, but we wished for a garlicky aioli or at least the sauce on the side –– the calamari at the bottom of the plate ended up soggy.

The Spanish seafood pasta in a spicy cream base included plenty of white fish, salmon, tiny chunks of lobster, shrimp, and other goodies on top of thin noodles. It was like a cioppino with a dairy sauce instead of a tomato-based one. All of the seafood was cooked appropriately, which is no small feat, considering the different sizes of fish and cooking times.

The pear-gorgonzola salad with grilled chicken was a little plate of heaven. Pear slices marinated in red wine augmented a mixed spinach and green salad with a complementarily flavored vinaigrette. The sharp, soft cheese; sweet, slightly al dente pears; and salty chicken were a really divine combination. And the presentation was perfect, with the red-tinged pears peeking out from between green leaves.

Mercury is pretty proud of its ribeye steak, technically a bone-in cowboy cut. The 20-ounce slab had a favorable meat-to-bone ratio. The steak was ordered medium, but what appeared on our table was medium well at the edges and extremely rare at the center. The entrée also came with asparagus that was excessively al dente, bordering on undercooked. Finally, we upgraded to the special house-made Dynamite sauce, described as a zestier version of the classic Oscar steak topper (lobster in a cream base). The sauce didn’t arrive with the steak, but when it finally did midway through the meal, it was so spicy it really overwhelmed the meat –– and almost everything else.

Although the steak came with a vegetable and the seafood dish was joined by a lot of pasta, we ordered the jalapeño cheese grits and mac ’n’ cheese for the table. The grits were deliciously cheesy and spicy; perhaps not as good as, say, Jon Bonnell’s recipe but still good enough to inspire us to finish the whole bowl. Sadly, the macaroni was pretty unappetizing, sitting in a puddle of thin white cheese sauce with a little melted cheddar on top for garnish.

One major disappointment: The desserts were plainly not house-made and not at all spectacular –– or even particularly worth finishing. The strawberry cheesecake had a nice swirl of strawberry paste in the dense cream cheese base but relatively little garnish otherwise. Still, it was a better choice than the dry lemon mascarpone cake. The light lemon flavor was pretty much overwhelmed by the dense mascarpone cheese. Sugar Bee Sweets occupies real estate next to the restaurant, and I asked the server why they didn’t have at least a fresh cupcake on the dessert menu. He shrugged. Alas.

I was hoping that Mercury would be a little better than it actually is. Living in Arlington, I can say we’re in serious need of good, non-chain restaurants with patio seating. There’s so much more Mercury’s owners could do to incorporate fresh, local ingredients –– the meat comes from Allen Brothers, a Chicago purveyor, rather than a source closer to home. Still, the little wine bar is not a bad spot to sit and enjoy a drink and maybe a complimentary salsa dance lesson, offered on Saturday evenings.

[box_info]Mercury Wine Bar & Grill
Fried calamari     $12
Pear and gorgonzola salad w/chicken     $20
Ribeye w/Dynamite sauce     $48
Spanish seafood pasta     $26
Macaroni and cheese
or jalapeño cheese grits     $6 each
Cheesecake     $8
Lemon mascarpone cake     $8[/box_info]

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