Upscale Market on Market Street has its pluses and minuses 

click to enlarge The chicken confit sandwich at the sandwich station exemplifies the deluxe offerings at The Market. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • The chicken confit sandwich at the sandwich station exemplifies the deluxe offerings at The Market.
When The Market — ­­­Twitter’s new marketplace on Market Street — launched in January, it billed itself as San Francisco’s answer to Eataly, the global empire of tasty and expensive Italian foods. The Market’s periphery is lined with stations (tacos, sandwiches, sushi, tapas) and in the middle glows an island of grocery aisles stocked with everything from $10 jam to Top Ramen.

The taco station, one of the more affordable options, pays homage to the “deep Latin roots” of the Bay Area, serving carnitas and spicy cremas and spiced butternut squash. The effect is a bit half-hearted: Dry and cracked tortillas and occasionally overcooked meat are somewhat in harmony with the sterile feel of the gleaming setup.

The pizza counter offers a short menu of inoffensive options — margherita, mushroom and mozzarella with ricotta and parmesan — all nicely blistered in a 575-degree oven. The fromage blanc pie with smoked bacon is heavy with caramelized onions, and makes a reliably good bet for two to split. The sandwich station is basically like the pizza station, except the cheese and meat melt together in a panini press on white bread. Happily, the chicken confit sandwich rises to its $13 price point, stacking rich layers of buttery chicken with bacon, pear mustard and sunchokes. The bacon muscles through the tart mustard, and the chicken confit is luxe enough to warrant a glass of wine at lunch. You know, to balance the bacon.

While Eataly authentically rips inspiration from Italy, The Market conglomerates a handful of varied influences and makes all of the tastes similar, with one important, lively and heartening exception: Azalina’s Malaysian.

Situated in a dark corner, the only corner in The Market that has soul, Azalina’s is the real thing, and among the few eateries serving its own menu rather than items curated by The Market food team. Azalina Eusope, a fifth-generation street vendor from Malaysia, makes an unbeatable Laksa soup with housemade egg noodles in a broth spiked with more spices than in the rest of the Market building. The hokkien mee egg noodles are wok-fried and toasty, but unusually restrained. It turns out that the kichen is purposefully holding back, taking baby steps to evaluate customers’ tolerance for the weirder flavors of Malaysian cuisine. Shrimp paste soon may make its way back on the plates — but only if we let it. Sooner yet, I bet, if we ask for it. In the meantime, don’t miss the fermented rice pudding.

Seats are sparse at The Market, and the atmosphere is disjointed, as if Whole Foods was dropped into an art museum. Just to the left of the pizza counter, The Market opens up into a corridor in the Twitter building. At the end of the hallway hangs a softly-lit painting that’s the visual equivalent of elevator music. A grid of halogen lights, arranged in dots and lines like Morse code, hangs above the grocery aisles.

Even so, The Market is trying, and it’s doing some good. The project partnered with the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development to hire a large percentage of its staff, and there’s something to be said for providing bins of organic kale across from Burger King. As for the grocery, one friend who works at Twitter told me he has only purchased two pineapples from the market, and “...they were fine pineapples, not so young as to be too sinewy, but not so ripe as to be too sweet.” So, there’s promise yet.

The Market

Location: 1355 Market St., S.F.

Contact: (415) 767-5130, www.visitthemarket.com

Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Recommended dishes: Azalina’s Laksa ($11), Fromage blanc pizza with caramelized onions ($16)

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Not accepted

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Molly Gore

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