What makes dinner at The Market Restaurant so bewilderingly good? Having had yet another gorgeous meal there last week I turned this question over and over in my mind. Then it hit me: The answer is simple — literally. They excel at simple. And simple is hard. It’s like that amazing French recipe with only four ingredients which takes years to perfect. To do something simple, perfectly, is really quite complicated.
My first visit to The Market was on the invitation of foodie friends. We had just moved to Essex and had never heard of it, or Annisquam for that matter. The small restaurant was tucked away in Lobster Cove, perched on pilings over the water. Entering the bright and open space I was taken with its breezy style. Clean lines, light tones and beautiful modern costal art. It had this sort of dreamy ease to it.
We started with oysters. I have to admit that I desperately want to understand and bask in the awesomeness of oysters (and martinis for that matter). Alas, it has not happened for me. The table, however, was truly delighted by them. On this night, I had seared sea scallops that were perfect. Just scallops and just perfect. Simple. We left feeling lucky to have been introduced to this hidden wonder.
Having spent most of my adult life in northern California, I secretly think The Market may be importing its staff. Honestly, they all have a very west coast, kind of serene vibe. It would make some sense as the owners and chefs, Nico and Amelia Monday, met while working in the kitchen at the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. In addition to coming east with this magnetism for west coasty folks, they brought some serious talent and a desire to prepare local, seasonal and sustainable dishes utilizing the bountiful resources of Cape Ann. You can see, right on the menu, that The Market sources from familiar local farms for those in Essex and Manchester: Alprilla, Cedar Rock and Aster B, among others.
For my most recent visit, we were helped by a hip and friendly woman named Cassie. She felt instantly familiar. Determined to make it to dessert, we went straight to our entrees. I ordered the local seared bluefin tuna Niçoise. Again, so simple but so perfectly executed. There is a confidence in fixing a classic and not messing with it — at all. Only the usual suspects were there. Each boldly straight forward and meticulously turned out. It was exceptional.
I have to add that the wine I had with this meal was a real surprise. I took a total softball approach and chose a rosé solely because it came from Mendocino, a place I adore. Alas, this rosé was far more than a light afternoon wine. Alexis Harwood, the wine director, chose an astoundingly intricate, herby, earthy wine. It added an enchanting note.
To finish, the strawberry rhubarb tart was summer on a plate. Again, it was not trying too hard and in doing so, crushed it.
I did not know that The Market Restaurant did brunch. A huge fan of breakfast food, I was excited to see what they had to offer. My breakfast shone by virtue of the lovely collection of items. I had the Persian Breakfast, which included soft-cooked eggs, herb salad, olives, cucumber, za’ atar, hummus, yogurt and Iggy’s bread (love love love Iggy’s bread thank god Crosby’s carries it). It was unusual and fresh. A lovely way to start a lazy Sunday.
Yes, simple is complicated. But the decision to visit The Market Restaurant is not. Treat yourself. However, be sure to get there before they close up in October, at which point we will have to wait until next summer to once again visit this simple wonder.