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Market Restaurant + Bar

Last month, I finally crossed off a restaurant that I had wanted to go to for ages.  This place got on my list of restaurants to try back in 2006, not long after it had opened.  The rave reviews from fellow local bloggers, to Yelpers, to magazine reviews, the restaurant had a laundry list of positive feedback.  Yet, the reason it took me almost six years to get there are due to various reasons:

  1. It’s slightly off the beaten path in Del Mar, and not in the main strip of Del Mar restaurants off the coast.
  2. The end bill is not exactly cheap, so that would limit this place to special occasions.
  3. Once, when I got close to going, there were no reservations open for that evening that was before a 9pm seating.

Then comes along my old colleague and friend from my previous job, who was coming to San Diego (technically, it was Valley View Center) for a job.  We scheduled for a dinner meet up and she told me to pick.  Considering she was all the way up in the mountains, though an area I’m familiar with, it is not my first choice for dinner spots.  Hence, I knew I would be choosing something in the northern area of San Diego.  That is when it came to me: we could go to Market Restaurant + Bar!  I knew this would work out since my friend was traveling on the company and would have a food allowance.  Since I didn’t mind picking up my own tab, I quickly jumped on it.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, it was as if time had stood still for the place ever since I saw it all those years ago.  I thought to myself, “I’ve passed by this place enough times during the summer (for the Del Mar County Fair), now I will finally get to see if it was worth the wait!”  (Side note to future patrons – there is no parking at the restaurant and is valet only, but it is free!  Just remember to tip the man.)

The interior is intimate with dark lighting, but it is very simplistic modern feel.  The bar at the entrance is definitely darker with darker colors of deep red, but the main dining room is lighter with persimmon colored walls, accented by lines of “sage” and “avocado green” (according to their website, those are the color names).  The minute I walked into the restaurant, I loved it.  And this is not always the feeling I get when I go to restaurants.  (I can only think of maybe a handful of instances where a restaurant’s décor was an instant love for me.)

On to the food!!!

To start off the evening, our server put in front of us the modified Amuse Bouche of a Ricotta, Pesto, and Tomato Crostini.  My friend AS is allergic to shellfish and apparently the amuse bouche of the night featured shrimp, so hence, we received this one instead.  It was good regardless – simple, fresh ricotta, and not too overpowering.

For our shared appetizers (there were three of us):

The Blue Cheese Soufflé & Shaved Persimmon-Fuji Apple Salad was in our server’s opinion, “Not that rich!  The salad helps cut the cheese down.”  Um….I’ll tell you right now that the soufflé itself, even with the salad, was downright rich.  I could see someone trying to finish this, then take two bites from their entrée and call it a night.  With that said, this was delicious and packed with blue cheese.  For those who do not enjoy blue cheese, do NOT get it!  It’s not just a hint of blue cheese, it’s in your FACE cheese.  The persimmon and Fuji apple salad was light and sweet to accompany the soufflé in perfect harmony.  *cue the harp music*

Our other appetizer was a recommendation from the server (I was hesitant in taking her suggestion considering her advice about the soufflé) when we asked which of the salads was better.  The one we ordered was the Grapefruit and Avocado Salad.  Grapefruit is not a fruit I eat at all because I find the bitterness too overpowering.  I decided to go in with an open mind and took a bite of the salad with a bit of every component.  That is the whole point of a composed dish right?

The bite consisted of the only slightly bittersweet grapefruit, with the creamy avocado, the tangy goat cheese, and mixed greens dressed in Arbequina Olive Oil (which was smooth and fruity like), I was surprised how much I liked it.  I never thought I would, but I did!  The salad is beautiful to look at, as well as to eat.  The flavors all worked with each other and I could not think of anything wrong with the combination.

Entrée time! 🙂

This was the special duo of the evening and AS’ choice!  The duo included Cabernet Braised Shortribs (Buttermilk Fried Onions, Vegetable Roast, Horseradish, Sweet Onion-Potato Purée) and Wagyu Skirt Steak (Aged White Cheddar Braised Potatoes, Broccolini, Roasted Tomato, Crispy Bacon).  Since I don’t eat beef, this was AS and JD’s reactions to the dish: “ZOMG the beef falls apart!  It is so good!  I can’t believe how tender it is!!!”

That was the general thought of the dish as a whole.  And according to the two ladies, they both liked the shortribs more than the skirt steak.  I did try the accompaniments and enjoyed the flavors of them too.

JD’s (a new coworkers of AS and a fellow foodie!) entrée was the Crab & Shrimp Stuffed Salmon with house made gnocchi, mushrooms and broccolini.  I had a bite of the fish with some of the stuffing and was surprised that I enjoyed it.  I am not a fan of cooked salmon; I like mine raw…in a sashimi form!  However, Market seasoned it well and the fish did not have that yucky, “fishy” smell or taste to it.

My selection should not come as a surprise since I never pass up this option.  The Spice roasted Maine dayboat scallops were superb.  The dish was accompanied by black rice, roasted Brussels sprout, fennel, and (if I recall correctly) a red pepper sauce.  My giant scallops were tender, flavorful, and oh so *gurgles in own saliva*.

………………Sorry, I had a moment there but I’m back.  Anyway, I don’t believe the dish is always on the menu since the restaurant does change every so often to reflect the season.

Honestly, the restaurant has yet to show me that they cannot execute a well-composed and cooked dish.  Kudos Market!  Ok, onto our last course!

Dessert!!! (Best part of any meal right?)

For AS, the S’mores – a warm chocolate and graham tart, with toasted brown sugar marshmallow swirl top, and topped with some sea salt.  The dessert comes with a scoop of the malted chocolate ice cream.  It is definitely s’mores for adults and packed with chocolate.  I liked it, but was not in love with it.

For JD, her Crème Fraische Panna Cotta was the disappointment of the evening.  The Panna Cotta with the tangerine sorbet was just too…plain and underwhelming.  I think those were the words we came up with to describe the dessert.  All of us love fruit-based desserts and a clean dish.  This one just did not cut it for any of us.

For moi, give me the Butterscotch custard and chocolate soufflé with espresso-bailey’s ice cream baby!  The dessert comes out as three mini desserts on a plate.  From left to right:  The ball of espresso-bailey’s ice cream is covered with what reminds of coco pebbles at first glance, but I think they are just pieces of chocolate wafer cookies, and it sits on a dollop of caramel – loved.

Then comes the little cup of butterscotch custard, with fresh vanilla whipped cream (and you can see the vanilla beans still!) topped with toffee pieces.  This was butterscotch all right!  Not my usual preference for custards or puddings, but this was small enough so it was still good with its other dessert members.

Lastly, the chocolate soufflé was a miniature “lava cake”.  The cake was good, but when it comes to “lava”-like cakes, my favorite still goes to Roy’s and Café Japengo’s.  Those are the bomb diggity!  Still, Market’s version was a fair in comparison to some I have had at other restaurants.

The desserts seem to be underwhelming overall for the three of us.  After having a stellar start and continued amazement for our entrées, the end was only “ok”.  Despite that, all three of us had an amazing dinner that evening.  I knew there was a reason this place has remained on my list of restaurants to try for years.  And the reason why I could still visit it after all this time, is that they make and serve outstanding food.  That is the why they are still thriving notwithstanding their isolated location.  Market Restaurant and Bar will have to be on my list of best places to go for special occasions.

Market Restaurant + Bar
3702 Via de la Valle
Del Mar, CA 92014

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