It's been around for years now, but the tapas trend is still going strong, since small plates mean big profits for restaurant investors. To explain the trend further, I followed the example of Jessica Hagy's Indexed and drew up this Venn diagram for you.

Mercat is the latest player to enter the tapas game. Chef Jaime Reixach comes to us from Barcelona, and his American co-chefs bring Bouley, Jean-Georges, and Casa Mono experience to the kitchen. Expectations for Mercat are running high.

We walked through the unmarked entrance the other night and into the exposed-brick space for a drink at the open and airy bar. It's worth coming here early and trying to get a seat if you can't snag a rez at Mercat.

By some miracle, we had a reservation, and the women in our party were seated before the guys arrived from the bar. The waitress came up to us, took one look at me and my friend, who is quite pretty and was done to the nines that night, and must have decided we were High Maintenance.

"There aren't any vegetables on the menu, but we can prepare the day's special vegetables for you," she blurted out.

Ah, anorexics and tapas. No wonder our waitress made the assumption we wouldn't want anything caloric. Tapas places are a big draw for anorexics, because you can go through a whole meal of shared small plates without anyone noticing you haven't eaten anything all night. Hooray!

Needless to say, I am not anorexic, and neither is my friend, but we appreciated the offer of fresh vegetables. The sugar snap peas were Green Market fresh and bathed in salty butter. It was the best preparation of sugar snap peas I've had since Grange Hall, where the style was equally fresh and simple. We also ordered the padrones, blistered Padron peppers, because we thought they might be like Nobu's. They were, but Nobu's are a little better than Mercat's, which were slightly overcooked. But Mercat's still had that great salty-sweet combination and the excitement factor: You never know when you're going to bite into the rare spicy pepper.

The guys hoarded a plate of ham until I stuck my fork in that direction often enough for them to return it to the center of the table. Jamon is Mercat's specialty; they have a whole ham-slicing station next to the bar. Traditional serrano ham, center, was slightly dry at the edges and as flavorful as an excellent prosciutto. The small, spicy fuet sausages at the edge of the plate were fiery and surprisingly complex.

High Maintenance ordered the carxofes, which she loves. As mentioned in the Morandi review, I don't really "get" fried artichokes, millenia of Roman history aside. But Mercat's were the best of both worlds for artichoke fans, because they are first fried, then quartered to reveal the tender inside, so that you still have a bit of artichoke to dip in the garlicky sauce.

We all inhaled the patatas bravas. Drizzled with chili-garlic mayonnaise, they were probably fried, not baked, but they were so delicious we didn't care how many calories they contained. It bears noting, however, that carbs can be easily separated from meat here, which really appeals to people on Atkins and which also accounts for tapas' popularity.

When we got to the main courses, the kitchen's newness began to show. I'd heard the monkfish a la planxa in Romanesco sauce was good, but it was decidedly not so. The rule for buying fish is to avoid anything that smells fishy, unless you're dealing with an oily one like bluefish, and that's in its raw state. Something alarming is going on if monkfish smells fishy from across the table when cooked, as Mercat's did. This may be a result of the wood absorbing the fish oils as it roasted, but it was still unappealing.

The grilled hanger steak was completely overwhelmed by a few clinging bits of garlic and parsley. How could this be? As steaks go, hanger has real swagger. It's almost impossible to subdue its pleasantly gamey flavor, unless you marinate it for days in something really, really strong. The contrast of steak to garlic-parsley would have been preferable to one overpowering note.

Whenever a dish proved disappointing, the next one would be blessedly good, like the pa amb tomaquet, toasted bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil. And garlic, though wisely, the menu does not tell you just how much garlic you are eating at Mercat. We couldn't stop eating these and ordered four plates total. This is where the attention to corporate profits comes in: $4 for 2 pieces bread x 4 orders = $16 for 8 slices bread. Meanwhile, Mercat probably paid about $2 at wholesale for the whole loaf of bread. That's at least an 800 percent profit.

Some of the second courses, like the guinea hen with wax beans, cranberries and thyme and the sauteed pea shoots with golden raisins and toasted pine nuts, sounded and looked a lot more exciting than they tasted. But this mellowness could also translate into a kind of Spanish comfort food, like the omelet with chorizo, caramelized onions, and potatoes.

High Maintenance was not going home without the churros con chocolata, so neither were we. No regrets, though: the churros tasted like apple-cider doughnuts, the chocolate like Mexican spice. They went nicely with our rioja.

Despite the kitchen's inconsistency, which one hopes will be ironed out over time, Mercat is still a "buy." The atmosphere is great and fun, if a little loud, and the open kitchen design makes everything a little more convivial and Top-Chef-like.

We have chef Ferran Adria to thank for the Spanish trend in New York. If he hadn't made big profits selling it, would we have bought it? And if we weren't prey to faddish diets, would we be so faddish about food? There's a circular logic to the tapas trend, but no one's complaining about the results.

45 Bond Street, between Lafayette and the Bowery