It took some time, but The Market at Santa Monica Place finally opened on May 20, adding the crowning piece to the third-floor dining deck of the renovated mall.
The Market is a collection of 13 small stores and restaurants under one roof, similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco or the Chelsea Market in New York City. The stores are mostly independent shops owned and run by local people; no big corporate chains are in sight.
Crowds flocked to The Market over the weekend, drawn by curiosity, the lure of free samples, and a slew of opening festivities that brought in local TV news crews and included a giant lasagna cutting (instead of a ribbon cutting), and an appearance by Karina Smirnoff and Dmitry Chaplin of the TV show Dancing With The Stars.
Stores include specialty food shops, a florist, a gift shop, a skincare product shop, a bakery, cafes, and a cooking school. As might be expected, organic, local, and sustainable ingredients are a big theme here.
Piero Selvaggio, owner of Santa Monica's esteemed Valentino restaurant, has three shops at The Market: a cheese and cured meat shop (Norcino Salumeria), a handmade pasta shop, and a small restaurant, Primi al Mercato, with a short but inviting menu that includes skewers of grilled marinated Napa quail, home made sausage, octopus, jumbo shrimp, or meatballs. At the Salumeria, don't miss the northern Italian style home made chutneys that complement the meats and cheeses - the classic mostarda di cremona and a chocolate/eggplant chutney, a creation of Executive Chef Luciano Pellegrino.
Sweets are well-covered at The Market. There are two ice cream shops -- Malibu-based Beachy Cream natural ice cream sandwich shop, which offers fun flavors like Strawberry Surfer Girl (strawberry balsamic swirl ice cream on a sugar cookie) and Ginger Wipe Out (candied ginger ice cream on a molasses spice cookie), and Venice-based N'ice Cream, where the organic gelato and sorbet have less cream and sugar than most and are never more than 12 hours old, according to the website. Cookie Guru Aurelie Vacheresse sells only one thing -- a crispy, chewy, gooey chocolate chip cookie and milk -- because "I believe in doing only one thing and doing one thing the best. If you're going to have something decadent, it better be the best," she said. Fans of L.A.-based L'Artisan du Chocolat can save themselves the drive to the Silverlake store and pick up their artisinal truffles at the new outlet in The Market.
The foodie-centric Market might be a perfect new location for the Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories, a popular cooking school known for fun, hands-on classes and experienced instructors. Classes are offered in a variety of genres like French pastries, chocolate, vegetarian, or Indian cooking. Ingredients used in the classes are sourced locally from the farmers' markets and from Santa Monica Seafood, said co-owner Clemence Gossett, who previously held classes at Surfas in Culver City. "After a year of planning we're finally here at The Market; we're grateful to the Santa Monica community," she said.
The communal tables inside are a good place to sit down and eat, or patrons can take their food outside to the dining deck and enjoy the ocean breeze and view.
The Market seems to be off to a good start.
"I love it. I think it brings a nice atmosphere to the mall. You have the food court, but it felt like something was missing when the mall opened. [The Market] has a nice, European little marketplace kind of feel," said Santa Monica resident Astrid Martin while enjoying an ice cream sandwich from Beachy Cream.
"I think it's great; the [cheese and cured meat] sampler plate is terrific," said Jim Mohan, a financial analyst visiting from Chicago. Mohan observed there are plenty of pop-up vendors and farmers markets in Chicago, but nothing quite like The Market.
The chaotic opening weekend was not without some operational bumps that need to be smoothed out, but if the initial momentum keeps up, The Market could become an epicurean destination by the sea for locals and tourists alike.
The Market at Santa Monica Place is located on the third floor dining deck, and is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. themarketsmp.com
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