(Formatted with All Pictures here:
I remember the first time I went to Marche Moderne, a few years ago, during their Grand Opening: Taking the escalator up to the quiet, pretty Penthouse portion of South Coast Plaza and finding what looked like a charming sidewalk French Bistro with its cute awnings right in heart of the mall, the juxtaposition was a bit bizarre. Nowadays there are more and more good restaurants opening up in shopping malls, but back then, a full, stylish, good quality French Bistro at a mall was almost unheard of. My guest and I were a bit wary, but after that first visit, I've been a regular ever since.
Located directly above Tiffany & Co. and Salvatore Ferragamo, Marche Moderne is the result of dedicated effort by the husband and wife team of Florent and Amelia Marneau (Chef Florent Marneau was at the Patina Group's Pinot Provence and Aubergine before this, and Pastry Chef Amelia Marneau has been making pastries since she was 18, in France and the U.S.).
Stepping inside from the mall, the modern, sleek decor and simple mood lighting makes you feel like you're in an eating establishment away from the ebb-and-flow of one of the largest malls in Southern California. They also feature an "outdoor patio" that has an open ceiling structure (that can be opened or closed depending on the weather / sunlight).
While the earlier days of the restaurant featured some hiccups with service, our last few visits have had none of those problems thankfully. The restaurant seems to have found its stride both in terms of service and pacing.
Bread service has been consistent during each of my visits (sans one time when they completely forgot to bring Bread), with all their Bread baked in-house. On one of my visits, they're serving a French Baguette and Multi-Grain Wheat.
The French Baguette is a good starter, with a crunchy crust and pillowy, soft interior. The Multi-Grain Wheat may be a bit too earthy for my tastes, but is very fresh. They're both served warm (always a nice thing). Their homemade Olive Bread (when offered) is delicious as well, soft, with just the right amount of Olive chunks throughout each slice.
Marche Moderne features a solid stable of Charcuterie with homemade Terrines, with one of the standouts being the Cold Foie Gras and Rabbit Confit Terrine.
Served with a Sauterne Gelee and Warm Baguette, the blend of Foie Gras and Rabbit Confit is stellar: Fragrant, creamy and pure without the metallic taste normally associated with certain organ meats. The Sauterne Gelee has a concentrated sweetness but when used sparingly, never becomes cloying.
We also try their Cured and Confit Pork Belly with Szechwan Pepper Roasted Pineapple, Balsamic Emulsion, Thai Basil.
The Pork Belly Confit has a beautiful crisp crust giving way to a burst of happiness one gains when eating a succulent piece of Pork that's been cooked Confit-style and then crisped up before serving. The Szechwan Peppercorn accents give the Pork Belly a different facet than the usual preparations and the Balsamic Emulsion helps to cut a bit of the heaviness away.
One of the great values at Marche Moderne is their "Spontanee" 3 Course Prix Fixe for $25 (Lunch Only), with courses that change daily. On this visit, the first course is a Salade of Spinach, Kalamata Olives, Greens, Feta Cheese, Cucumbers, Cherry Tomatoes in a Lemon Vinaigrette.
The Salad is a fine reflection of Chef Marneau's usage of local farmer's market produce, tasting vibrant and fresh. The Lemon Vinaigrette might be a touch too tart for some, but I enjoyed the Lemon essence coming through.
The 2nd course on their Spontanee menu on this visit is a "Pre Sale" of Roasted Pork Tenderloin, Parsnips and Potato Puree, Braised Romaine, Griottine Cherry Jus.
The Roasted Pork Tenderloin has a perfect searing on the outside, with a beautiful rosy pink center. It's thankfully not very salty and the Parsnips and Potato Puree just skates the line between silky and rustic.
The one disappointment is the Griottine Cherry Jus which simply overpowers the Pork Tenderloin. It's far too potent and sweet, but otherwise it's a good dish.
One of our guests tries their Moules Frites (Mussels, White Wine, Garlic, Shallot, Parsley, Creme Fraiche, Pomme Frites).
The Mussels exhibit a welcome light brininess sitting in a fragrant White Wine Broth with nice Garlic accents poking through each bite. It's not the best Moules Frites I've had in So Cal, but it's a very respectable version.
The Fries are fine, not too oily or greasy, but a bit softer than what I'd prefer.
Marche Moderne always features a few interesting sounding Sandwiches including a Fennel and Coriander Crusted Ahi Tuna on Homemade Pane Rustico, Olive Tapenade, Egg, Boston, Marinated Bellpepper, Chive Emulsion, served with Field Greens.
