There was a time when the Santa Catalina neighborhood of Palma, on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, bustled mostly by day. The market that gives the barrio its name, which opens at dawn, was packed with fishermen, bakers and vegetable mongers. But at night the streets were mostly dead. In recent years, though, farm- and sea-to-table restaurants have begun popping up in the streets that fan out from the market and they’re drawing crowds.
One of the newest, and best, is the Room, opened last February just two blocks from Santa Catalina Market. The restaurant was born of a friendship between two Italians: the chef Marco Di Bella and the pastry chef Mario Matrone. The team’s emphasis is on freshness — the menu changes weekly, if not daily, based on what’s on offer at the market — and the soulfulness and simplicity of Italian cuisine.
On a recent visit, with a 2-year-old in tow, plates of free gnocchi showed up to calm the toddler’s hunger pangs. (The chef, a father himself, offered to bring her several types of pasta to try, in case she rejected the first.) The gnocchi was light as air, the plate dressed with a simple, fresh tomato sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan. (A second round was necessary after the table made quick work of them.) A vegetable lasagna, so often a dried-out shadow of a dish, was made to order, with thin sheets of pasta that enhanced the vegetables between them.
Not everything had an Italian bent. The “Greek” salad, flavored with yogurt, figs and mint, recalled the Middle East in each crunch. Palma being a port city, fish was a star player. Ceviche of lubina (sea bass) with a sauce of lime, mango and cilantro was bright and lively. Salmon encrusted with sesame was an appealing remake of a commonly seen dish. The entrecôte, which was paired with a Sichuan pepper sauce, also won points.
Like the pasta, the pastries and cookies are house-made; they are also available boxed, to take out — a lovely way to let the charms of the Room linger.
The Room Palma, C/ Cotoner 47 Bajo, Santa Catalina, Palma, Majorca; (34-971) 281-536; theroompalma.com. Dinner for two, with wine and dessert, is about 50 euros, or $66, at $1.32 to the euro., or find them on facebook
Review by SARAH WILDMAN for the New York Times