Market Restaurant and Bar - Restaurant Week Fall 2011

>> Thursday, September 22, 2011

Date of Dining: 9/22/2011
Price: Restaurant week, $40 for 3 course menu, $22 for wine pairing
Location: 3702 Via de la Valle, Del Mar, CA 92014

The Quick Bit:
+ Consistently High Quality Food
+ Great Service by Front of House, they had steady hands!
+ The Wine Pairings were spot on!
+ Vegetarian Options Available
Δ The desserts could have been more consistent in caliber to the rest of the food
Δ Some ingredients could be perceived as overused

Just as I'm posting my second (and probably last) Fall 2011 San Diego Restaurant Week post, word has come down that (surprise surprise) Restaurant Week has been expanded a second week to cover Sept 25-30 as well. Hurry up and get those reservations (tip: call the restaurant instead of using opentable)!
Market Restaurant and Bar is owned by Executive Chef Carl Schroeder. Chef Schroeder graduated from CIA Hyde Park and worked at Michael Mina's Aqua and Bradley Ogden's Lark Creed Inn before moving to San Diego. When he arrived in San Diego, Chef Schroeder led Arterra Restaurant to much acclaim such as "Top 8 Chefs in Southern California" and "California Chef of the Year 2004". This year, Chef Schroeder was nominated as a James Beard Award Semifinalist for Best Chef in the Pacific Region. Unfortunately, Chef Schroeder did not advance to the finals.
The knock on Market Restaurant and Bar coming into this review was that Chef Schroeder played it too safe with his cuisine. He used largely the same proteins and did very little variation on the menu season to season (and year to year).
I attended this dinner with a large group of friends as sort of the annual Restaurant Week visit. Since we did have a large group, I did have to call the restaurant to work out the reservation details. It is unknown to me whether I became "known" to the restaurant during this process, but as far as I know I remained just another customer (although a demanding one). I really appreciate the level of service and the professionalism shown by the front of house during this process as I had to call the restaurant several times and they courteously handled every request efficiently.

Menu (click for larger)
The restaurant week menu was different from the one advertised on the website; I actually prefer this menu as I'm a huge fan of black cod. I shared the menu with with one other person, so you will get to read about my take on six of the dishes. However, we only had one wine pairing, so those courses were paired to my order.

Goat Cheese - apples, toasted hazelnut, micro-arugla, apple cider
The amuse was the first indication to me that Chef Schroeder might be playing his cuisine a little less safe. While cheese serves as a great palette cleanser and the acid from the apple cider should serve to refresh the palette, this was a conceptual idea that wasn't fully refined in execution. The entire bite seemed to remind me of a watery apple crumble, which I associate more with dessert. While the dish failed to please in taste, it was pleasing texturally. The goat cheese had a luxurious velvet mouth feel and the toasted hazelnut provided a nice crunchy textural contrast. I was impressed that Chef Schroeder would serve this as an amuse since it is pretty close to dessert - perhaps a sign of things to come?

First Course A:
Moroccan Spiced Sweet Potato Soup & Duck Confit - roasted apples, Pepita Brown Butter, Toasted Coriander
Paired with
2009 Paco & Lola Albarina Rias Baxias
The first thing that surprised me with the soup was that they entire soup was brought out in the bowl. Furthermore, the waiter that carried the soup had very steady hands (the splash on the edge was actually my fault as I was rotating the soup to get the correct angle). Most fine dining establishments these days bring a bowl with carefully stacked/placed ingredients and then bring a small pitcher of soup to pour into the bowl. It was a refreshing change of pace to have the fully plated soup placed in front of me.
The soup had an excellent combination of spice and natural sweetness. This was complemented by the saltiness and richness of the duck confit. The skin of the duck confit was fried perfectly so it had a great crunch. The toasted coriander seeds were also a nice textural contrast. The soup had a very smooth finish a luxurious velvety mouth feel as it was being savored in the mouth (probably from the brown butter). Unfortunately there was a tiny flaw in the soup - it was too thermally hot when it was first brought out. I nearly burned my palette in the first spoonful, but luckily noticed the temperature before it was too late.
The wine had a nice sweet entrance that was a great counterpoint to the spice of the soup. The finish was more on the buttery side and not dry, which complemented the rich mouth feel of the brown butter in the soup.

First Course B:
Foie Gras Pate & Spiced Duck Sausage - shaved apple salad, pickled mustard, cabbage-apple relish, pistachio toast
I felt dish epitomized what Chef Schroeder perhaps has been labelled as - playing it safe. Before I launch into my personal nitpicks on the dish, I was to say that it was excellently prepared and very enjoyable. Five people ordered it at the table and all were extremely satisfied by the dish. I personally thought the shaved apple salad was amazing. It had just the right balance of sweetness, tartness, and acid to transition from the foie pate to the sausage. I also really enjoyed the whole pickled mustard seeds. They were an excellent way of seasoning the sausage. The biggest complaint from the table was that there wasn't enough pistachio toast to fully enjoy the foie pate.
For myself, I felt the duck sausage erred on the safe side. The flavor of the duck was muddled as it lost the slight gaminess in the flavor, and I also felt the sausage lacked some spice. While it was already a spiced sausage, it perhaps just needed a bit more heat and salt to really carry the flavors through. The foie pate was nice and carried the flavor of foie, but it wasn't an adequate substitute for me for an actual piece of seared foie or a nice foie terrine.

