Here are three outstanding American market-restaurants, each reflecting the personalities of the cities in which they're located, each showcasing chefs whose uncomplicated yet exciting food makes the most of the spectacular ingredients that are so accessible to them.
Across the Street
New York, New York
Eli Zabar, whose eponymous family food emporiums are a New York legend, launched an ambitious specialty food market, The Vinegar Factory, in the early Nineties. Manhattan real estate being as scarce as it is, he had to cross the street to find property for the restaurant he also wanted to operate. In 1996, after hiring chef Seen Lippert from Berkeley's Chez Panisse, he opened Across the Street (444 E. 91st St.; 212-722-4000; dinner entrées $19 to $28.
The Vinegar Factory, 431 E. 91st St.; 212-987-0885).
In contrast to the cavernous, industrial-looking Vinegar Factory, Across the Street is an intimate, light-wood-paneled space with an open kitchen and a wood oven. It's the ideal setting for dishes like Lippert's succulent John Dory with radicchio and brown butter and beef paillard with salsa verde.
"Whatever I make at the restaurant reflects what I find at the market," Lippert says, sounding only a little like a Vinegar Factory PR rep. "People ask me how to make something, then go to The Vinegar Factory and buy ingredients to recreate it." With her own key to the store, she can restock her kitchen in the middle of service if necessary. "I don't have to buy three cases of peas and then be stuck with old peas," Lippert gloats.
San Mateo, California
Gary Danko, one of FOOD & WINE's Best New Chefs of 1989, thinks he has the best pantry in the country. His storeroom, Draeger's, spans a whole city block, encompasses 60,000 square feet and is so stylish that it looks as if it sells designer clothes instead of groceries. Danko's airy restaurant, Viognier (222 E. Fourth Ave.; 650-685-3727; dinner entrées $8 to $20. Draeger's, 650-685-3700), sits on the second floor of Draeger's, along with a cooking school, cookbook library and extensive cookware store.
A typical day for Danko starts at about 9 A.M., when he reviews the produce that arrived at 7 and plans his menu based on what looks good. "I just pick all the perfect peaches out of the cases, then go upstairs and cook them," Danko says with a smile. "No more mediocre peaches for me." He also has access to Draeger's cheese-aging case, where the vast selection ripens to perfection, and to the extensive fish department. And if he wants olive oil he has more than 130 brands from which to choose. From this abundance he creates his popular Mediterranean-style cuisine, including freshly flavored vegetable dishes and salads, savory pizzette and main courses like prosciutto-ricotta ravioli and pan-fried duck with rhubarb and ginger.
Danko seems thrilled by his association with Draeger's and doesn't even mind customers who linger at their tables after lunch to watch cooking demonstrations, visible through a window that opens onto the cooking school. "Once people get here they stay a while," he says cheerfully. "The ladies who lunch make it an all-day excursion."
Just off Berkeley's newly stylish Fourth Street, the year-old Market Plaza has become a destination for foodies who flock to Peet's Coffee & Tea for the best java in town, Sur La Table for every type of cookware and Pasta Shop for superb pastas, cheeses and more. And, after browsing through Pasta Shop, a visitor can walk through a connecting door into Café Rouge (1782 Fourth St.; 510-525-1440; dinner entrées $16 to $20. Pasta Shop, 1786 Fourth St.; 510-528-1786), a separately owned restaurant with high ceilings, a long zinc bar and the superlative cooking of Marsha McBride and Kelsie Kerr, two of FOOD & WINE's Best New Chefs of 1997.
Pasta Shop and Café Rouge make good neighbors. "We borrow cups of sugar--literally," says McBride. "We'll barter half a gallon of cream for a roast chicken at the restaurant." Though they have their own suppliers, the Café Rouge chefs go next door every day to get the extras they need to make simple, delicious dishes like baked ricotta with figs and spit-roasted loin of pork with sage.
Not even Café Rouge's own meat counter, which sells exquisite handmade salamis and sausages, can ruin the relationship. "We don't aggressively do charcuterie at the Fourth Street store, out of respect for Marsha and Kelsie," says Scott Miller, Pasta Shop's executive chef and a longtime friend of the two women. Asked if there are any downsides to having Pasta Shop next door, McBride jokes that temptation might be too close for some employees: "You can't find the oyster shucker, and he's over there buying chocolate." She also cites the layout of the Plaza. "People wander into our dining room and sit down to eat food they bought from Pasta Shop. Then again, that might be the communal spirit of Berkeley."
Here's a sample of market-restaurants that have opened nationwide.
Atlanta Fish Market Fish is king at this upscale dining room (265 Pharr Rd.; 404-262-3165) and at the neighboring Pano's Food Shop, both of which will be expanding soon.
Grace's Trattoria This uptown Manhattan spot (201 E. 71st St.; 212-452-2323) creates southern Italian dishes with fresh fruits and vegetables from its parent, Grace's Marketplace.
Henrietta's Table The kitchen at this innovative restaurant (1 Bennett St.; 617-661-5005) at Cambridge's Charles Hotel and the market next door focus on New England produce.