As Joni Mitchell once wrote, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. Still, who knew one would actually miss Belgian food until Markt, the Meatpacking District pioneer, was evicted from its spacious corner of Ninth Avenue and 14th Street (to make way, as it turns out, for another Apple store!) Luckily, Markt has moved a little bit uptown to the somewhat smaller corner of Sixth Avenue and 21st Street -- the space previously occupied by Lox Around the Clock, Tomato, and Sensa. Whew! What did we miss?
Where else can you sample literally dozens of Belgian beers -- which prove to be the perfect complement to a diverse menu heavy on seafood, along with a smattering of hearty entrees for those diners who eschew creatures of the ocean. (Some people like that do exist, trust me). Order something quickly or you’ll find yourself devouring basket after basket of the house’s irresistible bread accompanied by ultra-fresh butter and fleur de sel. (You might still do so anyhow!) The raw bar (if that’s your thing) is as good as anyplace to begin, and my two dining companions were suitably impressed with a platter of a dozen oysters, two each of the day’s selections. They were disappointed that our server didn’t explain which oyster was which, but it didn’t stop them from slurping down every last one.
I contented myself with the excellent tuna tartare, crowned by a little sesame seaweed salad and accompanied by a bowl of soy sauce, a dollop of wasabi, and a bowl of fresh lemon juice for added kick. A great starter for two to share is the pair of beautifully fried and deliciously creamy shrimp croquettes, flanked by addictive fried parsley and a small green salad. Markt has long been one of the city’s favorite spots for mussels, which come in numerous sauces, as well as lobster, since the crustacean gets prepared here in numerous ways – including an authentic bisque, a salad, or served in the pan with julienne vegetables. Take note, though: there are a few mussels but no lobster in the Zeevruchtensoep, the otherwise satisfying Belgian variation on bouillabaisse. Perhaps the standout entrée of our recent visit was the lovely steamed cod served atop stoemp, the traditional Belgian preparation of mashed potatoes and carrots, although we could find no fault with the delectable beer-based sauce of the carbonnade, the country’s variation on beef stew. If only some of the chunks of meat had not been quite so chewy, it would’ve been perfection. The accompanying frites (French fries) most certainly were.
Of course, you expect nothing less than delicious chocolate at the end of a Belgian meal – and that expectation was fulfilled by an intense chocolate tart topped with homemade pistachio ice cream as well as the hot chocolate sauce that comes part of the “dame blanche” which is essentially a do-it-yourself ice cream sundae. But the very pleasant surprise was an exemplary lemon tart with an almond flour crust that put some four-star eateries to shame. Welcome back, Markt!