First Course C:
Hawaiian Yellowfin Tuna Tartare - tobiko caviar, citrus-soy broth, avocado, marinated cabbage, nort crackers
This was also ordered at the table but I didn't get to sample it. I did find the plating to be very well done and artistic.

Second Course A:
Miso Glazed Black Cod & Housemade Ramen Noodles - Crispy Chicken Skin, Shiitake Mushroom Bok Choy Saute, Hot & Sour Broth
paired with
2007 Mt Rosa Pinot Noir Central Otago New Zealand
I thought this was the best dish of the night. The hot a sour broth was slightly salty for me when enjoyed alone, but it necessary for flavoring the noodles. The housemade noodles seemed to be of the alkaline variety, and were cooked perfectly to have the correct chewy texture for contrasting the soft buttery cod. The crispy chicken skin added a large element of savoriness to balance the umami of the fish, and also provided the crispy textural contrast. The other element that worked great in this dish was the smell; it gave off a very pleasant aroma when it arrived to let its presence be known. Combined with the crunch from the crispy chicken skin, it could be said that this dish was a feast for all five senses. The fish itself was cooked perfectly with the skin and retained a lot of the fat and oils that makes black cod so enjoyable.
The Pinot was more of an old world pinot, which helped in this dish as it did not need all the fruit forwardness. The more tart and subtly sweet flavors of black fruit worked in harmony with the broth. The finish was more of a smooth finish, which worked well with the oils of the fish in the broth.

Second Course B:
Cabernet Braised Prime Beef Shortrib & Ribeye Cap Duo - Sweet Onion Potato Puree, Braised Collard Greens, Roasted Baby Beats
The beef dish is another dish that could be considered safe for Chef Shroeder, but it was just impeccably executed. The short rib had the telling glaze that signaled its goodness, and the rib eye cap (my favorite part anyway) was cooked to a perfect medium rare as requested. The beats, collard greens and onions all enhanced the flavors of the beef, and apparently I don't hate potato purees. This particular puree was very airy and creamy.

Dessert A:
Chocolate-Espresso Ice Cream Sandwich - malted milk chocolate ice cream, banana caramel
paired with
Ramos Pinto Quinta do Ervamoira 10 year Tawny Port
The chocolate-espresso cookies were made to almost resemble macaroons in the texture of the cookie. I thought this was a big win as I'm actually a fan of a well made macaroon. Unfortunately, I thought the malted milk chocolate ice cream didn't really offer enough contrast to the cookie in flavor. The entire ice cream sandwich seemed a little boring flavor wise. The banana caramel was very well executed, but I didn't get the pairing of banana and espresso.
Fortunately I didn't order dessert for the actual dessert as much as the port pairing. I was extremely happy with the port and it was a perfect way to cap off the meal.

Dessert B:
Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta - Green Apple Sorbet, Pomegranate Molasses
By the time this course rolled around, I was getting very weary of apples. They seemed to occur several time throughout the menu and it seemed to be lacking creativity to have apple appear so many times. Although we didn't have an entree with apples, the Jidori chicken entree did include some apples, which just seems to be wrong in being able to order all three courses and the amuse to contain apples.
I enjoyed the panna cotta, but found the apple sorbet to be too tart for my taste. The females at the table absolutely adored the tartness of the apple sorbet though, so perhaps this was just my taste. I did enjoy the pomegranate molasses and jello.

Dessert C:
Spiced Toffee-Date Cake - Carmelized Pears, Marscapone Mousse, Spiced Candied Cashews
This was the best dessert of the night. While I felt the other two desserts were weak, this one did contain all the elements of sweet, spice and texture that I tend to enjoy. Unfortunately, I only got one bite of this dessert so that's about all I can contribute.

Overall, I was extremely impressed by the restaurant week experience I had at Market. Even though Market is one of those restaurants that totally changes the menu for Restaurant week from their normal menu, I was extremely impressed by caliber and refinement of the dishes I was served. I hope that Chef Schroeder continues to step outside the box and develop more interesting dishes.

My experience at Market is enough to award it the megabyte award. While I did taste six seven dishes, I did not get to sample enough savory courses to elevate market to a higher award. I feel like it is definitely worth a re-visit to try Chef Schroeder's tasting menu at a later date to see if Market can ascend the award ranks. Additionally, since my wine pairings were done so well, I've decided to award Market the oeno-byte award.  Again, three wines is perhaps not enough to give this judgement, but consider it a probationary award until I sample the wine pairing with the tasting menu.


Rodzilla September 23, 2011 at 4:09 AM  

I tried the shortrib on my visit, and it was one of - if not the best I've ever had. I'm not crazy about the setting, but I can't fault the preparation of the food and would certainly go back. The back of the house is doing a great job.

Clifford September 24, 2011 at 1:27 AM  

hey james, i knew it wouldnt be very long til i found the blogger who was in the other night haha. my names travis and i cook on the hotline at market, and i have an ameteurish blog over at i just do it for shits n giggles. but anyway, im glad we could have had you in and im also really glad yo hear you enjoyed your meal so much! if theres one thing ive learned from my 3 years cooking at market is that consistency is key. everyone single cook back there with me really strives to be the best and wants to cook the best food possible, so its a really great environment for a young cook. im little bummed you didnt get to try the chicken dish, since thats what is coming off my station though haha. woulda been the moistest chicken youd ever had haha. once again, thanks for coming in and come back soon! we will be ravamping the entire menu over the next few days so when restaurant week is over we will run right into new stuff.

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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
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