Heritage update

Ya, sure, Ballard's going upscale.

WHILE THE INEVITABLE Belltownization of every square inch of Seattle continues unchecked, upscale eateries can't be stopped from leaking their money-scented meals into previously untainted turf. The arrival of Ballard's Market Street Urban Grill brings progress with a capital "P" into the heart of folksy Scandiville. The Market Street, with entr饳 priced from $11 to $23, is clearly aimed at a more moneyed clientele than is usually found in these parts. Market Street Urban Grill

1744 NW Market, 789-6766 dinner Mon- Sat 5- 11pm; late-night appetizers Mon- Thu till 1am, Fri- Sat till 2am MC, V, Discover; full bar Market Street's Belltown lineage is unmistakable. The boxy room is not quite adequately balanced by the addition of curving lines, colors, and textures. Sage and cranberry colors coat the room in warmth, further softening the sharp corners. Exuding an air of privilege, customers wear an air of assurance. The polished waitstaff move professionally and attentively from table to table, some of them dusting off their acting skills in support of menu choices ("fantastic!" "excellent choice!"). While the quality of Market Street's food and service is consistently high, the menu remains relatively safe and lacks surprises. One way to practice cost control here is to work your way through the appetizer menu, which is available till 1 or 2am every day except Sunday. The smartly conceived pan-smoked steelhead warm potato salad ($7.95) is a tantalizing starter. Surrounded by fingerling potatoes, a large and handsomely bronzed piece of trout dominates the plate. Chef Frank Springmann, formerly of the Flying Fish in, yep, Belltown, works the fish to perfection. He smokes it medium rare in-house, then finishes it on a hot grill, which results in a harmonious combination of smoke and a delectably crunchy, seared texture. Then, there are the so-sos: A solo Dungeness crab cake ($9.50) comes with strange "tomato chips" that would have been better left in the kitchen. Perfectly uniform spinach leaves turn the serviceable spinach salad ($7.95) into an intriguing study in symmetry, but the hard little chunks of prosciutto bounce around the plate and taste like BacOs. THE USUAL SUSPECTS of steak, chicken, and fish constitute the bulk of the menu, but no upper-crust joint would be complete without a token whimsical plate. Here, it's the sea scallop pot pie ($18.95). Hardly a pie, it's a classy biscuit, surrounded by several perfectly cooked scallops, earthy chanterelle mushrooms, and tiny whole carrots. We were won over by the light-tasting beurre blanc sauce, tart with an aggressive lemon tang and lacking any overly creamy heaviness. Less dazzling, but a solid contender nonetheless, is the peppered rib eye ($22.95), served with a highly desirable side of horseradish mashed potatoes. There's no denying that the Market Street Grill does many things well, and one of them is maintaining a sophisticated and tasteful grip on spices. Many a peppered steak is rendered inedible by overpeppering, and Springmann, thankfully, suppresses the urge. Bucking the trend of making everything on the menu "hot" or "spicy," Market Street uses chili oil and peppers skillfully, allowing the full emergence of flavors without inflicting any serious damage on the palate. The desserts can be complicated, such as the 24-hour apple tart with cinnamon cookie crust and bavarian cream ($7). Baked at a low temperature for an entire day, then layered into a sculpture on the cocoa-dusted plate, this creation sounds better than it tastes. Perhaps the baking time should be cut down to 12 hours. Although the price might seem a little steep, when you figure in price per hour cooked (or per syllable), it turns out to be a true bargain. Better was the rich chocolate and macadamia nut cake with coconut ice cream ($6.50), which tweaks the time-honored combination of chocolate and coconut. And while some traditions embraced here are past due for an update, this dessert's wink at our food heritage left us smiling.

 
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