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Market Table

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Market Table

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Address: 54 Carmine (at Bedford)
City: New York, NY
Zip: 10014
Phone: (212) 255-2100
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Map: Map
Chef: David Standridge
Cuisine: New American
2nd Cuisine:
Area: West Village


Review:

Eating out in New York City is about so much more than the pursuit of nutrition and hunger management. It's become a barometer of your social status. Where you can get in, who you know, what's on your list of where to eat-these have all become social indicators of a certain kind. And with every dining choice you make, you reveal a little bit about yourself. Pick a table at Wakiya and you're clearly chasing scene, not food. Make The Spotted Pig your regular haunt and you'll take the crazy crowds because the food's killer. Stick to places like Savoy, Five Points, Union Square, Telepan and The Tasting Room, and you're telling people you're a locavore. Stick to more elegant restaurants like Blue Hill and Gramercy Tavern and you're saying you're a locavore of a certain net worth. Get a personal welcome from Andrew Carmellini at A Voce, and it's likely that you've got a Nonna somewhere that you miss. Hang out in Jackson Heights most nights of the week and clearly you're an ethnic food connoisseur. Have a list of reservations for this week that includes Shorty's, Grayz, Bobo, and Centro Vinoteca, and an invite to friends and family at the soon to open Irving Mill, and you're a feverish foodie. For every restaurant chosen, a judgment can be made. It's a rat race of its very own genre, this food business of ours. And it can be tough to navigate. You want to eat everywhere, see it all, be first, find the best, have it all. I don't know about you, but some days I love it, and other days it's enough to make me want to escape to some small town in Vermont. But beyond the madness, past the scene, through the typecasting and the pigeonholing, there's Market Table. This restaurant is the latest concept from yet another graduate of the Jimmy Bradley/Danny Abrams school of cooking and hospitality: chef Mikey Price, who was last at Mermaid Inn. As far as I am concerned, Jimmy and Danny should be given an award of excellence for the quality of chefs and front of house managers they turn out. The short list includes chefs Joey Campanaro (Little Owl), Harold Dieterle (Perilla), not to mention Steven Eckler (Chinatown Brasserie), Connor Coffey (Smith's), and many more. The Bradley/Abrams formula is a simple one: be warm, be welcoming and friendly; anticipate and meet customers' needs; serve the sort of honest food that your customers would make at home if they had the inclination to turn on the stove; tuck it all inside four walls of a restaurant that feels hip but casual, that's intimate and comforting. That formula is what makes up the backbone of The Little Owl, owned by Campanaro and his genuinely hilarious and charming front-of-house partner Gabriel Stulman, and it is also the foundation of the general store/restaurant known as Market Table. Market Table may be on everyone's lips as the table to eat at, but walk inside and you're not in the hot spot du jour, you're in a slice of Mayberry that somehow got transplanted to the West Village. The double life of the restaurant as both grocery and restaurant contributes to its countrified charm. There's a general store up front-the market-stocked with flowers, olive oils, breads, assorted jars of mustard and fancy condiments, as well as cheeses, housemade sauces, breadsticks and more. The glassed-in deli case which separates the store from the open kitchen (it's okay to wave to Mikey) is filled with what you might find in a chef's walk-in-butchered meat and fish, fresh herbs, gravlax, sauces and stocks, and dairy products like cheese and butter. Counter tops are covered with that day's baked goods, including muffins, grissini, and a sheet of must-have tomato pie. I've gotta say a few words about that tomato pie, actually. Partner Joey Campanaro hails from Philly and his recipe for tomato pie is quite special. It's essentially a cheeseless pizza with a very intense, almost meaty tomato sauce studded with brackish cured olives. The sauce has a somewhat puttanesca zing to it. It makes me wonder why Joey has not opened a tomato pie shop here. (Joey?) Hang around long enough in the market and you're bound to get a cooking tip or two, or a taste of something one of the chefs is working on-a nibble of gravlax, a bite of tomato pie, a blini with caviar. It's sort of like being at home with mom in the kitchen, except that mom in this case is a team of cooks and one super talented chef. Plus there's less guilt. But soon you'll want to leave the Mayberry Market and settle in for dinner, where you'll find a modest menu made of seven apps and seven entrees. The simple format belies Mikey's straight-forward approach to cooking: let the food do its thing by doing as little as possible