The good quality Ahi Tuna serves as a neutral platform for the Marinated Bellpepper, Olive Tapenade and Greens with the occasional bits of Coriander and Fennel coming through (when you get a bit of the crust of the Ahi Tuna). It's a healthy sandwich that fits the bill if you're in the mood for a light and quick lunch.
The third course of the Prix Fixe menu is a Creme Brulee, Caramelized Palmier Twist.
This visit's Creme Brulee turns out to be an Espresso Creme Brulee with a thin caramelized crust on top. The coffee flavors really work well with the Palmier Twist (which is very flaky and buttery), and the cube of Walnut Fudge underneath.
But their Baked Mini Gateau Basque Minute (Coco Brulee, Toasted Macadamia and Coconut Gelato) eclipses the Creme Brulee.
There are four components that can be mixed and matched, starting with their Coco-Brulee, that begins the exploration of Coconut in this dish. It's fragrant, tropical and quite airy.
The Mini Gateau is infused with Lemon Zest and gives off a very bright, citrus-floral aroma. But everyone at the table ended up fighting over the Toasted Macadamia and Coconut Gelato. I'm not a Coconut fan, but Chef Amelia's creation here is outstanding: It's nutty and tropical with a good Coconut infusion, but just blended so well with a creamy, cooling Gelato background.
We finish with their Almond Macaron, Poire William Gelato, Chocolate Mousseline.
The Macarons start off really airy, with a beautiful silkiness from the Chocolate Mousseline, but then the Poire William Gelato joins the bite and it's really powerful. The Alcoholic notes are surprisingly strong in this dessert and detract from the overall enjoyment of this dish.
On another visit, we start with their Charcuterie Plate of Homemade Duck Terrine, La Quercia Prosciutto, Saucisson Sec Truffe.
The highlights would have to be a tie between their Saucisson Sec and Duck Terrine. The Saucisson Sec has such a concentrated, intense pork flavor that it generates an ever-enticing pure fragrance with each bite. I still like the 2 types I tried in Paris more than this version, but I'm glad to have a good option here at Marche Moderne.
The Duck Terrine is made with Cognac and Duck and is really wonderful, very soft, creamy and it spreads easily on their homemade warm Baguette. The Cognac notes provide a persistent fragrant backdrop for the Duck itself. Overall it's really fresh and lush.
The Pickled Onion and Cornichon condiments served alongside will make your mouth pucker with its tartness, but it's a nice foil for the fatty Terrine.
One of my guests are looking for a nice salad so we decide to go with the Baby Little Gem Romaine (Lemon Oil Scented Fresh Maui Hearts of Palm, Candied Almonds, Weiser Farm Persian Cucumbers, Avocado, Champagne-Tarragon Vinaigrette, Fresh Buffala Mozzarella).
It's a good salad - if a bit overdressed - with vibrant ingredients. The Hearts of Palm and Persian Cucumbers provide a substantial standout structure to this Salad, and the interplay of the Champagne-Tarragon dressing (a nice herbal break from the usual Vinaigrette) with the Candied Almonds provides the other highlight.
And in total contrast to our previous Salad comes their stunning plate of crimson: Snake River Farms American Kobe Beef Carpaccio and Dungeness Crab Truffle Remoulade.
The American Kobe Beef Carpaccio is a lean cut, with little pockets of marbling to help with the texture and taste. It's fresh and can stand alone, but eating a slice with a spoonful of the Dungeness Crab Remoulade gives it a much better dimensionality of naturally sweet Crab meat with the raw Beef.
The Four Story Hills Farm Beef Short Ribs (with Fingerling Potatoes, Cremini Mushrooms, Bacon, Cippolini Onions) arrive next.
The slow-braised Beef Short Ribs are completely fall-off-the-bone tender, in a good Red Wine Sauce. The massive amount of Frites feel a little bit overkill, but makes for a fun excuse for everyone to "steal a fry" from this plate throughout the entree course. :)
If there's one entree to get it would be their Lamb Ribeye Couscous & Merguez Sausage (with Cilantro Chermoula, Medjool Dates, Fresh Garbanzo Beans, Mint Emulsion, Almond, Meyer Lemon Confit, Zucchini).
