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Dinner at Market Table, 3/08/08

I guess I'd taken Emily's single status (though very shortly lived) for granted. This past summer, our friendship really blossomed when both of us found ourselves newly single after leaving rather long and serious relationships. About six weeks ago, Emily met a really fantastic gent...And is now his girlfriend! After going back and forth, we finally got a "girl's night" dinner date in the books! Emily was able to score a 9:45 p.m. dinner reservation on Saturday night at Market Table.

After a round of drinks at Bar Fry (which, sadly, no longer exists), we headed over to Market Table. From the street, one would never be able to discern the restaurant's rustically charming interior. The front door invites patrons inside of a two-roomed space; one comprised of a market/hostess stand/kitchen and pseudo-waiting area and further back, there's the restaurant's dining room. Dividing the open-kitchen from the first room was a large glass case displaying fresh cuts of carnivorous morsels. This space reminded me of being in an old fashioned general store, for example, there were: built-in shelves stocked with endless bottles of wine, canned vegetables and jars of jam; homemade muffins displayed on platters and a chilled case stocked with Murray's most popular cheeses. However, the most impressive ingredient on display was Chef Mikey Price...In person...Decked out in chef's attire...(Gasp)...Cooking!! How often is it that the chef/owner is actually present once his/her restaurant takes off? The best part was getting the opportunity to talk with Mikey who, by the way, is the most humble (and pretty cute, I might add) chef I've met to date.

Roughly ten minutes later, the friendly hostess led us to our table. Bordering the opening of the entrance to the dining room was a shelf-like arch stocked with dark bottles of wine. Walls that weren't exposed brick were floor to ceiling windows, which I imagine may open up in the summer months. Sporadically placed cylindrical pitchers of water held bountiful branches of fruitful cherry blossoms that added soft, feminine color to the dark, rustic space. Illuminating the room were hundreds of twinkling votive candles placed on the restaurant's decent-sized bar, window sills, and dining tables made of butcher block. The atmosphere gave me the sense of being in someone's cozy log cabin or intimate lodge, apres ski, of course!
Our fabulous server was also the perfect pseudo-sommelier, recommending wines suited for each one of our picky palettes. Once each of our glasses was filled, a small basket of country white bread, sea salt flakes and a saucer of olive oil arrived. (automatic points scored for me not having to ask for salt~bonus points added for the salt being sea salt flakes~amen!) After perusing the food menu, we decided to split the following appetizers: Bacon wrapped scallops, gnocchi with short ribs, and the fennel and apple salad. Each of us proceeded to order our own entrees. I chose the strip steak, Emily went with the cheeseburger, and Nora ordered the pan-roasted monkfish.

Since each of the three appetizers were placed in front of us individually, we decided to work on each dish for a moment, then rotate the plates around the table for everyone to try. Perched atop a ladling of buttery corn grits, two leaves of bitter mustard greens, chocolate-brown pan gravy and a spoonful of what tasted like candied-orange puree were two of the most plump, golf ball sized, caramelized-bacon-wrapped scallops I've ever seen in my life. This dish required the use of all three utensils! The only other time I've had scallops this good was in Memphis, when I ordered them prepared "Rockefeller style," which also incorporated bacon and greens.
Assuming that neither of the other appetizers could top the scallops, I was hesitantly ready to try the gnocchi with short ribs. What looked like a pile of 1/2-inch dough "tubes" was a mound of homemade potato gnocchi swimming in a shallow parmesan-chicken broth, topped with steamed escarole, melted tomatoes, shredded braised short rib and freshly grated parmesan cheese. The gnocchi was dense enough to hold its shape, but each bite yielded a soft and creamy "melt in your mouth" explosion. The short rib gave the pasta a nice, meaty texture and a slowly-braised and slightly sweet flavor. The chicken-parmesan broth naturally added a salty element, and the escarole and tomato brought an earthy tang to the dish.
Last but certainly not least, the fennel and apple salad was my final appetizer tasting. Plated in a shallow bowl was shredded fennel, julienned Granny Smith apples, cilantro leaves and pickled onions topped with a couple of thinly sliced petals of parmesan cheese. This salad was an absolute delight and reminded me of a very chic approach to traditional vinegar-based cole slaw. The shreds of fennel must have marinated in the slightly sweet and sour oil-vinegar base, as the vegetable didn't have its naturally crunchy texture, thus reminding me of slaw. The addition of the sweet apples and the tangy pickled onions was a great contrasting flavor combination. My favorite ingredient that made the dish pop was the distinctive flavor of the cilantro leaves. What a fresh, crisp and creative take on salad!

Roughly 15-20 minutes later, our entrees arrived. Nesting on a rather large plate was my perfectly-char-grilled strip steak floating in a shallow pool of thin pan gravy, topped with a golden fried artichoke and paired with an arugula, yellow and red tomato and sliced purple onion salad. While I'd ordered my beef to be prepared "medium," it arrived medium-well, resulting in a tougher bite than I typically like. The quality and cut of the steak was excellent, but had it been cooked just a bit less, it would have been outstanding. What blew me away was the fried artichoke that sat atop the chop. I've had fried artichokes before, and I feel that because the artichoke heart contains so much water, the breading used to fry the vegetable with doesn't stick to the flesh very well. Folks, however Market Table prepared theirs was shear genius, because there must have been a 1/16-inch-thick golden crust enveloping this sucker. It was magical! I had a bite of both Nora's pan-roasted monkfish and Emily's cheeseburger (which is now a contender with Peter Luger's for first place), each absolutely wonderful.

This gorgeous cheeseburger is the culinary equivalent to Brad Pitt's good looks. Hot damn!
My advice to you would be to get to Market Table as soon as you can. There is something on its glorious menus for everyone, and I can almost guarantee that you'll have a perfect meal. I must say that this dining experience was one of my two best in NYC, thanks in part to getting to spend time with my dear Emily.

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