Update: Since this review was written, Market Table has dropped the “Market” part of the concept. The front room is no longer a market, and the restaurant now has 60 seats, 20 more than before.
In November 2008, Frank Bruni awarded two stars in the Times. We believe—as we did at the Little Owl—that this was one star more than it deserved, bearing in mind that one star is supposed to be a compliment. Thanks to the Bruni review, it’s probably no longer true that “Market Table is a Little Owl you can get into.”
Two years ago, Joey Campanaro and Gabriel Stulman electrified the West Village with their hugely successful Little Owl, which won a remarkable two stars from Frank Bruni in the Times. Five months ago, they returned with a sequel, Market Table, just five blocks south. Early on, the demand for tables was intense: Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton waited 90 minutes to get in.
Critical reception hasn’t reached the levels of rapture accorded The Little Owl. Market Table made Adam Platt’s Best of ’07 List, but Platt doesn’t seem to have reviewed it. In the Village Voice, Sietsema was unimpressed. For the Sun, Paul Adams mostly liked it. Randall Lane awarded four of six in TONY, and Restaurant Girl awarded 2½ out of 4 in the Daily News. But Frank Bruni surprisingly gave it a pass, letting Julia Moskin deliver a mixed verdict in Dining Briefs.
At Market Table, the central conceit is that it’s a market with tables. The front room sells coffee, sandwiches, and some of the same food ingredients used in the restaurant. The serving area is in the back room. It’s roomier and comfier than The Little Owl. Still, the shared DNA is apparent: exposed brick, bare table-tops, and a bar that’s set up for walk-in diners. Their menus and wine lists are similar, too.
Market Table is a Little Owl you can get into. At 6:15 p.m. on a Saturday evening, The Little Owl couldn’t accommodate our party of three. Five minutes later, we walked into Market Table and were seated at the bar immediately.
The menu is laden with comfort-food favorites. It had certainly captured our server’s affections. We asked him for recommendations, and by the time he was finished he had gushed over practically every dish. Mikey Price, formerly of The Mermaid Inn, is in charge of the kitchen,. He was off on the evening we were there, but Campanaro (who humbly called himself the “chef’s assistant”) was on hand.
Beet and goat cheese salad (left); Fried calamari (right)
A salad with heirloom beets and breaded balls of fried goat cheese ($11) was lovely. Humble fried calamari ($9) were crisp and not at all greasy.
Crab cake (left); Lamb shank (right)
A crab cake ($21) was impressive, with only the slightest cloak of breading and tender chunks of crab. But a braised lamb shank ($20) was dull and tough. Silky potatoes au gratin with gouda cheese offered some redemption.
At a restaurant where most entrées are below $25, it’s nice to see that they don’t try to make it up on wine. A Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc was $44, and these days I feel the need to cheer when there is anything decent for under $50.
There is also a selection of half-bottles—another estimable trait shared with The Little Owl.
Is Market Table as good as The Little Owl? It’s not lacking for business, but the foodocracy still seems to prefer the older sibling. The space at Market Table is considerably more pleasant, but the menu doesn’t seem to have that “killer dish”—at The Little Owl, it’s the famous pork chop—as a draw.
But I’ll probably come back to Market Table, because it’s fun, friendly, and inexpensive. And readers, please note that the rating below—one star (the same as I gave The Little Owl)—is not an insult. One star means “good”.
Market Table (54 Carmine Street near Bedford Street, West Village)