Taking a bite, the Lamb Ribeye is tender and fragrant with only a mild gaminess associated with Lamb. And as a pairing with the Couscous which has soaked up the flavors of the herbs, Meyer Lemon Confit and nutty Almonds, and with chunks of the gorgeous Merguez Sausage, it's like getting a Christmas present for all the Lamb lovers out there. :)
Of the 3 Sauce pairings, while the Mint Emulsion is excellent (a nice pairing of an airy Mint flavor and Lamb, without the usual, overly sweet Mint Jelly), the Cilantro Chermoula is even better: Garlic, Oil, Chili Pepper playfully tease the palate while a nice Cilantro flavor is always at the forefront. Excellent.
The one entree I was looking forward to almost as much as the Lamb Ribeye Tagine was the Braised and Wood Burning Roasted Kurobuta Pork Shank (with Vegetable Ratatouille, Black and Green Olive Jus).
Slow-cooked in their wood-burning oven, the Kurobuta Pork Shank arrives in a cute and rustic cooking pot. The portion is huge, and easily enough to share between 2 people. Initially it looks a little dry, but a light touch from the fork causes the dark Pork Shank exterior to break open and reveal an extremely moist and tender interior. The Braised Pork Shank is absolutely delicious, soaking up nice vegetable notes from the Ratatouille and Olive mixture it's stewed in.
The Vegetables are also spot on, but the one hiccup with the dish would have to be the Black and Green Olive Jus. I enjoy Olives in general, but there is just too much of it here, making it really salty and intense if you took a spoonful with the Pork Shank. But just nibbling on a tiny bit of the Olive Jus with the Pork Shank (or just the Shank by itself) results in a much better dish.
On my 5th visit, we start with the Boston and Mache Lettuce, Upland Cress, Grapes, Shaved Onetik Cheese, Honey Fried Pecans, Cassic Gastrique, Leblanc Walnut Vinaigrette.
This is one of their better salads on the menu, with a beautiful citrus flower aroma. The Cassis Gastrique is the star of this dish, giving a nice flavor profile that has echoes of Cranberry and Raisins, but much more intense and more berry-like, which works well with the fresh, sweet and lightly tangy Grapes. Finally, the Onetik Cheese from France provides a mild, easygoing Cheese with a light funk, a nice complement to the stronger flavors of the rest of the Salad.
If there is one hiccup with this Salad is that it's a touch overdressed for my preference, but asking them to go a little easier on the dressing can alleviate that.
The Fire Roasted Bell Pepper and Lemon Mosto Marinated White Anchovy "Boquarones" arrives next.
This is definitely one of the most unusual pairings on the menu: With each bite, the surprisingly subtle sweetness of the Fire Roasted Bell Peppers (which emits a hypnotic greenhouse-like fragrance) is followed by a cutting, deep brininess from the White Anchovies. Add a touch of citrus tart from the Lemon Mosto and the dish feels a bit too disparate for me.
The centerpiece wood-burning oven gives Chef Marneau an opportunity to showcase a variety of savory Tarts, and during this visit we order their Merguez Sausage and Shrimp Tart (Fennel and Caramelized Onion Jam, Mint and Fennel Greens, Emulsion of Cumin-Harissa).
Fresh out of the oven (still radiating heat off of the crust), this just became my new favorite starter (after anything with Foie Gras (^_~)). The Merguez Sausage is so seductive in its lambiness and spice mixture, and then you get a piece of just cooked through Shrimp that's very bright, adding a firm, yet pliable textural contrast, which then blends together into a satisfying crunch from the fresh-baked crust of the tart.
But beyond the textural play is excellent usage of aromatic herbs: The Mint and Fennel Greens engage your sense of smell before you even take a bite (an underused technique in so many kitchens around town), and then the Cumin-Harissa Emulsion adds such an alluring aspect that when combined together with everything else, makes you feel like you're enjoying a sunny afternoon in a spice market somewhere abroad.
Their Chicken Coq Au Vin (with Cremini Mushrooms, Cipollini Onions, Bacon, Hand Rolled Tagliatelle) continues the parade of all things wonderful.
Arriving in a rustic cooking pot, a waft of flavors hits your face immediately. A tiny sip of the Coq Au Vin Broth reveals an utterly superb, humble Bergundy-infused, long-stewed creation that impresses even when reheated the next day. Chef Marneau takes over 72 hours to create the Coq Au Vin dish for Marche Moderne and it shows. Served with only Chicken Leg and Thigh, each bite of the Chicken is a beautiful portion of tender poultry completely saturated with the Bergundy, Mirepoix, Cremini Mushrooms and Aromatics within the dish. It tastes like long-cooked soups you had at your Grandmother's house, a labor of time and love.
