There are 2,146 restaurants in the online Zagat Guide for New York. Just 18 of them (0.8%) are Belgian. But eleven of those are outposts of a bakery/sandwich place, Le Pain Quotidien. Another four are branches of Petite Abeille. That leaves just three non-chain Belgian restaurants in the Zagat guide. It is, in other words, not a commonly encountered cuisine in this town.
Markt, one of the city’s three non-chain Belgian restaurants, was a Meatpacking District pioneer, back when the Meatpacking District was still cool. The owners lost their lease and moved a short distance away, to a smaller place in Chelsea that has hosted several failed restaurants. Markt arrives with an already successful formula, so perhaps it will be here to stay.
The dinner menu—printed in French, Flemish, and English—includes soups ($7–10), appetizers ($8–24), pastas ($12–17), fish and seafood entrées ($18–36), meat entrées ($16–32), and half-a-dozen entrées with mussels ($16–18). Raw bar platters are available at $60 or $90. Many of the items are familiar French bistro fare, though the emphasis on mussels and beer is a distinctly Belgian touch.
My girlfriend and I are rather predictable: we see pâté on the menu, and we order it. The Country Pâté ($10) comes with spicy Dijon mustard and red onion relish. It’s rich and hearty, not fancy or complex. We each ordered it, but the portion size turned out to be quite generous. Two people could easily have shared.
My girlfriend ordered the Steak Frites ($26), while I had the Red Snapper ($26), which came in a tomato-butter sauce. I thought the snapper was slightly more dry than it should be, but the sauce saved it from perdition, and in the end I was mostly satisfied.
Many of the dishes come with stoemp (pronounced “stomp”), a Belgian rendition of mashed potatoes, often puréed with vegetables and herbs—in this case basil. In the photo, it’s the big lump that looks like a green pear. I found it rather bland, but I don’t know if that’s my problem or the restaurant’s.
To drink, we ordered a perfectly acceptable bottle of 2002 Burgundy for $32. I have to applaud any restaurant that has a decent Pinot Noir at that price. Yet, I had an immediate twinge of regret, as the page-long list of beers—most of them seldom encountered in this country—should have commanded my attention. Oh well, it’s something to do next time.
The restaurant was not crowded at 6:30 p.m. on a Sunday evening, though I suspect they’re plenty busy on weekends. The server showed obvious impatience that we didn’t instantly know what we wanted to order. After we’d sent him away twice, he came back and said, “Well, what’ll it be?” At the end of the meal, after we declined to order dessert, it took all of about 30 seconds for him to plunk down a check, although we clearly had quite a bit of wine yet to finish.
Though it won’t win any awards for service, the hearty Belgian fare at moderate prices and top-notch beer menu will probably to make Markt a hit in its new location.
Markt (676 Sixth Avenue at 21st Street, Chelsea)