Review: Market (Del Mar, CA)
Just as the blast furnace known as “Phoenix” was turned to “broil,” we fled with our children in-tow for a two week escape to the seaside paradise of Del Mar, California. Hoping for a bit of anonymity in a region otherwise overflowing with “Zonies,” we settled in to a comfortable condo minutes from the beach. Having spent the first day interviewing babysitters so we could have a few nights on our own, we hit the jackpot with “Girl Jo” (as my son calls her) and felt comfortable making plans to explore the North County dining scene knowing that our kids would be well cared-for.
We enjoyed a very solid meal at Blanca in Solana Beach, but felt odd being one of only three tables at the restaurant on an abysmally dead Sunday night. We missed the energetic buzz of our favorite restaurants back home, and were thus more than a bit hopeful when we pulled into the packed parking lot of Market, in Del Mar, after rambling through the wandering hills of Rancho Santa Fe. The southern California light was beautifully filtered through the cool, dense, and briny air and I knew this was going to be a good night.
My behemoth SUV (hey, we had to pack for two weeks, including gear for the offspring) couldn’t be berthed in the tight lot packed with Aston Martins, Ferraris, and top of the line Benzes, so I tossed the keys to the valet and headed inside to see what the buzz was about. We were seated at a comfortable table in a room that was pleasantly full of energy, but devoid of chaos. I was starting to feel like I really was on vacation. Presented with menus on clipboards identical to those at noca (a favorite of ours in Phoenix), we perused the offerings and found an abundance of things that sounded good. Chilled Avocado Soup, Duck Confit & Organic Peaches, Blue Cheese Soufflé with Plums, Rockfish Ceviche…and those were just a few of the many starters. Entrees ranged from Carnitas Stuffed Chile Relleno to Chermoula Spiced Maine Dayboat Scallops, Cabernet Braised Shortribs and Heirloom Tomato Braised Monkfish. Naturally, there was the requisite Steak for the unadventurous.
Our feast commenced with a delicate amuse bouche of Hickory Smoked Salmon, Cucumber, Micro Arugula, Crème Fraiche, Banyuls Vinegar, Capers and Onions. Fresh, delicate and subtly complex. I would have gladly eaten a huge plate of this, and our expectations for the meal to come were set high.
Starters included the signature Blue Cheese Soufflé & Santa Rosa Plums with Peach Preserve, Butter Lettuce and Candied Almonds, and the Duck Confit & Organic White Saturn Peaches with Mostarda Glaze, Wild Arugula, and Bucheron Goat Cheese. The food was simply plated, well-sauced so that the flavors presented themselves well and the quality of the ingredients was evident. Often, I find that a restaurant’s “signature items” are produced with such frequency that the preparation lacks the care and attention of less frequently ordered items. This was not the case at Market.
We knew we had already ordered too much food, but couldn’t resist adding the “BLT” Salad & Aged White Cheddar Grilled Cheese with Braised Bacon, Heirloom Tomatoes, Avocado and Green Goddess Dressing. This was the highlight of the meal. BLT? Grilled Cheese? GREEN GODDESS DRESSING? Yes, yes, and YES. Why more restaurants don’t offer Green Goddess is beyond me; the 1970’s brought us more than Cher, Muscle Cars and Leisure Suits.
I found the Cabernet Braised Prime Beef Shortribs with Sweet Onion Puree, Corn Sautee and Sherry Glazed Cipollini Onions too fatty for my tastes (and I like fat), and the cabernet reduction overpowered the taste of the meat.
The Lobster with Potato Puree and Onions was up to the task. I don’t usually order “complicated” lobster preparations, but was impressed with the sweetness of the lobster and the way in which the flavors were precise, yet complimentary.
Service was efficient and suitably friendly; our server used to live in Arizona and did a great job pairing an extensive list of by-the-glass wines with our meal. Although the restaurant’s website devotes considerable space to the interior design by Terry Gavre, I found the setting a bit “bland” and slightly worn out. Wood fixtures were showing their abuse and the atmosphere treaded somewhere in between “modern and airy” and “sparse and uninspired.” Maybe it’s time for a refresh.
Though San Diego is not known as a “destination dining city,” I would suggest that Market could stand on its own just about anywhere. It’s no wonder that I like it; Chef Carl Schroeder learned his craft at San Francisco’s Aqua and Marin County’s Lark Creek Inn, two restaurants that helped me find my own culinary voice.