The Cipollini Onions, Mushrooms and Bacon chunks have also soaked up the flavors and added their own inherent characteristics to the pool of happiness. Unfortunately the hand rolled Tagliatelle pasta is overcooked: It literally disintegrates into mush with the slightest application of pressure. But it feels like a side item to the Coq Au Vin anyway, and the dish is outstanding even without the pasta. (Note that the Coq Au Vin portion is gigantic and can easily be shared with 2 people (be sure to request some of their French Baguette to soak up the stew while you eat).)
We finished with Beignet A La Minute "Mousseline A La Fleur d'Orange" (Lavender-Honey Gelato).
If you could bite into a fluffy, white cloud, this is what it might taste like: The Beignet a la Minute is cooked to order, so airy and pure tasting, fried at the right temperature so that there's no excess oil absorbed.
Then you take a bite of the Beignet dipped in the Mousseline a la Fleur d'Orange - which has captured the essence of the entrancing flowers of an Orange tree - and it tastes like a completely different, floral dessert. A dab into the Lavender-Honey Gelato gives it a relaxing Lavender perfume with each bite. It's all things decadent, luxurious and yet surprisingly light, arguably Pastry Chef Amelia's best creation to date. (^_^)
But perhaps the best reason to visit Marche Moderne is their newest seasonal menu that's being served from October 1 - November 30, 2009: Soirees Alsacienne, a 2 Course Dinner Menu that's being served nightly, celebrating the cuisine of Alsace.
That was the sole reason for my 7th visit to Marche Moderne, which felt even more fortuitous since my dear friends from Paris and Provence were back in town and I had wrangled them to come along and see how the dishes compared to back home. :)
Chef Marneau starts us off with an amuse bouche of Coriander Marinated Scallop with Micro Cilantro. The Scallop is firm yet supple, vibrant and excellent with the Coriander Marinade.
My guests are craving some Charcuterie, so we order a plate of all 5 of their selections for this evening with Homemade Duck Terrine, Salami Rosa, La Quercia Prosciutto, Saucisson Sec Truffe, Chorizo Sarta.
Everyone's favorites are a tie between the Homemade Duck Terrine made with Port and Brandy, and the Saucisson Sec Truffe that was even better than the last time I ordered it, even more intensely porky, with the little flecks of Truffle adding a lusty aroma.
The Soirees Alsacienne Menu also features a variety of Beer and Wine from the region (or in that style), with an option for A Flight of Wine to taste all 5 featured wines. The 2006 Marcel Deiss, Pinot Blanc Bergheim from Alsace felt a little too young, with a rough finish. The 2006 Domaine Weinbach, Sylvaner Reserve also from Alsace fared much better with a lightly floral nose and very dry finish.
My 2nd favorite of the flight is their 2007 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling from Alsace. But it's the 2005 Steinklotz Helfrich, Gewurztraminer Grand Cru from Alsace that steals the show: There's a seductive floral aroma that catches your attention long before you put the glass to your lips. It's lightly sweet, almost like an Ice Wine, but never as intense and sugary, with a clean finish. I've never had a Gewurztraminer from Alsace before, but if they're like the Steinklotz Helfrich this might become my new favorite. :)
On paper, hearing about a "2 Course Tasting Menu" might sound a bit underwhelming, but after seeing their 1st course of this celebration of Alsace, it should alleviate any worries about variety and portions. :) What's put before us for the 1st course is the main meal itself: Choucroute Moderne & "The Pig Head To Toe", featuring 9(!) preparations for Alsatian Pork, Alsatian Sauerkraut, Weiser Farms German Butterball Potatoes, and Moutarde de Dijon.
We begin with their Confit & Crispy Pig's Ear. Taking a bite, it's crispy, buttery and truly unctuous. It was so good, my dear friend from Provence (who's normally reserved) had to let out a little groan of delight. Probably the best Pig's Ear I've had in So Cal so far. :)
Their Choucroute Moderne (Alsatian Sauerkraut, Modern style) is nothing like my negative impressions of standard "Sauerkraut" here in the U.S. This lightly fermented and braised Cabbage is mild, only lightly tangy and *so* mouth-wateringly delicious because it has soaked up all the Pork Broth and Braising Sauce. :) My Parisian friend mentions that this Choucroute is much less pungent than the Choucroute back home, but enjoys it immensely because of the braising liquid as well.
