It’s a shining moment for vegetables. Chefs are working them into elaborate, high-octane dishes and crafting multicourse tasting menus around them. But at Market Table, in the West Village, chef-owners Mike Price and Joey Campanaro favor simple, unfussy preparations. “Neither one of us likes putting a bunch of foam on the plate, or encapsulating anything,” said Price.
Even with the ubiquitous squash in its many varieties—delicata, spaghetti, butternut—the two chefs expertly find ways to vary textures and flavors, creating wonderful yet uncomplicated dishes.
In the Delicata Squash and Honeycrisp Salad ($13), the pleasant sweetness of the squash merges with mildly bitter frisée, strips of salty pecorino, sour pickled grapes, and fresh parsley leaves. Then chopped radicchio, honeycrisp apples, and pumpkin seeds add layers of texture. A tangy red wine vinaigrette delivers a splash of vibrant color. In each mouthful, a different dimension of the composition is revealed.
The chefs play with textures to showcase vegetables alongside meat or seafood, but they are well-balanced so that neither overpowers the other. For spaghetti squash, the chefs roast it until tender, then pair it with celery root slaw to accompany a slab of thinly breaded, juicy pork cutlet (Crispy Berkshire Pork Cutlet, $31). The effect is a delightful contrast between crunchy and soft, piquant and buttery sweet. A streak of zesty salsa verde kicks things up a notch.
Home cooks, take note: this is how you cook vegetables to make them exciting. Price pairs items that either oppose each other, or have a similar mouthfeel. For example, butternut squash is slightly mushy, so adding some nuts gives it more oomph. Or, as with Market Table’s platter of Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($12), caramelized pecans, and sweet-sour apples enhance the chomping.
Campanaro and Price’s approach is to take advantage of the myriad flavors that vegetables possess, and meld them into a dish that delivers on all senses of taste: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. “It’s about being able to manage the levels of sweetness and bitterness [in the vegetables], and manipulating that to be a crowd-pleaser for the palate,” Campanaro said.
That means tempering the bitterness in romanesco and cauliflower with sherry gastrique and pine nuts ($11), or peppering a warm Butternut Squash Risotto with sage and cream spiced with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger ($15)—plus a topping of pumpkin seeds for crunch.
The chefs’ love for vegetables shows in how they use every part of the plant. The top part of the butternut squash is diced up, while the bottom, with all the seeds, is used for purées. Scraps from cutting up odd-shaped vegetables are thrown into stocks for nutrient-filled concoctions. Campanaro is anticipating the first day it snows; that means rutabagas—his favorite vegetable for soups and broths—will be in season.
When the two chefs opened Market Table eight years ago, their menu highlighting seasonal, local produce was something of an anomaly. Today, every other restaurant is billed as “farm to table,” but Price and Campanaro are less concerned about concepts, more focused on making good food. “You cook with what tastes best at the time, and what’s available, which ends up just being seasonal vegetables. There’s no real grandiose effort or science behind this to make ourselves a seasonal restaurant. I think it just comes naturally,” Price said.
Instead, Campanaro said they prefer pleasing the diners’ palate more than their own. “Keeping hospitality first and foremost isn’t a typical thing that most chefs do. They think about themselves, their name, their cuisine, whether they’re misunderstood artists or not. We don’t have that issue. We just give people what they want, and have fun doing it,” said Campanaro.
What do people want? Certainly the late autumn season calls for pumpkin. Market Table has an excellent Pumpkin Ravioli ($15 for appetizer, $22 for entree) on their specials menu. The parmesan cheese inside and the incredible sauce on top, made of butternut squash purée, chicken stock, and butter, create pure harmony between sweet and savory.
In the Sautéed Autumn Flounder ($29), a smear of gingered butternut squash purée perfectly captures autumn comfort, and lends a rich spicy-sweetness to the fish. Price matches the crispy sear on the fish with similarly chewy Brussels sprouts and crunchy pomegranate seeds. Finally, a drizzle of pomegranate reduction tops it off with a hint of tartness. Price said he chose to use these elements as co-stars because “flounder is mild fish, so you don’t want to pair it with overly powerful vegetables.”
And for a solid chicken dish worthy of dining out, the Pan Roasted Bell and Evans Chicken ($28) is the embodiment of feel-good satisfaction, with tender, smoky meat underneath a crackly crisp skin, bok choy, and sweet potatoes slathered in hazelnut brown butter.
For dessert, don’t miss the Pear and Cranberry Cobbler ($9), where the play of flavors and textures continues with a crumbly, barely-there almond streusel, warm fruit, and a scoop of ginger gelato.
If you’re a cookie monster, you must try homemade Donato’s Cookies ($9) by Market Table maitre’d, Amy Donato. On a recent visit, the flavors were fluffernutter, maple bacon, and dirty chocolate cookies, all made with her signature touch of salt.
Tips for Cooks
Price has some cooking tips so that you can make vegetables the star of your dinner. Below is some of his sage advice:
- Do not overcook them. To bring out the natural flavors, roast vegetables in the oven, as opposed to boiling or blanching. A good technique is to cook the vegetables in a sauté pan, until they get some color, then place the pan in the oven for roasting. The process transfers the heat, resulting in vegetables with more caramelization. Plus it’s easy to clean up!
- Keep things simple. “Don’t add stuff just to add it. I feel like people add five or six different things in there, and oh, it’s gourmet. Sometimes a good dish only needs one or two ingredients.”
- For squash, it’s tough to mess it up, unless you didn’t season it properly. “Badly prepared squash to me is underseasoned squash. Somebody didn’t put some love into it. Somebody didn’t put sea salt at the end, drizzle it with maple syrup, or put toasted nuts on it. It’s just plain Jane.”
- How do you pick out a good squash? Make sure there are no blemishes or soft spots, and that it’s firm. If it oozes sticky syrup when you cut the stem, it means the squash is fresh and sweet.
54 Carmine St.
11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
10 a.m.–10 p.m.