Unlike other hard working individuals in their early twenties, my friend Liberty and I were not exactly putting away our then meager earnings in hopes of one day settling down or paying off our student loans. To the contrary! We were living at home, oblivious to fiscal responsibility and blowing our paychecks on sexy, edible accessories to good company. I’d say we were nothing short of flavor junkies.
At the time, I was working as a hostess at Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe, a French restaurant originally run by Bertrand Hug, father to the current proprietor Julien Hug, aka one of the many man-flavors from The Bachelorette, season 5. Sigh! Name dropping is fun.
Working at a place like Mille Fleurs meant you were sampling from the finest that SD could manage – Chinos farms produce, Martin Woesle’s heart stopping wienerschnitzel, lobster salads so delicate they made my eyes rain. At the ripe age of 19, this seemed to be the absolute apex of culinary decadence. The only thing more mind boggling to an underage college student than watching someone leave behind two thirds of a bottle of Cristal is being invited to finish it.
So, as you can imagine, an addiction took shape, one that was difficult (and expensive) to satisfy. And being the excellent friend that Liberty is, she allowed me to drag her down into a calorie laden, wallet emptying fine dining binge that lasted about, oh, a year or so (basically, until we both moved out and California rent beat the shit out of our food budget. That’s when I was reborn into the glory of Top Ramen – recipes in a future blogisode, stay tuned).
We haunted Sbicca in Del Mar on Tuesday nights for half priced wine, pressed our ears to the ground hoping to hear the urban rumble of a restaurant opening, met owners and chefs and in short, received an all out education on the art of eating.
In present day, I’m fortunate enough to have Liberty as my roommate and she continues to serve as my partner in culinary crime. Of course, we’ve learned to exercise some restraint (one of the few gifts that age can offer), but we do indulge in the occasional five course extravaganza. As we did recently at Market in Del Mar.
Let me start off by saying that I’d heard about this restaurant for months. Some of the most reliable foodies I know were enamored with the quality of the ingredients, the flavor compositions, the frequent shifts in menu offerings to accommodate what’s available. It’s all very compelling.
Liberty and I sat in the bar in hopes of a more casual atmosphere to catch up in. It’s clear that Market is one of the Del Mar hotspots, despite its off-the-main-drag location near the Polo Fields. The flossy crowd surrounded us on all sides as we settled in with menus.
One thing that really struck me was that the service was excellent – wait staff weren’t stuffed into arrogant costumes and parading about for what they believed to be the important tables. The waitress was approachable, knowledgable, incredibly attentive and comfortably dressed.
Let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
An amuse bouche arrived immediately after we ordered a split bottle of Penner Ash Pinot Noir (2007, Willamette). A single slice of nectarine, smear of house made strawberry jam, Boucheron goat cheese, crouton for texture, served in a Chinese soup spoon. I wouldn’t say it was one bite, but the nectarine was at the peak of its life and the textures were sublime – from punching through the skin of the nectarine to letting the slip of Boucheron, salt and jam burst forth, it was by far the highlight of the meal for me. My bouche was all atwitter.
Next course: grapefruit salad with pink and white grapefruit, avocado, endive, goat cheese, sea salt, pistachios, olive oil. The balance of oil and acid was fantastic and this is another dish that inspired us to wonder if Chef Carl Schroeder had a method by which he identified the precise tipping point between too young and too old for each ingredient. A simple dish, elevated by what nature had to offer.
Third course: Duck confit, spicy white nectarines that were mystifyingly edgy by way of a Mostarda glaze, arugula. The confit was nicely prepared and it was refreshing to see someone play with the flavors and reach beyond cherry. We were absolutely on cloud nine at this juncture.
I wish I could say it was a complete fairytale. But alas…
Fourth course: we decided on sushi, since they had what seemed to be a robust and bold selection of rolls. We ordered two – a Lobster Roll and a Taylor Made roll, which was doused in truffle oil. Seemed like a no brainer.
The sushi arrived and we rolled up our sleeves to dig in. One bite and my heart sank – the rice was severely undercooked. I’m not a picky person, but the crunchy texture of the sushi rice completely derailed the silky truffle oil bathed yellowtail, or in the case of the lobster roll, the buttery chunks of fish. Liberty shrugged and took the high road, reveling in the quality of the fish, which, agreed, was delicate and flavorful. I sighed, the pessimist to her optimist, and hoped for a sugary miracle to cap off our experience.
And we were given one. The S’mores dessert was absolutely divine – toasted marshmallow over a warm, thick and gooey chocolate center cradled by a mini graham cracker pie shell. The highlight was that the shell was drizzled with smoked sea salt, cutting the sugary blow it dealt and absolutely giving us a reason to return.
By the end of the night, we decided that on the whole, we’d been sold. We dismissed the rice snafoo as just that and returned home, confident that we’d tempered our fine dining urges, at least temporarily.
These experiences are always money well spent – never second guess that. Admittedly, when my student loan payment cuts through my paycheck, I wonder if I could’ve done without the nights of shameless gorging and wine guzzling. But then I realize how much we value and appreciate every bite now, regardless of its source, and I pat myself on the back. Maybe I’m just making excuses, but the way that I look at it, others invested in life. We invested in living!