Market Restaurant + Bar
The James Beard Foundation doesn’t spend much time culling the culinary scene in San Diego, but on the rare occasions when that taste-making organization ventures south of the L.A. County line, there’s one establishment its members frequent — Market Restaurant + Bar. Executive chef Carl Schroeder was nominated for Best Chef in the Pacific in the 2011 and 2013 editions of the James Beard Awards. And in the case of this organization, it truly is an honor just to be nominated. Since opening in 2006, Market has showcased exacting cooking technique, Southern California’s edible bounty, and the glories of the farm-to-table movement as a whole. Schroeder was an early hoister of the local, sustainable banner so many restaurants now huddle under. Not surprisingly, his cuisine shows polish that shines brighter than his contemporaries.
A simple dish of burrata — something available at a large percentage of eateries throughout San Diego County — sings like no other, coming across like the amplified epitome of all things Italian. The reason: rather than rely on the basic components of a Caprese salad (tomato, basil, olive oil, and mozzarella or, in many modern interpretations, burrata), Schroeder reaches further into the Mediterranean arsenal, bringing forth salty olives, woody rosemary, and espelette pepper-infused oil, all of which add multiple dimensions and big-time flavor.
A bowl of heirloom tomato gazpacho is similarly enhanced with the addition of citric acidity, which is provided in the form of a lemon granite that adds texture in tandem with tartness. A garnish of fried tortilla seasoned a la Mission Hills’ El Indio beats traditional cutlery as a mode of conveyance. Contrastingly, a tamale soup comes across as a warm, soulful hug. The viscous corn creation also benefits from a touch of citrus — lime sour cream in this case — but it’s more subdued so as not to compete with plump bits of duck confit and fingerling potato medallions.
The above are fine examples of simple dishes accentuated in a fairly straightforward manner, but looser interpretations are just as successful. Case in point, a “schnitzel” stuffed with mushrooms and breaded to crispy perfection. Anywhere else, the protein would be the dish, but Market Restaurant + Bar’s version has so many brilliant accoutrements, the veal comes across with nearly equal billing as its supporting cast, which consists of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), roasted chile potatoes whipped into a fine finished product, veal jus, and a perfectly oozy up egg.
A similarly sticky sweet (in a good way) meat reduction accompanies a plate of incredibly tender beef short ribs that are regularly crowned the county’s finest by foodies and critics alike. On the seafood side of the menu spectrum (which is wide-ranging with just under 20 offerings at a time), a topping of sweet Dungeness lump meat comes across on the palate like a Maryland crab cake body meeting a fresh filet of petrale sole. It’s essence of the sea to the nth degree and a fine one-two punch.
Schroeder’s food has been of this quality since day one, but visitors who haven’t stopped by in the past several months will hardly recognize Market, which underwent a full-scale interior renovation, going from rustic chic to neutral-colored contemporary. The sushi bar that once graced the front half of the house is gone and a wood-fired oven has been installed to provide crispy, browned newness to the bill of fare. The dining room is much sleeker and a great deal darker, save for spotlights installed to shine down on place settings and allow for the restaurant’s food to provide the color. Given the cuisine is as carefully and beautifully plated as it is delicious, this intimate redesign completes the perfect pairing of taste and elegance. (858.523.0007, www.marketdelmar.com) Brandon Hernández
Photography by Vincent Knakal