Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Foodies Can Shop for Extravagant Tastes at Market

Attention, shoppers. Upon hearing that world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten – yes, he, the creator of the often imitated yet infrequently replicated warm chocolate cake – was bringing his culinary empire to Boston, it sparked a thought that maybe – just maybe – the culinary scene in Boston may finally be catching up to New York as one of the region’s (country’s?) most exciting dining destinations. Sure, Boston has its highly-regarded Ken Oringers, Michael Schlows, and Barbara Lynches, but their proprietary reach has yet to go international (can any of these chefs claim restaurants as their own overseas in places including British Columbia, Mexico and Qatar?). Located in the new, ultra-modern W Hotel at the corner of Stuart Street, this Market is not difficult to find.

Particularly as you enter its doors. The dining room’s decor oozes chicness, from its oversized windows, to its razor-thin, sleek lighting frozen in midair, to Asian-inspired touches including wood crevices along the ceiling. This is where good-looking, well-to-do individuals spend their time and money.

But Vongerichten’s cuisine – best described as comfort food meets gourmet - is what this shopper had on his to-do (to-eat) list, and shockingly enough, what was sampled presented a mixed bag of goodies. The tuna tartare with avocado, spicy radish and ginger dressing was surprisingly average, attributed to the rather bland texture of the tartare itself. The spicy radish atop the tuna provided a nice, crispy contrast, although the dressing’s flavor was a tad overpowering. In addition, the much-ballyhooed parmesan-encrusted organic chicken, served with artichokes and lemon-basil butter, was a disappointment. What promised to be a tender cut of chicken turned out slightly on the dry side (I’m crying fowl), and while the artichokes were a respectable accompaniment, the citrusy flavor emanating from the creative lemon-basil butter composition in which they were soaked was off-putting and did not mesh well with the dish. This is not to say that Vongerichten’s plates stumble miserably. Far from it, given his sky-high aspirations and unique usage of ingredients (other local chefs would kill to prepare these dishes). What can be ascertained from these dishes is that are merely good, not great. On the other hand, green apple crisp served in a warmed skillet with cinnamon ice cream was ultra-fresh, crumbly-good comfort food, particularly on a bleary, wintry New England afternoon.

Service was astute and prompt. Water glasses and napkins were promptly filled and folded, respectively. A slightly delayed house made soda was the lone blip, but after sipping on the bright yellow, passion chili concoction – which possessed a well-balanced sweetness and heat – all was forgiven.

Value is in line with equally esteemed dining establishments in the area. For lunch, soups and salads range from $8-13, pizza and sandwiches $9-16, appetizers $11-17, entrees faring very well at $18-23. The Market Lunch is a steal at $24 for 2 plates and dessert. Dinner prices are comparable, with only certain entrees reaching into $30 territory, while the Market Dinner is a king’s feast at 5 plates and dessert.

Although Paul’s Palate’s shopping/dining experience at Market proved to be a mild letdown, he’d be receptive to a return visit. After all, there were other highly lauded plates, such as sea urchin toast with yuzu and jalapeno, foie gras brule with spiced fig jam, seared shrimp with silky pumpkin emulsion, and the aforementioned chocolate cake that remained untasted. There’s more than enough culinary experimentation and variety at Market to make dining here both rewarding and dare-I-say, affordable. That should grab your attention, shoppers.