Next, we try their Braised Pork Belly: Unlike the faster-cooked methods of many Pork Belly dishes around town, this one tastes like it's been cooking for hours, slowly braising and it's absolutely delicious. The braising liquid itself is so full of slow-cooked love and intense porcine flavors from all the various parts of the pig cooking together, and then the fatty portions from the Pork Belly just melt in your mouth with each bite, elevating the entire dish to "this is one of the best Pork Belly dishes I've had this year" status. :) Wonderful.
The Crispy Pig's Feet is a smart interpretation of Trotters: Chef Marneau debones the Pig's Feet and takes the meat, gelatinous portions and fat and grinds them together to deep fry into little medallions. It's really crunchy and focuses the essence of a good Pig's Feet dish into a clean, easy way to enjoy. The only disappointment is that there's so little of it and that sometimes it's fun to get a little messy eating the Trotter off the bone. :)
The Saucisse de Strasbourg Fraiche is an excellent fresh-made Pork Sausage, not as dense nor salty as many Pork Sausage dishes tend to be.
But it's the Saucisse Fume that causes my friend from Paris to roll his eyes in delight: It's his Madeleine de Proust, something that brings back wonderful memories of eating the Saucisse Fume with Choucroute and Moutarde de Dijon with his family back in Alsace. I don't have a similar reference point, but for me, the Saucisse Fume is so savory and deep and smoky, like the best parts of a good hot dog, minus all the negatives.
The Snake River Farm Braised Short Rib continues the delightful evening.
While there are some lean, drier portions of the Short Rib, the sections with some Pork Fat are perfect: Juicy, buttery and lust-inducing. The beautiful, subtle Braising Sauce that runs through the bottom of the plate only adds to the enjoyment.
The Jambonneau Tranche is a slice of intense and dense Ham. It's too dry and probably the only disappointment of the evening.
The Ham-Hocks au Court Bouillon is also a bit dry, but still retains a decent moisture. It's the leanest cut, but has a great smokiness.
Finally, the Braised Cheeks are probably the most intense, pure Pork flavor out of any of the 9 cuts featured. Probably my favorite Pork Cheek dish I've had in the past ~2 years. Delicious.
We finish off with our 2nd course: Apple Tarte a l'Alsacienne, Vanilla-Scented Creme Fraiche Custard, Chimay Beer Gelato.
This homemade Apple Tart from Chef Amelia is a study of understated beauty: Subtle Apple flavors blend with a smile-inducing buttery crust.
The Chimay Beer Gelato doesn't have the brilliance of, say, Golden State's Old Rasputin + Scoops Brown Bread Beer Float, but it's very good and complements the Apple Tart nicely. Nothing is too sweet - only lightly sugary - and it makes for a great finish for this seasonal menu.
Service is one area that Marche Moderne has definitely improved on over the years. During its Grand Opening (and the first year+ that I visited), we've had spotty service from some of the servers (whom I haven't seen during my 5th - 7th visits). During my most recent meals, the service has been good, nothing outstanding, but professional if a bit slow at times. Lunch prices range from $7 - $28, with their daily changing Spontanee 3-Course Lunch Menu at $25. Dinner prices range from $7 - $55 (for the Lamb Ribeye & Merguez Sausage Tagine for Two). Desserts range from $8 - $14.
Their wonderful seasonal 2 Course Alsatian Menu "Soirees Alsacienne" is a bargain at $29.
With the sharp, creative and interesting cooking of Chef Florent Marneau, and the wonderful desserts from Pastry Chef Amelia Marneau, Marche Moderne redefines what "mall food" is all about. From their housemade Terrines to the wonderful Foie Gras appetizers, to the Lamb Ribeye Tagine, and sumptuous Coq Au Vin, to engaging seasonal menus like their current Soirees Alsacienne featuring 9 Cuts of Alsatian Pork, Marche Moderne is quickly becoming the best reason to visit South Coast Plaza (after a day of shopping (^_~)).
(Note: Soirees Alsacienne Seasonal Menu is running from October 1 - November 30, 2009.)
*** Rating: 8.7 (out of 10.0) ***
(inside South Coast Plaza)
3333 Bristol Street, #3001
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: (714) 434-7900
Hours: [Lunch] 7 Days A Week, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
[Dinner] Mon - Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Sun, 5:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
3333 Bristol Street, Suite 3001, Costa Mesa, CA 92626