Entering Market House on the Square, the bar area has a very European pub-like feel. It was full the evening of our visit, with groups of friends meeting for drinks in a very comfortable atmosphere.
Their expansive outdoor patio on the corner of Market Square is the prized space for summer dining and weekend brunches, but we made our way to the main dining room and settled into the cozy atmosphere, like a New England B&B. That impression is bolstered with framed paintings of dogs, boats, and horses; a pale stone fireplace; and a homey staircase heading up to the second floor (where exist a variety of distinct private dining spaces).
Our first impression with the menu was the Crab Cake, large pieces of jumbo lump crab meat with a creamy remoulade binding encased in panko bread crumbs. The crab is wonderful, flaky, and fresh, elevated by the crunch of the breadcrumbs and a little sweetness from the sauce. A small serving of mixed greens in balsamic dressing refreshes the palate between each bite.
The Poached Pear Salad makes for a light and lovely bridge to the entrees. Slices of fresh pear provide a neutral base for the garden fresh greens of peppery watercress and bitter Bibb lettuce. Toasted almonds and apricot round out the flavors on the plate and everything is tied together in the buttery taste of Cambozola cheese, a rich cow’s-milk cheese veined with threads of blue. The cheese is the most robust flavor on the plate, outshining any sweetness in the fruit and giving it a deliciously unique personality.
The English Pea Ravioli was the biggest surprise of the evening. Never before have we experienced so light and organic a take on pasta. Chef Dan stuffs housemade pasta pillows with mildly minty English pea ricotta and pairs it with shaved carrots and delicate pea tendrils from his family farm in Sheffield, Illinois. It’s presented in a rich buttery carrot buerre blanc sauce.
The Bouillabaisse rests upon the freshest seafood flavors from Alaskan cod, jumbo shrimp, and mussels in a warming fennel tomato saffron broth with confit potatoes in a decadent duck fat base. Sometimes, the influx of seafood flavors in a bouillabaisse can be a little overwhelming. In the Market House version, each of the central ingredients is balanced to a different compelling flavor. The shrimp revels in the broth, the combination of the cod and potato is exquisite, and mussels provide that traditional fresh seafood flavor. It’s all capped off with grilled slices of French baguette. This dish is especially good with a glass of their crisp white Garzon from Uruguay.
In a wholly different approach to the flavors of the sea, we also sampled the Crispy Lemon Sole, lightly breaded in panko with lemon caper sauce and topped with the mild bitter sting of baby arugula and thin slices of pecorino cheese. The fish is so smooth and buttery. Playing with the panko and the Parmesan qualities of the cheese, this dish plays like a much lighter version of chicken Parmesan with a bright citrus creaminess from the sauce and a delightful pepper aftertaste.
For dessert, we had the Chocolate & Peanut Butter Brownie, a dense, dark chocolate cake with thick peanut butter frosting and a starburst drizzle of milk chocolate sauce underneath it. It’s like the most gourmet and refined crystallization of a chocolate peanut butter cup imaginable. With a natural disposition as a sucker for those flavors, this was a homerun. A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream balances the heaviness of the darker flavors and makes this dessert a sure-fire crowd pleaser.
Market House on the Square is located at 655 Forest Avenue in Lake Forest, 847-234-8800, themarkethouse.com.