Cured meats at Norcino Salumeria Cheese Bar at Santa Monica Place's The Market. (photo by Kevin Herrera)

SM PLACE — Foodies on the hunt for freshness flocked to Santa Monica Place on Friday for the grand opening of the remodeled shopping center’s latest attraction, The Market, a 45,000-square-foot section of the third floor dining deck that features artisanal treats and a top-notch cooking school.

A miniature version of San Francisco’s Ferry Building, The Market has an open-air atmosphere with a pleasant color pattern, high ceilings, lots of natural light and a clean look that draws attention to the diverse selection of purveyors who pride themselves on producing organic fare.

The idea is to complement the fine-dining found on the mall’s third floor as well as the Farmers’ Markets held every Wednesday and Saturday just blocks away on Arizona Avenue. The Market includes a French chocolatier, a farm-sourced skin-care company, wine and cheese shops, a farm-to-table cafe and gelato.

The centerpiece is Primi Al Mercato, an Italian-food retail and restaurant concept (with an on-site pasta maker) from Piero Selvaggio, owner of Westside industry power spot Valentino.

Macerich Co., the owners of Santa Monica Place, were smart to include The Market, helping boost the mall’s presence as not just a shopping destination, but a culinary hub worthy of being located in the city by the sea, which is known as much for its restaurants as its progressive public policy. Personally, I haven’t purchased one piece of clothing from a store in the mall, but I’ve eaten at nearly all of the restaurants and the posh food court and will keep going back. Most of the grub is delicious.

The Market should become a major attraction, and we look forward to having lunch on its patio overlooking Fourth Street. While not the most picturesque view, the breeze and sunshine will make it a pleasant place to munch.

We didn’t have much time to check out the food (our lunch hour is more like 15 minutes), but we did look at menus for the restaurants and found the prices to be comparable to other fresh fare restaurants in the area. Our next stop will certainly be the Norcino Salumeria Cheese Bar, also run by Selvaggio, to purchase some savory cured meats and rich, creamy cheese for weekend gatherings. As the weeks go by, we’ll try others and fill you in.

The only thing we wish The Market included is a butcher. It would be nice to purchase premium cuts of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and fish, along with other ingredients at the various purveyors to come up with a tasty dish for a dinner party of just supper with the family. That would really compliment the Farmers’ Markets. Right now the closest thing is Norcino’s.

We recommend checking out The Market, even if it’s just to browse. There’s plenty to see and the energy is palpable. We’re sure you’ll end up walking away with something, or maybe you’ll sit in on a cooking class and learn a new technique.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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