Thursday, March 13, 2008
Yes, it's true - between Restaurant Week, a birthday and a long overdue dinner with friends, we hit all of these places within thirty days. (Not the last thirty days, I am a little behind in posting this!) This much fine dining in such a short time span is a rare occurance for us - as evidenced by the fact that I'd never been to Blanca or Cavaillon before this adventure - but I'd been wanting to try them both for a long time, and I'm glad I did.
The first of the three meals was at Market, where I have dined on two prior occasions. I do know the pastry chef there, James Foran, from the classes I have taken from him at Grossmont's Culinary program, but the restaurant was not aware of this, so it had no affect on our experience. (My husband) James and I actually arrived early for dinner (another rare occurrance for us) so we decided to have a drink at the bar. There we experienced something I've noticed on prior visits. Somehow, there's an attitude about the place. It's not exactly a bad attitude, and I've never had neglectful service there - it's more of a casualness that comes off as arrogance. Not everyone we've dealt with there has inflicted this on us, but it still seems to pervade the place somehow. The transparent, gracious service that I've experienced in other fine dining restaurants (even in San Diego) just isn't in evidence here.
At the bar, we sat a little longer than we should have without having our order taken. It wasn't that busy and it just felt like we were being made to wait. Since we were early, along with our cocktails we also ordered a sushi roll - one of their house concoctions that sounded good - with hamachi, as I recall. The cocktails were excellent, but the sushi never arrived. Twenty minutes went by, and it was time for our reservation. Our dining companions arrived and our table wasn't ready yet, so we moved to a table in the bar area and ordered another round of cocktails. Still no sushi.
Finally - about forty minutes after we ordered it, our lone sushi roll arrived. The first thing I noticed was that it was covered with slivers of fresh cut onion. Raw onion on sushi? Wondering if we had received the wrong order, I walked over to the bartender and nonchalantly asked to see the menu. To me, this encapsulates what is wrong with the service at Market. Rather than simply handing it to me, he asked why I wanted to see it. Maybe he already suspected my reason, but I thought it was odd that he challenged me. I explained to him that I thought perhaps we had received the wrong roll, since it had onion on it (which was not, incidentally, mentioned on the menu.) His response? "That's the way our chef does it." Okaaaay. I went back to the table, and we picked off the onion and ate it. Literally as well as figuratively though, the incident left a bad taste in my mouth.
A few minutes later at our table, the first thing our server did was tell us that the chef, Carl Schroeder, goes down to Chino Farm right down the road every day to get the vegetables. There seemed to be an expectation that we should just be wowed by this information, and consider ourselves incredibly lucky to be there. I might have actually rolled my eyes, I can't be sure.
Don't get me wrong - I am all in favor of supporting local farms and I think it's great that they are patronizing Chino's - but I also happen to think Chino's is more than slightly overrated. It's extremely expensive and not organic - and I have had some negative customer service experiences there - as have some others I know. It is what it is, and I can accept that - but it grates on me that this information is presented as some sort of epiphany at the start of the meal.
For the first course, we ordered two servings of the foie gras tasting and the ahi tartare and shared them. I loved the foie gras, especially the seared version with the bit of french toast. The ahi was a little ordinary but certainly fine - it was exactly what it was supposed to be. My main dish was a duck confit - which I was disappointed to find contained five spice. I can't abide five spice and avoid it if it's on the menu - but it wasn't listed. You could say this wasn't the restaurant's fault because it's a matter of personal taste and it was otherwise well prepared, but it really should have been listed on the menu since it is such a strong flavor. (The last time I was there I had a phenomenal duck confit dish with marmalade and grapefruit - maybe the best I've ever had.) For dessert, we split a few things that were all pretty good. James however, ordered a single cheese (you can get one, two or three at increasing price intervals) and was disappointed with the small serving. He describes it as a stick of gum. Really, it was more like a BB Bat. We were the last people to leave - the restaurant cleared out around 9:00 PM, which was kind of sad for a Saturday night.
All in all, I do think Market serves some very good food. It's not transcendent or tremendously imaginative - but they have an appealing menu, they use high quality ingredients, and they don't over-reach or over-complicate things. Somehow though, the service and atmosphere just don't create the kind of well rounded, pleasant dining out experience that one (or at least I) would expect at this level. The problem is partly the room, which is a converted office space, but it's just as much the vibe - made up of the attitude of the staff, the clientele, and the location. I'm afraid they don't have much incentive to fix these issues since they are swamped every night with business (our boastful waiter also informed us that they were sold out for all five nights of Restaurant Week) but I really wish they would. Until then, with so many other appealing dining options around town and so many new ones yet to be tried - I'd be hard pressed to go back anytime soon.
I also wrote about my first experience with Market here and a blurb about the second experience (which was much better) here.
7330 Via De La Valle
Del Mar, California
reservations available via Open Table
Posted by Alice Q. Foodie on Thursday, March 13, 2008