It’s hard to believe that it could get any better because it was absolutely exquisite in the old spot.
When the news hit that the star culinary couple Amelia and Florent Marneau were uprooting their highly successful Marche Moderne restaurant from South Coast Plaza to move to Crystal Cove Shopping Center, I was puzzled. Why change the site of this highly acclaimed market-inspired French bistro?
Amelia Marneau, executive pastry chef, told me that she and her husband wanted a change. Something new. Something fresh. Walking through the 4,200-square-foot restaurant a few days before the recent opening, I totally grasped their meaning.
Light flooded through the windows, many of which welcomed ocean breezes through bi-folding openings. The new spot has 25 more seats than the previous, and the tables are farther apart making it feel much more spacious.
An 11-seat bar shows off a gray quartzite counter-top and a snazzy Cruvinet wine dispenser featuring a broad selection of French and California wines.
As the project progressed, Marche fans became increasingly impatient. One eager enthusiast loudly revved the engine of his Harley motorcycle at the kitchen’s backdoor; the racket kept up until someone opened the door. The fellow voiced his concern that coq au vin would still be on the menu. Happily, he got that assurance and was on his way. (Certain dishes will remain indefinitely, Marche classics such as that wine-braised chicken dish and Amelia’s Chopped Salad.)
They had a hiatus of seven months between closing and opening that included research in San Francisco and Paris.
“The bistro Allard from (Alain) Ducasse is so good, yet simple and so fresh …” he said about the Paris restaurant.
“And I think that l’Arpege is the best Michelin star in Paris not just because of the star … the creativity there is insane, not complicated, but just amazing.”
Many dishes are categorized as “small plates.”
Florent wanted to offer smaller portions to give guests the opportunity to sample refined fare with lower price tags.
The wild Spanish octopus served with chorizo emulsion, potatoes, celery, lemon and the smoky flavor of Espelette pepper is $17 (you won’t find better octopus anywhere).
Foie gras and chestnut filled ravioli are served adrift in duck stock along with celery root confit for $21 (the stock is so deeply flavored, it made me hum).
And yes, a beautifully cooked New Zealand langoustine rests atop sea urchin risotto that’s adorned with lace-y green sea beans for $25 (the full flavors balanced perfectly).
In a different price category, my husband had the sautéed foie gras on toasted onion brioche with Calvados, diced apples and pears, plus a topping of balsamic croustillant (lightly acidic flakey balsamic vinegar curls that Florent crafted through a magical process of dehydration). My sated mate said that it was worth every cent of $33.
There are Amelia’s luscious interpretations of French macarons. The flavors and textures are extraordinary and their size, very generous – Lychee, Yuzu, Rose and Raspberry Texture, the later enriched with white chocolate feuilletine (crispy bits).
It was comforting to see Florent’s copper cookware made the transition to the new locale, the gleaming pots and skillets that he has owned since his teens. Some are in use, others hang on hooks. It’s comforting to see the old with the new.
Marche Moderne is located at 7862 East Coast Highway, Newport Beach (across from Javier’s). 714-434-7900. Open 7 days a week for dinner (no lunch), starting at 5 o’clock. Valet is $6. Later they will be offering Sunday brunch. After the holidays, they will offer “Spontanée Dinner Menus” – three course dinners for $38 served on Mondays and Tuesdays.
To read on more from my point of view go to Orange Coast Magazine’s Site, http://www.orangecoast.com/cathy-thomas-friends/marche-moderne-new-location-crystal-cove/
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