by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - The newly redesigned Market restaurant in Southwest Portland features a friendly staff and a rotating menu by executive chef Troy Furuta.“What kind of food is it?”

I get this question every time I mention Market, the new restaurant in the old Carafe Bistro space. And I’m not sure how to answer.

Words like “market-driven,” “Continental,” and “contemporary” look OK in print, but they don’t carry much meaning. It’s better just to take a look at the menu:

Prawns with bacon and Brussels sprouts. House-made pasta with sausage, broccoli rabe and creme fraiche. Roast chicken. Grilled hangar steak with arugula pesto.

It all sounds good, and for the most part the kitchen delivers with an improvisational style that I would call Pacific Northwest bistro — playful, but stopping well short of jokey.

Fried cheese curds, for instance, are taken out of casual Friday mode and dressed in cocktail attire of crisp, airy tempura. The curds are a creamy, elastic mozzarella, mingled with mild, bright green padron peppers to keep things interesting.

For something more seasonal, there’s a changing crostini selection. Lately, they’ve been topped with either pears or beets.

Slices of poached pear worked surprisingly well with brittle chips of prosciutto, cleansing arugula, and candied walnuts. It was a play of sweet and bitter, right down to the dressing, a burnt honey gastrique.

Oddly enough, the beet crostini were the ones that were too sweet — the sugar in golden beets overwhelmed a layer of mild house-made ricotta.

In all cases, though, the bread was crisped and chewy, not over-toasted. Bread to start a meal was also handled with care. It was charred just enough to add some flavor, with a subtle gleam of butter, served in a cute little cast iron pan.

It was followed by Market’s homey version of surf and turf: a rack of pork with two roly-poly prawns. They were united in a rustic serving dish with savory pork fried rice, with many chunks of tender, meaty mushroom. To one side was a creamy version of a Mexican salsa verde, which tasted of tomatillos, green chiles, and salt — mostly salt, unfortunately.

Overall, it was a satisfying, self-contained meal, eclectic without feeling over-thought. The menu is quite concise, offering about five starters and as many entrees. Desserts are simple, too: ice cream, sorbet, custard.

Stylishly classic cocktails

The chef is Troy Furuta, who has worked at Clyde Common and Ping. Behind the venture is ChefStable, the great and powerful wizard behind many of Portland’s most high-profile restaurants. They’ve taken a gamble, here, on a difficult location in a bleak part of downtown that always feels about 10 degrees colder than the rest of the city.

But the restaurant is warm and glowing, with an ivy-draped roof, Parisian café chairs along the sidewalk, and candles flickering inside. Periodically, events at the Keller Auditorium bring swarms of theater-goers to the vicinity, and Market appears ready to oblige them.

With the exception of its Google-baffling name, it’s user friendly, with free valet parking after 5 p.m. and substantial happy hour discounts, both before and after the dinner hour. From 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, and after 8 p.m. every day, you can sit in the bar and have a surprisingly flavorful chicken burger with mushrooms and Swiss cheese for $5. Add waffle fries and a cocktail and your night-on-the-town restaurant becomes an after-work hangout.

Cocktails are stylish classics with little extra touches. There’s fresh nutmeg atop a Holland gin punch, and a sazerac becomes exotic and spicy with the addition of sriracha hot sauce. My favorite was the Brooklyn cocktail, a bitter, forgotten cousin of the Manhattan. It’s a vintage recipe, a sign that Market knows when to innovate and when to leave well enough alone.

Market Restaurant, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday, 200 S.W. Market St., 503-248-0004,, entrees $22-$26

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