to it. The result is chicken that tastes like it came from Kobe, crab that tastes just plucked from a claw, and eggplant that's left to be an eggplant, with flavors coaxed out by little more than a hot oven, salt, and olive oil. Craig and I started with the house cured salmon gravlax-thin and silky sheets piled onto slices of rich, dark slices of pumpernickel bread and served atop a lively salad of frisee and sliced hard-boiled eggs ($10). We couldn't resist the short rib gnocchi, which was so generous it might as well be an entrée. For $12 you're treated to a shallow bowl filled with surprisingly light marshmallow-sized gnocchi dunked in a nutty and tangy Parmesan broth stocked with swirling ribbons of escarole and luscious hunks of melting short ribs. It's a wonderfully homey fall dish that makes you crave the slight chill of autumn air. Unfortunately, with temps hitting 90s lately, the food and the climate are not necessarily in unison, but no matter, the dish is divine. Mikey's pan-roasted chicken ($17 for half a chicken) follows the Red Cat/Little Owl formula-crispy crunchy golden skin, like a suit of edible armor shielding moist juicy meat-served over roasted sweet potatoes tossed with a nutty hazelnut brown butter. Substitute turkey for the chicken and you've got a Pilgrim's feast. To the chicken, we added a side of hush puppies ($7) the size of plums, served with sweet clover honey butter that melts on contact with the just fried puppies and will have you happily licking your fingers for some time during dinner. Price hails from Baltimore, and his Maryland crabcake sandwich ($19) does his home state proud. The sandwich, which contains a generous pan-fried pancake fashioned from a gargantuan amounts of lump crabmeat, is swiped with a tomato-caper aioli, has only one flaw: its roll. It's way too big for the crab cake. Gimme something a little thinner and smaller, maybe even an English muffin or a homemade flatbread pita, to bring the bread-to-crab ratio down a bit. Right now its 3-to-1, and for the delicate nature of this filling, I think it needs to be 1-to-1. His seafood pan roast has no ratio issues. It's reminiscent of bouillabaisse and eats like the contents of a fisherman's net have been emptied into a pan-a thick fillet of bass, a couple of fat caramelized scallops, some sweet shrimp and a clutch of plump mussels bobbing in a shallow tomato broth seasoned with fennel and swimming with Sardinian fregola (think cous cous on steroids). You get a wedge of warm toasted garlicky bread with it, so don't be shy. That broth is too good to leave behind. Slurp, mop, sop-but get it all. At night, Market Table fills up to capacity, and the buzz of conversation coupled with the triple height of the wood-beamed ceilings, the hard wood floors, and the walls made of windows don't do much for the acoustics. That said, the candlelight and the sweet energy of the room make it an ideal place to lean in and get cozy. (Yes, it's a good date place.) At lunch, the glassed-in room fills up with light and there's a slow peacefulness to that comes over the space. On a sweltering day last week, Craig and I walked over and ate at the bar, sharing a burger and the eggplant parm, and a few bottles of cold PBR (Gabriel's recommendation), which were thirst quenching and almost as refreshing as a dunk in the Atlantic. Served at lunch only, the burger ($12) comes with the works-cheddar, caramelized onions, slices of pickle and a heap of golden fries, crunchy and hot, and sprinkled with salt. But the works are mere accessories to the stunning mound of meat that rests between the puffy bun-perfectly cooked to medium rare, and seasoned so well that my mind wandered to the Spotted Pig burger and placed this one next to it in my brain's burger rankings. While Craig was all over the burger, the eggplant parm ($13) was a bit tougher of a sell for him. You see, he has an issue with eggplant. He doesn't eat it. When I asked him why, his answer was not very convincing. "I don't like the name. It just sounds unappealing, an egg coming out of a plant," he said. I considered his position and had an idea. "What if I called it Aubergine?" I asked. "French for eggplant." He took a sip of his PBR and got quiet for a moment. "Okay, I think I can have the Aubergine parm," he said. His first bite was tentative and then the next thing I knew, the plate was clean, not one arugula leaf left behind. "That's some good Aubergine," he said, smiling. It is, indeed. Mikey shaves zucchini on the mandoline into thin wide ribbons that he wraps around a filling of roasted chunks of eggplant, forming a package the size of a deck of cards. Then he breads the deck in panko and pine nuts and pan-fries it so it's golden and crunchy on the outside, and then tops it off with pine nuts and the same intense tomato sauce that tops off the tomato pie. It's much more refined than any eggplant parm you've ever had. There's no cheese, no grease, and of course there's no eggplant-just Aubergine.



Review By: Andrea Strong


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