When I first visited Market 17 in the months after its October 2010 opening, I sensed that sibling restaurateurs Kirsta and Aaron Grauberger had a hit on their hands. But I wondered if their timing was just a little off.
The Great Recession was still raging, and Market 17 promised to use organic ingredients whenever possible. Were we ready to pay for such an extravagance?
We were, and we are.
Especially now that chef Lauren DeShields is in the kitchen, having taken over from opening chef Daniel Ramos 18 months ago. Raised in Boca, she cooked alongside Dean James Max at his 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale while still a culinary student at Johnson and Wales University in North Miami. After graduating, DeShields headed to San Francisco, where she worked at Michelin two-starred Saison and alongside multi-restaurant owner-chef Michael Mina.
She's just 27 years old, but DeShields cooks and presents her food with the confidence of a much older chef. While young toques often rely on overpowering flavors, DeShields is a master of the subtlety inherent in good ingredients.
Even beef tartare ($14) tastes bright coming from her kitchen. She starts with beautifully textured, grass-fed beef, to which she adds a bit of soy and a bit of everything else: micro cilantro, radish, carrot, pickled celery and red onion. Sweet-potato-and-hazelnut gnocchi ($14) with mustard greens and Parmesan nage tastes both nutty and peppery. We ordered it without the red-pepper sausage. Farm-to-table doesn't get much fresher than the fried farm egg ($12), served with grilled ciabatta, bacon, baby arugula, red onion and brulee-cheddar spread. And seafood doesn't get much fresher than in the ceviche ($15), made with shrimp, snapper, dorado, cucumber, jalapeno, tomatillo and cilantro marinade.
DeShields' assistant, Mike Cabrera, is mostly in charge of the house-made charcuterie (three for $15; five for $20; seven for $32), which includes several kinds of salami, as well as chorizo, andouille, cured lardo and chicken-liver mousse.
Choosing which of DeShields' entrees to order can be difficult, and her menu changes frequently. But the menu offers entrees in petite and regular sizes, so tables can create their own small-plate meals by ordering several petites. The smaller portions generally include three to four ounces of protein, which is quite enough for folks with smaller appetites.
You won't go wrong with perfectly grilled local dorado ($19/$35) served with herb-roasted potatoes, sauteed kale, squash, grilled green onion and carrot-cumin puree. Grilled grass-fed beef tenderloin ($22/$42) is served with a red-wine demi-glace along with mashed potatoes, roasted-cauliflower bagna cauda and sauteed kale. These are all familiar ingredients made anew.
Slow-roasted free-range chicken ($17/$30) gets an Asian assist with spiced forbidden black rice, roasted carrots, toasted cashews and coconut-curry sauce. Vegetarians will be delighted eating here. The Market Harvest ($15/$26) is a combination of vegetable-based menu items. One night, it was roasted-red-beet risotto, baby arugula and fresh-herb-tips salad, shaved fennel and orange gastrique.
The Graubergers, both sommeliers, will recommend something from their outstanding 520-bottle list. It's one of the best moderately priced wine lists in South Florida. Tell Kirsta, as we did, that you're wanting to try something light and red and summery, and she might recommend the Passopisciaro winery in Sicily.
Desserts carry on with the ingredient-based freshness from the savory side of the menu in fruity dishes such as blackberry crostata ($10). And the chocolate pudding duo ($12) is a divine combination of dark-chocolate pudding and chocolate-and-spicy-red-pepper whipped cream.
The 185-seat dining room is contemporarily comfortable. Service is consistently excellent. The Graubergers say they hire people who are "genuinely nice people" first and foremost. They figure they can teach skills, but our server one night was among the best waiters I've had in years.
Diners clearly support restaurants that deliver good food and service. And Market 17 has been so successful that the Graubergers are working on a second concept. They're open to a location in Broward, Palm Beach or Miami-Dade. Stay tuned.
Portside Yachting Center, 850 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday; dinner daily October-May
Reservations: Suggested, especially on weekends
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
Wheelchair accessible: Yes