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Behind the Line: Jean-Georges' Boston debut

Market at The W Boston launches with Mark Damsky at the helm

Fresh, local seafood plays an important role on the
    menu at Market. - Photo courtesy of Market restaurant
By Lauren Kramer
February 01, 2010

Opening a new restaurant in the midst of a recession can be tough, but when that restaurant belongs to Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the effects of the economic slowdown are perhaps not as pronounced. Vongerichten's Market restaurant opened in the new W Boston hotel on Oct. 29, and business has been good, according to Mark Damsky, chef de cuisine.

"A lot of our success here is about getting a five-star meal on a two-star budget," he says. "The quality of ingredients and execution of techniques are no different than the precision Vongerichten's chefs put into Central Park West. We source the best and the most local ingredients, but we're really aggressive with our price point so we can pass savings on to the guest." (Appetizers range between $11 and $17, while entrées start at $19 and go up to $32.)

Seafood constitutes half the menu at Market, and with the exception of the tuna and shrimp, everything is locally sourced. Damsky came to the position from Chambers, The Luxury Art Hotel in Minneapolis, another Vongerichten restaurant where he was chef de cuisine for three years. He knows the origins of the products like the back of 
his hand.

"We get our Casco cod and haddock from Georges Bank, one of the most abundant fishing areas left on the eastern seaboard," he says. "We have three lobstermen we deal with, so we go between them to see who is catching on a particular day. Our clams are Ipswich, and the crabmeat is peekytoe crab from the Bengis Seafood Co. in Maine. The farmed striped bass is from Gloucester, Mass., and our farmed salmon is from the Bay of Fundy."

That's a great area to farm salmon, he adds. "Because of the temperature of the water and the rise of the tide, they can really grow and develop that belly fat." Whenever possible he opts for sustainably sourced seafood and is committed to avoiding any species that are improperly harvested. "We won't support the sale of bluefin tuna or Chilean sea bass," Damsky says. "We purchase only from line fishermen and 
buy farm-raised fish only when it's acceptable and available."

What distinguishes the food at Market is Vongerichten's unique style of cooking, Damsky says, a style that merges classic French techniques and flavors with an Asian profile. Damsky learned Vongerichten's style when he first began to work with the chef at The Luxury Art Hotel. "It's opened my eyes to new flavor possibilities and pairings," he says.

"There are no new fish in the sea or many new vegetables, but there are new flavor combinations, techniques and ideas. That's how we stay fresh and interesting and keep challenging our guests' palates."

The black-pepper crab fritters are a good example. "The dough is a classic pâté choux, sweet and savory. We fold the crabmeat into it, then deep fry it and serve it on a black-pepper condiment, which is very Chinese. It's served with fresh Korean pear- and endive-salad with lime juice and cilantro, so you get an interesting blend of flavors," he says.

The cod is served with shimeji mushrooms and a miso-yuzo broth, while the haddock comes with parsnip purée, mint and fragrant coconut juice. The two most-popular seafood dishes have been the rice-cracker-crusted tuna with citrus-chile emulsion appetizer, and among the entrées, the slow-cooked salmon, which comes with a truffle vinaigrette.

The menu is emphatically Vongerichten's, a collaboration of many of the renowned chef's favorite dishes. Prior to opening Market, he and Damsky ate at a lot of restaurants and sampled clam pizza. Determining that they could improve on the technique and flavor, they created a chile and clam pizza for the menu, just one example of a dish tailored to the New England area.

Future seasonal menu revisions will incorporate more collaboration between Vongerichten and Damsky, who is enthusiastic about such possibilities, given the cornucopia of local ingredients available in the Boston area.


Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia


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