One Market is a trifecta of fine dining with a great location, excellent menus and talented staff.
Located at the nexus of busy Market Street and the famed Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, the high ceilings, marble columns, and tall windows overlooking the San Francisco Bay evoke a classy sensibility. The winning combination of food, wine, and cocktails in a grand setting has continued for over two decades.
Sure, there are white tablecloths, but the experience is California-casual elegant. Whether I’ve dined in the main room, bar, or Chef’s Table, I’ve encountered thoughtful service and surprising taste treats in each dish. The knowledgeable servers keep the meal flowing but thankfully don’t hover.
A recent meal started with an amuse bouche duo: a raw oyster capped in caviar and a shot glass of nitrogenized tequila foam with a plump shrimp perched on the rim. My friend and I laughed as he first reached for the glass while I devoured the salty-fresh oyster.
The smiles continued with spot prawns accompanied by salsa verde. How often do we eat salsa prepared with nasturtium flowers picked from the chef’s home garden? Chef Mark Dommen is inspired by his Napa back yard as much as his travels to Japan and Europe. The techniques he’s mastered manifest in the grilled octopus seasoned with a tantalizing mix of citrus-like sumac spice, mint, and beet molasses. Too often octopus arrives mushy or tough. Dommen consistently executes sublime textural balance; I always order it.
But the scallop presentation enchanted my friend. The pan-seared day boat (super fresh) bivalves were accompanied by charred summer squash purée, chanterelles and oven-dried, mini-tomato “raisins,” His culinary antenna honed onto the dense smoky flavors of the squash contrasted with a dollop of pickled squash presenting a surprising acidic contrast to the sweet scallops.
The foie gras dish was another new preparation. When Dommen stopped by our table, my friend—a well-traveled gourmand—gushed about the lively contrast from the umami-rich mushrooms and acidic dashi broth with the rich foie. We asked for the back story. “One day I asked the cooks, ‘What can we do with dashi and foie?’ We experimented, and the dish was born.”
Dommen also collaborates closely with Wine Director Tonya Pitts. A consummate professional and certified sommelier, Pitts considers the daily menu when pairing from her primarily American-focused cellar. She hunts down small lot wines for her ever-changing “Tonya’s pick” list. The Stolpman Vineyards Rosé of grenache with the octopus was our favorite pairing.
I often take out-of-town guests to One Market for the view, fine food and warm welcome. During dinner with Amaury Devillard, winery owner of Domaines-Devillard in Burgundy, he commented that among his meals in the U.S., One Market was his most memorable. Potts paired his grass-fed beef shoulder selection with a Burgundian wine, and he added, his Château de Chamirey Mercurey Rouge would also have paired well with Dommen’s food.
For special meals, I’ve invited family and friends to the Chef’s Table in the back of the kitchen. The custom-designed meal come with a fabulous view of the Bay. The chef and cooks deliver the meal and a “participatory” course for dessert when I’ve caramelized mini-crême brulées and applied copious amounts of whipped cream.
Even with these amenities, I marvel at One Market’s staying power in restaurant-obsessed San Francisco. Dommen provided some clues. “We look for the best quality ingredients and try not to over complicate them. With so many regulars, we strive for consistent product. We use classic cooking techniques, but we also add modern techniques where they enhance your experience.”
When One Market opened in 1993, the chef was acclaimed Bradley Ogden. Dommen joined in 2004 after stints under top French chefs in San Francisco and New York City including legendary Jean-Louis Palladin. Named executive chef-partner in 2008, Dommen advocates for strong relationships with local farmers and fishermen.
A set of desserts at One Market are called “Singular Sensations.” You order one, two or three smaller-sized selections from the list. Summer may bring blackberry corn financier with fresh corn ice cream, but founding chef “Bradley’s famous butterscotch pudding,” one of my favorites, is always menued. A recent strawberry milkshake with glazed donuts led to fantasies about my next dinner at One Market.
As I open the elaborately carved front doors, I’m fascinated at how the staff welcomes my diverse friends as if they are regulars. As the seasons change and the ever-expanding quest for quality in the kitchen, wine cellar and bar continues, the menu consistently surprises. At night, there’s the bonus of the artful display of glimmering lights on the Bay Bridge, an extra, only-in-San Francisco treat.