First to Market has a casual—if not sparse—ambience: exposed red brick walls, an absence of tablecloths and dark wood table tops. A rotating collection of local artwork complements the restaurant’s neighborhood vibe. Drawings of a perfect world are on display, and First to Market has invited guests to sketch their own version of utopia, which will then be displayed next month.

Previously home to Agenda Lounge’s restaurant (and for a short while, Bayonne Southern Dining), the space offers an intimate setting that has contributed to the renaissance of the SoFA District. Single Barrel co-owner Joe Gradillas also serves as co-owner of First to Market with Jenn Lin, both San Jose natives, and speakeasy cocktails have migrated upstairs to some extent. (Single Barrel operates downstairs.)

The cooling fall weather called for whiskey. The Drunken Bunny ($9) with bourbon, Fernet Branca, allspice dram, carrot puree and a splash of lemon juice was surprisingly delicious: slightly sweet from the carrot, with a mellow smokiness from the bourbon and a herbaceous tinge from the fernet. Gradillas also put together a delightful sour of sorts when I asked about trying something with bourbon and citrus.

Domingo Wolbert, the 27-year-old chef of First to Market, has taken a menu that originally debuted with a heavy Southern influence and expanded it to incorporate more regional dishes, including California cuisine. The plates are enjoyable for sharing.

Sweet and tender St. Louis style ribs ($10) get a kick of heat from sriracha cole slaw, and also popular is the pimento mac & cheese ($9) with the option to add pork belly ($2). While tasty, it didn’t rock my world—maybe because I anticipated crispy bites of pork belly as a garnish instead of tender pieces folded into the cheesy mix.

Entrees offer full-flavored options, from quail to a Moroccan pork stew. Not wanting to miss a main attraction, my guest and I sprung for the brick-seared quail ($18). The dish was an early surprise of Thanksgiving flavors, far better than the traditional setup. Quail may seem a small piece of game, but two perfectly browned and seasoned birds alongside a hearty serving of shiitake mushroom stuffing, red wine mashed potatoes and veal gravy made for an delectable shared meal for two.

First to Market also serves lunch and brunch, and the tri-tip sandwich ($13) with stout barbecue sauce on sourdough with coleslaw and horseradish spread is plenty of incentive to return.

First to Market
399 S. First St., San Jose

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