Dining Exceptionalism – A Review of One&Only Palmilla’s Market Restaurant.

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The name Jean-Georges Vongerichten carries a lot of weight in the restaurant world, so expectations were high when we had an opportunity this summer to visit Market by Jean-Georges at One&Only Palmilla

Market is Jean-Georges’ first Latin American restaurant, and their culinary style is a fusion of European and Asian influences with the addition of traditional Mexican accents. Under the steady hand of Executive Chef Sébastien Agnès, who was brought in by Jean-George in 2008 to oversee the makeover and re-opening of the former space, the menu here features many of the signature dishes that Jean-Georges is known for, and also includes much of the fresh local products available in southern Baja, as reflected in their name. Seventy percent of the ingredients on the menu come from the abundant local produce and seafood, while the other thirty percent consists of specialty items that are brought in from Europe to add the Euro part to the Euro-Asian fusion style that they do so well here. Market has even established its own garden at the local Los Tamarindos organic farm to ensure that they have control of the seasonality of products that they incorporate into their menu.

A perfect introduction the experience at Market would be to first stop at the Suviche Bar next door, which offers diners an impressive selection of fresh sushi and an array of ceviches using both Mexican and Asian accents. The sushi is prepared by a skilled Japanese master, and is as fresh and flavorful as any you might have had.

Entering Market we’re immediately taken by how comforting everything feels. It’s an elegant space, accented with deep red and rich burgundy details and original artwork, but also feels very relaxed, as the welcoming gestures of the staff make you feel right at home.

Looking over the menu, their signature Jean-George dishes are clearly indicated and include an  appetizer of Osetra caviar, which is one of the specialty products brought in from Europe to enhance the menu (if you’re a caviar fan it should be noted that it’s offered at all of the restaurants at One&Only Palmilla, even at breakfast). If you’re not a caviar fan and prefer a warm appetizer, then opt for the caramelized foie gras, with accents of black olive and lychee served with toasted brioche (baked on the premises),  or their seared shrimp served with crispy artichokes, a lemon-fennel emulsion and smoked paprika. These plates are arranged like works of art and pack a lot of flavor.

The most popular menu item at Market is their duck crusted with Jordan almonds and served with a red wine Amaretto sauce.  It’s an absolutely succulent dish, the duck cooked two ways, with the breast roasted while the leg is prepared as a confit. The slight crunch of the almond crust adds a nice bit of texture and flavor accent, and you will want to savor every drop of the sauce. This is one of Jean-George’s signature dishes, and I’m told that you can order it at any of his restaurants worldwide and it will taste exactly the same.

Another classic plate at Market is their sautéed grouper served with a sweet chili sauce, celery and basil, an ideal plate when you are looking for something lighter, but also full of flavor. This is an impeccably fresh seafood plate and perfectly cooked, with a little heat of Mexican chile and the celery and basil coming straight out of their organic garden.

There’s a section of the menu that we’re curious about, called “Simply Cooked,” and we’re told that you can select anything from a list that includes prime selections of seafood, chicken and beef and pair it with a sauce of your choice (including a ginger-sesame Hollandaise), add a side dish like grilled asparagus, aromatic black beans, parmesan gnocchi or herbed spinach, and they’re combine everything in a simply cooked, beautifully prepared plate. This mix and match offering is indicative of the flexibility in the kitchen at Market. They’re very willing to work with customer suggestions here, and when new seasonal ingredients are available, dishes are often improvised by a culinary team that includes Hotel Manager Sebastien Arnaud and Director of Market Manuel Arteaga, as well as Executive Chef Sébastien Agnès, their creativity working out new combinations of tastes and techniques as jazz musicians would play off an exchange of musical notes.

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Not to be missed on a visit to Market is the roasted corn soufflé dessert with a little crunch of caramelized popcorn with a center of chipotle ice cream.  This is one of those dishes that people keep coming back for, the smoky heat of the ice cream melting into the warm savory soufflé in a way that brings audible moans from other diners in the room.

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While they obviously take great pride in representing the Jean-George name and are passionate about what comes out of the kitchen, Market does not want to be known as a fine dining restaurant, implying anything fussy or formal.  While you can’t eat here in your beach outfit, and they require long pants for men, it’s a very friendly place, open to family dining and able to respond to individual requests, while at the same time offering up creative dishes as flavorful and unique as their black truffle Fontina cheese pizza, which gets my vote as the best pizza ever.

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With the culinary talents of Executive Chef Agnès and the range of fresh local resources, there is almost no limit to what can be accomplished at Market. Add to that the second largest wine cellar in all of Mexico, under the supervision of a great team of sommeliers, and you have all the makings of gastronomical greatness. Market is a special experience set in one of the area’s most iconic resorts, and on your return trips you may notice that there’s often something new and improved about the place.  It might be a new crepe station, the addition of specialized imported ingredients or an innovative new dish using seasonal produce, as the staff here is never content to rest on their laurels. Their ongoing efforts result in a restaurant that is always fresh and refined, without ever becoming being stuffy.

It’s been a memorable evening, and after a dining experience at Market you can head to the neighboring bar for some live entertainment or simply take a seat in the lounge area overlooking the moon-glazed Sea of Cortez, maybe enjoying a little Château d’Yquem or an artisanal mescal, while you say to yourself, with some authority, that it really doesn’t get any better than this.

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One&Only Palmilla; Hwy. 1, Km 27.5, the Corridor

Phone: 624-146–7000

Web: palmilla.oneandonlyresorts.com

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