Raise the Bar

Given its location, in the midst of the food fantasia that is the Ferry Building, MarketBar should be better

I felt my inner Jack Nicholson coming out, the one who would have said, "You have pastrami back there, don't you? And rye bread? Put one between the other and you'll have a PASTRAMI SANDWICH WITHOUT RELISH!" But my father headed that off by quickly saying he'd have the hamburger, medium rare.

The garganelli Bolognese, soothingly bland, was very pleasant, though it reminded me more of lunch in Milan than in a market hall. My father diplomatically said his hamburger was good; it wasn't. It had no crust at all, and it was rare (rather than medium rare) and mushy all the way through.

I watched as my espresso and my father's cappuccino cooled on the edge of the counter a few feet from where we sat. Restaurant etiquette forbade me from getting them myself, but just as I was about to do so anyway, our waiter picked up the tray.

MarketBar's décor is handsome, but 
the food is dull.
Anthony Pidgeon
MarketBar's décor is handsome, but the food is dull.

Location Info

Map

MarketBar

1 Ferry Building, One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Embarcadero

Details

Mushroom salad $6

Potato and leek soup $6

Pasta Bolognese $12

Roasted whole chicken for two $34

Mushrooms in parchment $6

Cookie plate $6

434-1100

Open daily for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for dinner from 5 to 10:30 p.m.

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: difficult (valet, $12)

Muni: 2, 6, 7, 9, 14, 21, 31, 66, 71

Noise level: can be high

1 Ferry Building, Embarcadero & Market

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And disappeared into the kitchen.

And came out and stopped at two other tables before delivering us our cold brews.

I beckoned him over and asked, "Could you get me another espresso, and make sure it's hot this time?" which is as rude as I permit myself to be. (In restaurants.) He brought it hot and told me it was on the house, which was as it should have been.

But it had not been a stellar lunch, neither in its food nor its service. It seemed truly odd to feel at such a remove from the setting and the season, when we could have assembled a brilliant meal within a few feet of the place (oysters at the Hog Island oyster bar, one of those grilled tri-tip sandwiches, a pear tart with blue cheese and walnuts or an apple crostata from the Frog Hollow shop). Especially since the other restaurants run by MarketBar's owners do such a good job of fulfilling their expectations: Florio is an excellent simulacrum of a French neighborhood bistro, and Bix is a witty take on the supper club, with food both snacky and luxurious.

Still, the longer evening menu seemed more interesting, more produce-heavy, so I had higher hopes for my dinner there with Bernice and Chi-hui. They were only modestly realized. Chi-hui is a vegetarian, and I was so thrilled when our waiter knew that the potato and leek soup was made with vegetable broth (and took our question seriously) that I could have kissed him. I was even happier that the soup was the first thing I'd tasted at MarketBar that was wonderful: rich, creamy, full of flavor. I was less enthralled with the rest of our meal. Bernice and I split a dryish spaghetti carbonara to start, and then went on to two entrees: a big, thin swordfish steak (insert mercury gag here) on a bed of sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes that had little to do with the fish plopped on top of it; and a steak ordered black-and-blue that arrived half right (indeed rare, but the restaurant doesn't seem to have a surface hot enough to crust either the steak or the hamburger) on top of slightly underdone shelling beans. Chi-hui's pizza bianca was forgettable; our sides of sautéed Swiss chard and forest mushrooms cooked with herbs in parchment were the best things we had to eat besides the soup, but not startlingly so. Our desserts made a feeble obeisance to the season: unremarkable gingerbread pudding with pumpkin ice cream, and green apple sorbet with warm, seasonal – and largely flavorless – fruit compote.

I hesitated to suggest MarketBar when six of us needed supper after a movie on a Sunday night, but reduced expectations and a quiet, uncrowded room led to a pleasant if not gastronomically inspired evening. We shared a clumsily arrayed cold seafood platter, ignoring the mushy, waterlogged shrimp for the tiny, crisp oysters, mussels slicked with an herbed cream, and three morsels of lobster; a decent charcuterie assortment surrounding a watery heap of undressed shaved fennel; two well-intentioned meatballs; and an undistinguished green salad with twice too much dressing. The best main course was the moist and tasty roasted whole Avian chicken, with little velvety peeled potatoes and cress in chicken jus. The cookie plate, though missing the "tiny sweets" advertised, was a nice assortment, including a biscotti, a thin chocolate cookie with nuts, a madeleine, and a buttery biscuit dabbed with jam.

Right now the place has a clear field until the Slanted Door and other sit-down restaurants open at the Ferry Building. But MarketBar, curiously unambitious, is only living up to the second half of its name.

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