MRKT Restaurant, located at 6 Elm St in South Deerfield, MA, is the new creation of Josean Jimenez, formerly of Del Raye Restaurant in Northampton. Del Raye, which was the fanciest of the Spoleto Restaurant Group's stable of restaurants until it closed a few years ago, served some pretty fantastic food, but the one time I went there I was struck by the fact that the food seemed to take a back seat to the experience and ambience of the place. MRKT does not suffer from that issue, and I don't mean that negatively at all; the decor is fantastic, very simple, and the atmosphere is perfect for a date (which is why I was there, and also why there will be no pictures today), a group of friends, or even a business lunch/dinner. The restaurant is one of a growing number of "farm to table" types, specializing in, according to their Facebook page, "local, organic, ethical and natural ingredients."
Located in the building vacated by Alina's, a reasonably well known local restaurant that moved to Hadley, MRKT looks like a simple storefront that could be easily mistaken for an antique shop. Once you step inside, you enter a dimly lit (but not dark) dining room, with tables for about 60; the tables are set far enough apart that you wouldn't ever feel crowded even if it were packed, and if they were simply trying to maximize profit I think they could fit another 20 to 30 people. It's a white tablecloth kind of place (literally and figuratively), but it doesn't feel stuffy at all, and I didn't feel under-dressed in a pair of nice jeans and a half-zip sweater.
The food is even more impressive than the atmosphere, though it's expensive. Even without drinks (the restaurant is BYOB at the moment, though they are working on getting their liquor license) the bill was just over $100 for two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts; add in tip and the $12 bottle of Chimay Blue Cap Grande Reserve I brought (see my review of the same here) and I went over the $140 mark. Thank heaven for overtime, huh? I didn't mind the cost though, as the meal was delicious and I had a great time. It's also to their credit that MRKT does not charge a corkage fee, at least not for a wine bottle sized beer, and they have wine and pint glasses available.
We started with a special appetizer, roasted bone marrow, which was served with a small salad on the side and some toasted bread, and a cheese platter, which consisted of a brie like smooth cow's milk, a chevre, and a bleu. The cheeses were fine, but at $15 I would have expected more than three small wedges of cheese, a small pile of local honey comb (which was pretty awesome), and a small pile of fruit mostarda. They were not stingy with the bread, at least, offering to bring more at request without extra charge. We didn't end up finishing all the cheese, but only because they brought our entrees out before we did; this was one of a series of small issues with service that I will talk about later. The bone marrow was quite good, worth whatever it cost (I have no clue), and it was my date's first time having it, so that was a win in my book. Hint to the women out there; not only being willing to try something a little out of the norm like bone marrow, but in fact suggesting it...that kind of adventurousness is really sexy. At least to me. And that's what matters, clearly.
The entrees were a huge success, for a couple reasons. First off, my companion ordered the Casco Bay Cod, served with quinoa, radish, arugula and a red wine butter sauce, which was perfectly cooked, flaky but not falling apart, and not remotely tough. This was great for both the fact that it tasted good, and because Casco Bay is among my favorite places on this planet, and I have spent a significant portion of my life on Peaks Island, the most populous island in that bay. My dry aged ribeye was perfectly cooked, a lovely deep purple rare, exceptionally tender and with the strong beef flavor associated with dry aging. My only complaint was that the fat wasn't well trimmed from the edges, creating some slightly tough cutting and bites when I didn't realize that right away. Even with that, it was a completely reasonable $29, for a pretty decent sized hunk of meat. The heirloom potato and rainbow carrots were delicious, and the soubise (repetitively labeled "onion soubise") was nice.
For dessert I had a panna cotta, which was vastly better than the one I had at d.Vino in Las Vegas. Richer, with a serious lemony flavor and much denser, this was what I was expecting from a panna cotta after seeing it on tv before. I was a huge fan, and would highly recommend it. My date had the chocolate budino, a chocolate shell with caramel, chocolate ganache, sea salt and a drizzling of olive oil. She really enjoyed it, though it was apparently extremely rich and she wasn't entirely sure that the EVOO was really necessary. It was so rich that she commented that it was hard to finish, but she wasn't willing to leave any on the plate either, so that's a pretty good endorsement, especially after a rather large meal.
So, on to the service. This is a brand new restaurant, only a month or two old, and it showed. The waitress we got was very nice, but clearly had never worked at a nicer restaurant before, as she asked another waiter "can we do rare?" when I ordered my steak. There was a pretty clear lack of familiarity with the menu on the part of all of the wait staff members, but not so much so that it was an annoyance; simply something I noted. Bringing out the entrees while the appetizers were still unfinished was a bigger problem, one that demonstrates a lack of communication between the front of the house and the kitchen, or possibly simply a lack of understanding of how to time such things by the wait staff. It's a pretty simple fix, but one that is important. That said, I'm a firm believer in tipping well based on the attitude of the wait staff, not their performance, and they were very friendly, not annoyingly attentive (something that bothers me greatly when you're very clearly on a date), but never too distant if needed. Overall, this is a restaurant that has huge potential, and I'm sure they will only get better. I highly recommend it, as you will be supporting not just a fine local restaurant, but also numerous farms and other purveyors throughout the region.
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