Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not Really Oh La La at this Marché (CLOSED)

UPDATE (01/09/09): Marche on the Square closed in early January 2009 after months of trying to get the necessary construction permits to take full advantage of the space.

A few weeks ago I went to a preview of the new Ghirardelli Square near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. One tenant I was really looking forward to checking out was Marché on the Square, a French-inspired gourmet market. But it wasn’t open at the time.

This past weekend, I returned to check it out after it opened its doors a couple of weeks ago. Marché on the Square is a 3-in-1 project: a gourmet grocery store, a wine bar and an upstairs bistro. (The upstairs bistro still wasn’t opened this past weekend because it’s waiting for a license for its elevator—a rule relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act. So instead the full bistro menu and tables were brought down to the wine bar.)

When I walked in, I was surprised at how small the interior is. The main space looked tiny—and the store was virtually empty so you’d think it would look bigger. There weren’t that many shelves of products and the people behind the deli counter looked like they didn’t know how to keep themselves entertained all day.

The chef/owner of Marché on the Square, Brian Crawford, was once the executive chef of Dean & DeLuca, so he has a good pedigree when it comes to gourmet specialty shops. Prior to the opening, Crawford promoted his Marché as something you’d likely see in Paris. This is not Paris, people.

In Paris, the stores are immaculate and stylishly decorated with colorful banners and trimmings. Products are beautifully displayed, almost like artwork. Marché on the Square is clean-looking, but the walls seemed naked and the products were uninspiring. Other than a few bottles of sauces and balsamic vinegars, I didn’t really notice anything that I really wanted to buy. And it seemed like there was more a prominent display of beer than anything else.

For the food, there are three counters. Off to the right is a sushi section, and front and center were two side-by-side counters. One side sold a variety of cheese and the other side had lunch items like prepared salads and sandwiches.

The overall vibe was of a store that was hastily put together, and that seemed to be the same vibe in the wine bar off to the side. I walked over for a drink and some snacks because it was near the end of the day and I was tired and hungry.

There were a few people already eating at the tables set up along the window. But the first thing I noticed was that the wooden chairs at the bar seemed cheap, like it would get nicked very easily and the place would look tired in just a few months.

Still, I saddled up to the bar and looked over the Bar Marché menu by Crawford and his chef de cuisine Jacques Rosseau. The wine list has a variety of wine from all around the world, and I settled for a 2003 Merlot from the St. George winery in the Russian River area. It was an excellent medium-body wine.

The full bistro menu offered some interesting bites, including oysters, scallops, halibut, French onion soup and a fancy beef dish to share for two. I decided to order the diver scallops ($16), which came with some sautéed greens, citrus and light broth topped with Tennessee Paddlefish caviar.

The scallops came out with a slight fishy smell preceding it. Some of you know I’m very sensitive to this smell, which I learned comes from overcooking the fish. The scallops themselves tasted fine and had a nice brown coloring to it, so I wouldn’t say it was overcooked. Overall it was OK.

Then I tried the assorted charcuterie plate ($12) to snack on as I sipped my wine and enjoyed the foggy view of Aquatic Park. The servers are still learning the menu so my server had to check his notes when explaining what was on the plate. They included: duck rillette croistini, copa, prosciutto, salumi, mortabella and brie cheese. There was one additional meat that I didn’t hear, but I think it was like pastrami.

I thought everything was nice, although the meat weren’t sliced as thin as I liked (making the prosciutto, for example, chewy to eat). But I loved the duck rillette, which was a bit chunky but flavorful, and the brie was perfectly smooth and served at the right temperature.

Even though I had planned to just have a couple of snacks and drinks at the bar, I ended up being tempted by dessert. More specifically the chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis ($7). When it arrived, it actually looked like a slice of chocolate cake, but when you scooped it up, it was like whipped chocolate cream and tasted so rich and light at the same time. This dessert, made from Ghirardelli chocolate of course, was so good that I had to share it with the bartender and the couple sitting next to me so that they wouldn’t think I was making those weird “mmmm” noises for no good reason. They all agreed that it was perfection.

The overall Marché on the Square leaves a lot to be desired, and maybe it’s just a reflection of the rush to open. Hopefully over time Crawford will focus on the specialty items on the shelves and bring more products for sale to create more interest in the market instead of just the restaurant and bar.

As for the restaurant and bar, the food is acceptable and it’s a nice option for a drink if you’re in the area. I would definitely go in the afternoon for some of that chocolate mousse and a glass of Merlot and that would be a good day.

Marché on the Square, at Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point, San Francisco. Market open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., wine bar open 11 a.m. to midnight, Bar Marché open for lunch (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and dinner (5 p.m. to midnight). PH: 415.359.0365. Web site: marcheonthesquare.com

2 comments:

foodhoe said...

single guy, i love scallops too! so... what 2 scallops for $16? hmmmm... and the charcuterie plate looked so ordinary... we went for lunch this week and the sandwiches were garnished with the same gherkins. that cake though - I'm going to order that next time!

Chef Ben said...

Foodhoe, how was the sandwiches? Did you eat it there or took it to go? BTW, don't forget that chocolate thing is a mousse not a cake. I wouldn't want you going in asking for the cake and they tell you they don't sell it. Ask for the chocolate mousse and you want regret it!