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.