When Mercy Kasle was attending Cal State in the early seventies and needed a job, she answered an ad placed by a woman looking for someone to cook and do light housekeeping. During the interview, she recalls, the woman “asked me if I knew how to cook, and I said no–but I know how to read.” She got the job and immediately immersed herself in studying recipes and learning all she could about food. Now, four decades later, she’s the guiding spirit of a new restaurant that bears her name.
Mercy, fifty-nine, and her husband Steve Kasle, sixty, opened Mercy’s in the former Earle Uptown space in the Bell Tower Hotel in late January. And both maintain that you won’t find its unusual fusion of French and Asian cuisine anywhere else in the area, mostly because of Mercy’s emphasis on Burmese recipes. Born in Burma, Mercy immigrated to the United States in 1966, and many of the dishes are based on her mother’s recipes. Burmese cuisine borrows elements from Thailand and India, resulting in a unique fusion of spices and curries and in dishes that tend to be tart rather than sweet.
Entrees, priced at $15 to $34, include ginger salmon wrapped in Swiss chard, French bistro lamb shanks, and ohn-no-kauk-swe, Burmese chicken-coconut soup. Starters run $5 to $15 and include duck confit egg rolls, ginger chili-glazed beef on rosemary skewers, and scallop crepes St. Jacques. Because Mercy’s is right across the street from Hill Auditorium, it also offers a special before-the-show menu featuring dishes that can be made quickly for people who want to get to a concert on time.
The Kasles met at Cal State in 1972, but they didn’t get into the restaurant business until 2000. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English, Steve spent several decades helping run the family business, Kasle Steel, in Detroit. Mercy, who got her degree in music, taught school and raised their two daughters. Steve retired in the mid-nineties and taught school himself. Meanwhile, Mercy was running a catering company she co-owned.
To learn the business side of running a restaurant, she got a job as a hostess and assistant manager at Miki. She convinced Steve to quit teaching and come work alongside her a few months later. When they were ready to open a restaurant of their own in 2001, Kerrytown Bistro owner Ron Cresswell approached them about buying his place. They agreed and operated it until the lease ran out in 2003. They’ve been looking for another place ever since, traveling and spending time with their two grandkids until the perfect opportunity presented itself. When the Earle Uptown closed last summer, they knew they’d found it.
“Our focus is going to be the town,” Steve says. In terms of affordability, “we are trying to be on the low end of fine dining. We want [Mercy’s] to be a very special place that everyone will want to come to.”
Mercy’s, 300 S. Thayer (Bell Tower Hotel). 996-3729. Tues.-Thurs. 4-10 p.m., Fri. 4-11 p.m., Sat. 5-11 p.m. (After April 1: Sun. 5-10 p.m.)
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