The ambiance is almost Zen-like, interrupted only slightly by quiet indie rock music drifting in from the hotel lobby. Floor-to-ceiling windows reach up and up, providing a clear view of the hustle and bustle on Tremont, the parade of umbrellas on a drizzly and unseasonably warm November evening. The space is marked by sleek angles, wooden beams, fibrous beige place mats, curtains and red candles – real ones, a rare sight in restaurants nowadays. In the center of the room, yellow calla lilies and other blossoms spray out of tall white vases, complemented by small bunches of daisies seemingly growing out of a rock at each table. The modern light fixtures are bare bulbs jutting horizontally out of a bar stretching down from the ceiling; imagine a ski slope t-bar. To my left I see a darker, more intimate dining room, set off by heavy curtains and embellished with a vase of orchids.
The wait staff, clad all in black, moves effortlessly around, appearing ninja-like out of nowhere. It is 6 p.m. on a Thursday, and Market is quiet. Several single diners occupy tables and several more are at the bar, all fiddling with iPads and iPhones. A group of businessmen in jackets dominate a larger table, already onto a second glass of wine. In fact, everyone in the restaurant seems to be holding a glass of wine. The fully stocked bar is accented with elegant blocks of light, and it becomes more crowded as the evening progresses.
We meet Chef Matt Barros, who has been at Market for about four months. He seems nervous – proud of his work and eager to please. I am already a fan of his previous work at Myers + Chang, so I am excited to see what he will do under the Jean-Georges brand. Our server, Ray Carignan, has worked at Market since its opening two years ago.
The meal begins with the Market Vegetable Salad: baby beets, cucumbers, bell peppers, grilled finger chilies, sliced fennel, feta cheese, oil-cured olives, red wine vinaigrette, basil and mint. I generally don’t like feta. Here, though, it’s heavenly. The basil and mint taste like summer. I close my eyes, take a bite, and try to ignore the umbrellas outside. For a simple house salad, this is surprisingly outstanding, and I love the hint of spice as the chilies mingle with the vinaigrette. One of my dining companions, Bobby, raves that he could eat a huge bowl of it. So could I, but it’s time to move on to the salmon and oyster tartare. The oysters are local, right out of the Island Creek oyster farm in Duxbury. The dish is garnished with lemon, mustard oil, horseradish, chives and a few slivers of pumpernickel bread. My dining companions contemplate how best to photograph this lovely dish. Dipping the bread into the tartare, perhaps? My hands are quickly rejected and we move on without a hand model. The dish has a small kick from the mustard oil and horseradish. I’m not used to hotel restaurants trusting the American palate with spice, so I like that they give it a try here.
Next, we taste the Maine lobster, one of the most popular dishes on the menu. Each serving contains one and a quarter pounds of lobster: two claws, the full juicy tail and no shell. Served atop sweet Napa cabbage, it’s flavored with jalapeno, ginger and scallions, and it is sautéed in a potato starch coating to give it a light tempura-like crunch. The ginger plays nicely with the jalapeno. More spice! I think I’m in love. My dining companions are satisfied as well, as evidenced by their unison post-first-bite, “This is awesome.”
The grilled filet mignon arrives, beautifully rare and tender. It comes topped with mustard butter, thyme and chives, and is accompanied by caramelized brussels sprouts, toasted pecans and avocado, a seemingly odd steak accompaniment, but it works. The mustard butter shifts me from my anti-mustard stance. I want to pour it on everything.
By now, the restaurant is bustling and we’re feeling full, but it’s impossible to say no to dessert, especially after Restaurant Manager Jordan Tannenbaum gives us an extremely enthusiastic introduction to the salted caramel ice cream sundae and details the difficult process of making salted caramel ice cream. He did not get our hopes up for nothing: it is as wonderful as promised. The best part? It’s topped with caramel popcorn. The Valhrona fudge sauce, peanuts, and vanilla bean whipped cream don’t hurt, either. The table is silent. “You know it’s good when no one’s saying anything,” says my dining companion Jazz, breaking the silence. (It’s still good.) We top it all off with a taste of a Grand Marnier soufflé with dark chocolate, accompanied by mandarin sorbet and crème anglaise.