We have the other white meat and the other woman, and in the Ferry Building we have had, for the past five years, the other restaurant, the Not-Slanted Door. Of course I mean MarketBar, which is pretty wonderful and surprisingly not pricey, and how often do you find yourself thinking that when you're in or near the Ferry Building?
The Slanted Door has held the pole position in the Ferry Building since that venerable structure's rebirth as a food mecca and the restaurant's arrival therein by a hop-skip-and-jump route that began at its birthplace on Valencia Street in the mid-1990s and continued to an interregnum spot at an Embarcadero location previously held by Embarko and, later, La Suite. Those were nice digs, but the Slanted Door's Ferry Building set-up is nonpareil: it's huge, with huge windows looking on the water and a reputation that draws the building's flocks of food cognoscenti like ducks perhaps roasted with five-spice powder to june bugs.
If the Ferry Building is the manse of a grand food family, then MarketBar is the younger brother who got the bedroom over the garage with the smaller closet. The restaurant looks not onto the bay but the Embarcadero itself, a much-beautified roadway but a roadway nonetheless, a swirling parfait of cars and streetcars and pedestrians. Yet the trade-off isn't a bad one. While the Slanted Door enjoys Zen-tranquil water views, it can be chaotic inside; MarketBar looks upon the urban circus but is just far enough removed from it to remain peaceable.
A large part of the restaurant's magic has to do with its immense sidewalk-side patio, set with large umbrellas and discreetly but firmly fenced off from the madding crowd. The Parisians are masters of this arrangement, but you don't see it much here, maybe because the weather is less favorable or because our city doesn't have the sorts of public places, like the Place de la Bastille, that Paris does. Many of our al fresco efforts are impromptu: a few flimsy tables and chairs teetering at the brink of the curb. MarketBar, by contrast, is built around, and seems to exist for, its patio.
There's an inside too, a mirror-backed bar flanked by dining rooms like the wings of a big house. The colors are the reassuring ones of the earth, the look is classic San Francisco, and although no one is whispering, the noise is not insane. But what is everyone whispering about the prix-fixe menu? Probably, since MarketBar has a good one, three courses for $29.95.
Usually I find a prix-fixe option to be irresistible. But chef Rick Hackett's regular menu, a Mediterranean-inflected mélange, is chockablock with temptation: lively dishes at competitive prices. Some are little more than nibbles: a bowl of spicy peanuts ($3.75), say, with a nice balance of salt and sweetness; and fresh-cured green olives ($4.75), large, round, and vivid green if you've ever been curious about fresh olive fruit, these orbs are close draped with shreds of pickled red onion.
Some are big and substantial enough to be called sides, such as a warm salad of chopped romaine leaves and fresh fava beans ($5.75), simply dressed with a little shallot, olive oil, and salt. It made a nice starter; my only criticism is that it was too green, nothing but green, like a Monet painting of a lawn, bordered by shrubbery and surrounded by leafy trees.
As a rule I don't have pasta much in restaurants, since I make it so often at home, but I was curious about MarketBar's meatballs and pasta in broth ($14.75).
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