Green Goddess dressing: Red Tracton's in Del Mar reintroduced me in the 80's to this exquisite salad dressing in their signature house salad which continues to be made tableside to this day. About that time I tried a recipe for it at home from Cindy Pawlcyn's "Fog City Diner Cookbook". Heavenly as a dressing or dip for veggies.
As I recall, the dressing was invented by a chef at the Palace Hotel in S.F., I believe in the 30's, at the request of actors at a live theatre next door where the then current hit play "The Green Goddess" was running.
Haven't tried Chef Schroeder's version, but I'll bet its presence on his menu is a nod to or inspired by the version up the road at "Red's".
I can't imagine why the braised short ribs are still on the menu at Market. The time I ordered them, I found the meat to be stringy and the whole preparation to be absurdly salty. Does Schroeder or Gavre ever taste this dish, and if they do, then what are they thinking? Come on people, as any decent home cook knows, braised short ribs are not culinary rocket science.
Nice update on Market! We enjoyed a meal made up entirely of apps last week and the amuse bouche and apps left me wanting to go back the next day! We had the roasted garlic croutons and heirloom tomato soup, strawberry fig and brie salad (over micro arugula and other greens), smoked salmon over blini, shrimp w/ nectarines and arugula, sashimi ahi and yellowtail over spicy rice cakes (the cakes had different types of chili pepper, making one cake a "brighter in your face heat" and the other cake a "slow burn" heat) and duck confit w/ fig jam. Unfortunately, we didn't have time for dessert, as I was eyeing the peaches and cream.
Unfortunately, Blanca has been dead at other times of the week--Thurs and Fridays when I've been there. Between the two, Market has the better food, hands down!
We ate dinner at Market last night.
The food was EXCELLENT. The "amuse" was a lovely, delicate potato chip with house smoked salmon and creme fraiche. The smoked salmon was heavenly, not overly salty.
We shared the foie gras AND the blue cheese souffle. (More on this later). The foie gras was buttery, creamy, ohhh such smoooooth deliciousness. The souffle was cooked to perfection, as the pillowy texture of the cheese was untouched by the crisp, delicate outer shell.
I had the short ribs for dinner. Served with sweet corn and cippollini onions, the savory onions and the crisp, sugary sweet corn provided the perfect backdrop for the rich boldness of the short ribs. My husband has the bison, which I was able to scrounge a tiny bite of before he started beating me away with his fork. He raved about this dish, but I think he was secretly jealous of my short ribs.
Dessert was the lemon (tart? souffle??) and the Market Bars. Both were wonderful, but I must say the tangy lemon was the tops.
So the service...... I am writing with the kindest tone here, as our server was friendly and personable....but....
We were greeted in a timely manner, and then he immediately tried to "upsell" us into bottled or sparkling water. I spent many years as a professional server, and I used to HATE the occasional weekend meeting in which we were admonished to upsell everyone on everything from water to appetizers to coffee. The "upsell" tone of voice from a server is distinct, and it makes me think I am sitting in a Charthouse, not a unique dining room in Del Mar.
The server carried the drinks in his hands, not on a tray. This is nitpicking, yes, but in a house like Market, they should have been delivered on a tray.
We ordered the foie gras to enjoy with our drinks. The server said, "Oh, to share? It's kind of small." We were mulling over the blue cheese souffle anyway, so we ordered that too. Both were excellent (as I stated above), but the foie gras was most certainly not to small to share and I realized we had been "upsold" yet again.
As we started to dive into our appetizers, he asked if we wanted to order dinner. We told him no, that we were not in a rush. The server responded that the longer we waited, the more "other tickets would stack up" in the kitchen. I was taken aback, as this issue is NOT the guest's problem, and it was wildly inappropriate for him to mention it. I gently told him again, we were not in a rush and would order our dinner in a few minutes.
He checked back several minutes later. We placed our dinner and wine order, and requested that our wine be brought WITH our entrees. Dinner arrived QUICKLY after we finished our appetizers. The silverware was not replaced prior to the plates being set down, so we had to wait a moment for the server to fetch a steak knife for the bison dish.
Our wine was....delayed. We waited for a minute or two. No wine. We started eating slowly, but we made it through 1/4 of our meal before the wine arrived. The server apologized for delay, so it was not a total disaster, just inconvenient.
I had the impression they were experiencing an unusually busy Sunday night, as the timing of everything was slightly crooked. Our server was definitely moving with energy and purpose the entire evening. We will return to Market again. The food was an A, the service was a B, but overall, we enjoyed our evening.