Venue Review: Market Restaurant
'Dude, you're killing me," said the waiter as he returned to our table to inform me that the dessert I'd ordered - crème fraîche cheesecake with bourbon-vanilla peaches - wouldn't be ready for another 45 minutes. Just two minutes earlier, he'd had to tell me that my first choice, a mole cake made with chocolate from Escazu, the chocolatier next door, was sold out.
As I mulled the two remaining dessert options, he said, "We also have some excellent avocado-coconut gelato. We just took it off the menu, but we still have some." I ordered the gelato, and it was indeed excellent. So was the complimentary scoop of local watermelon sorbet that he brought to me by way of apology.
That single exchange neatly sums up the dining experience at Market. The plaid-shirted young waiter's style matches the hipster vibe of the place, as expressed in everything from the retro thrift shop plates on the tables, to the vintage RC Cola cooler that serves as a beer fridge behind the bar (which is well-stocked with craft brews, naturally).
His attitude - laid-back yet eager-to-please - is typical of the entire wait staff. And as long as you're flexible, you're practically guaranteed of getting a rewarding meal.
A go-with-the-flow attitude is needed in large measure because owner/chef Chad McIntyre is a passionate practitioner of buying local.
"I'd say 95 percent of my menu is local," says McIntyre, who owned two restaurants in western Colorado before moving to the Triangle.
Regardless of where a chef is cooking, such dedication to locavore principles means that what's available in the market will sometimes trump what's printed on the menu.
Happily, that isn't likely to be a problem in the coming weeks for the zucchini in the lace-crusted zucchini latkes that McIntyre is currently serving. Or for the local tomatoes that pair with homemade mozzarella in a caprese salad garnished with a confetti of fresh corn kernels and finely diced watermelon rind in honey balsamic pesto. Of course, the variety of tomato will change with the season, and you may find yourself thinking you should get more than three slices for $9 - an uncharacteristically meager portion for a restaurant that generally delivers excellent value.
Both the wild mushrooms and the goat cheese in the filling of McIntyre's tamales traveled less than an hour from source to table. He says he has been getting some beautiful oyster mushrooms lately, and if you're lucky he'll still be using them when you get there.
Blanketed in a complex sauce made with ground cocoa nibs, cumin, cardamom, chiles, tomatoes and cilantro (the chef calls it a "quick mole"), the tamales are already becoming something of a signature dish. Deservedly so.
A flexible attitude helps when it comes to seafood, too. Depending on the catch and the chef's inspiration, you may find yourself enjoying agave-crusted pink snapper or sautéed prawns and chorizo over grilled vegetables or monkfish tacos in pillowy house-made flour tortillas - or, at lunchtime, a fried speckled trout sandwich with jicama slaw on locally baked bread.
Regardless of the selection, you can be sure of two things: The fish will be irreproachably fresh and expertly prepared, and it will almost certainly come from North Carolina waters. Occasionally, the chef will cast his net as far as Virginia or South Carolina, but that's where he draws the line.
McIntyre does occasionally print new menus to reflect the changing harvest. He did so recently, dropping a couple of out-of-season specialties and adding braised goat over sweet potato gnocchi, roasted chicken with a five-spice Cheerwine barbecue sauce, Ecuadorean-style seviche and corn fritters to the list. It's easy to imagine the chef at the Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market, where he shops three times a week, saying to himself, "Look at all this sweet corn. What can I do with that?"
The summer berry crumble that elicited moans of pleasure from my wife the night I "settled" for avocado-coconut gelato is still on the list, but it may no longer be available by the time you read this. Not to worry. When the waiter says, "Dude, I've got something for you in the back," take it.