Market Street Grill Downtown
48 W. Market St. (350 South), Salt Lake City ; 801-322-4668
A Gastronomy-owned charming restaurant, the menu is all-things seafood. Kitchen needs to be more consistent in its execution.
Cuisine: Seafood, American
Hours: Call restaurant for hours.
Liquor: Full Service
Recommended Dishes: Fresh raw oysters, clam chowder, Alaskan king crab legs.
December 21, 2005
Trying to be all things seafood, Market Street restaurants are a mixed bag
By Mary Brown Malouf
Life is like a bowl of mussels. Forrest Gump said it about a box of chocolates but the point is, you never know what you're going to get. And that was certainly true of our mussels at Market Street in Cottonwood and its sister restaurant, the Oyster Bar on Pierpont Avenue. We speared one rosy plump little morsel from its black shell and rejoiced in its sweet meat. The next one we put in our mouth was so mistreated -- dried-out and shriveled to such acridity that we had to spit it out.
My experiences at Market Street Grill, Oyster Bar, and the Broiler were such a mixed bag that I feel ambivalent. (A word which reminds me of bivalves, or oysters [$9.99 per half dozen; $18.99 per dozen], which were fantastic when we had them at Market Street in Cottonwood.
Wild and briny, the British Columbian babies had a finish that lingered on the tongue and in the memory like a great beach vacation.
Market Street's menu of five or six oyster varieties changes with what's available and is one of the restaurant's best features.)
There are three, or five, Market Street restaurants, depending on how you count them. They are all owned by Gastronomy Inc., the local restaurant group that also owns Baci Trattoria, Café Pierpont and New Yorker. The group has high standards for service; our waiters were well-informed about Market Street's kitchen and at least one knew a lot about seafood, generally, and was able to describe all the available oysters accurately.
Market Street Grill, in downtown Salt Lake City, is next to Market Street Oyster Bar and, in fact, they are connected inside. But the Oyster Bar is a "private club," according to Utah legal jargon, and the Grill is a "family restaurant," even though the menu is the same in both places and they both offer full liquor service. The same arrangement holds at the Cottonwood location.
This is important to know when you are making reservations -- we made reservations at the downtown Grill, but inadvertently went to the Oyster Bar and ate there. By the time we left, the Oyster Bar was more obviously a club -- the decibel level was rising and a crowd of young things was clustering at the door. The Market Street Broiler is a university-dependent restaurant with a slightly abbreviated version of the same menu. All the Market Streets sell fresh seafood, flown in frequently, as well as smoked salmon, bread and other sea-feast staples.
All the locations are wonderfully charming spaces. Tiled floors, high ceilings, retro light fixtures and fresh seafood cases create a clean, seaside illusion, even to the new construction in Cottonwood, which has the additional seasonal appeal of a big outside patio. The Broiler, in a converted fire station, is a brilliant design, the long bar looping around the glass-enclosed kitchen, the old firetruck bays fitted with wide-paned windows and the upstairs booths ribbed with curved wood like upside-down boats. It offers seasonal outdoor dining also.
Unfortunately, it's hard to consistently sustain that fresh seaside illusion on the plate.
All these kitchens try to be all things to all seafood -- the menus (rather confusingly) include a section of fried seafood, a list of specials, a section of favorites and a list of "today's fresh catch," along with starters, seafood cocktails, seafood Louis-style as well as some non-fish fare: steaks, chicken, sandwiches, pastas and salads.
Unfortunately, because of attempting so much, the kitchen only partially succeeds.
Take deep-frying, for instance. Timing and oil temperature are crucial, but differ depending on the food type. Our fisherman's platter at the Oyster Bar ($19.99 with choice of starch and soup or salad) held shrimp, scallops, clams and halibut. The shrimp were juicy, sweet and delicious; the scallops were overcooked, the clams
were unidentifiable and the halibut was OK. Were they all fried together?
In general, the simpler the dish, the better. New England-style clam chowder ($4.99 as an appetizer at Cottonwood, and it's also offered with many dinners) was deliciously soothing and intense. It was difficult to discern where the crumbs ended and the crab began in the Maryland crab cakes ($10.99 as an appetizer; $21.99 as an entrée at Cottonwood). But Alaskan king crab legs ($29.99 for 1/2 pound, $39.99 for 1 pound at the downtown Oyster Bar) were pristine and sweet.
Regional concoctions such as cioppino ($24.99) and gumbo ($21.99) at the downtown Oyster Bar were inauthentic (scallops and lobster in gumbo? Then again, why not?) but hopelessly thick and tasteless. The glory of seafood stews is the symphonic mingling of distinct tastes -- the sweetness of shrimp, the brininess of oysters and the light meatiness of fish all playing off one another. Instead, each of these dishes provided a mouthful of slurred flavors.
"Fresh catch" selections at Cottonwood were better: The sea bass ($21.99) was pearly and moist, although the tomato-cucumber relish was wincingly vinegary. Yellowtail ($21.99) was served with an orange-soy sauce that would have been better without the cornstarch thickener, but the meat itself was rich and fresh. But a "today's fresh catch" lunch at the Broiler of Utah trout "amandine" ($12.99) and "baby" halibut ($19.99) with a shrimp and lobster cream sauce (again, with intrusive cornstarch) were unexpectedly bland and watery. Which brings up that dubious phrase landlubbers often use as praise for seafood: "It doesn't taste fishy at all." Shouldn't fish, in fact, taste fishy? Well, it should taste, anyway.
The Utah state bird is the California seagull but that doesn't mean the coast is any closer. Still, modern transportation has blown up all the truisms about fresh seafood. It's not that kitchens can't get fresh fish this far away from the ocean. They can, they just don't seem to know what to do with it.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.