Went to Marche for New Year's Eve dinner. It's an upscale restaurant on the south side of the 5th Street Public Market, with large windows, a simple, but elegant decor, padded benches around the outside walls, and bar seating around the kitchen. People were dressed up, some in tuxes and evening gowns. I think my wife and I were the youngest couple in there, with most double our age.
We were seated quickly and handed a lengthy menu with sections of appetizers, salads, and entrees. There's certainly an attempt or emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients, but there are a couple less local/seasonal items mixed in. The prices are a bit high. I double-checked the online menu (see link below), and it doesn't appear that they raised the prices on most items for New Year's. Prices for entrees range from $19 for vegetarian canelloni to $32 for beef tenderloin.
My wife started with the dungeness crab salad with apple gelee and celery root remoulade and walnuts ($12.50) and I started with the wood oven pizzetta with yellowfoot mushrooms, bluck trumpet mushrooms, mascarpone cheese and thyme ($9).
The crab salad was pretty small and I didn't think it had all that much crab, but it may have just been that the crab was shredded too much to be noticed. My wife liked it pretty well, though. (It was too seafoody for me, as is often the case with dungeness.) The remoulade was a bit mayonaissey for me, too. I just think this needed better balance. The matchsticks of apple worked well, but the gelee seemed more just like show.
The pizzetta was maybe 8" and had a nice mix of flavors with a heavy dose of tasty mushrooms. It would have been a very good pizza if it had just been cooked a bit longer. The bottom was not browned really and certainly not crispy. Only along the edges was it really browned. The rest was soft and a bit chewy. Mediocre crust with very good toppings.
For dinner, my wife got the pan seared diver scallops with spot prawn cream and cabbage leaves stuffed with spot prawns, butternut squash, and wild mushrooms ($28). I got the pan-roasted leg of Oregon venison wrapped in Apple smoked bacon with huckleberry sauce, served with celery root puree and heirloom apple chips ($28).
The scallops were pretty disappointing. There were two Safeway-sized scallops, decently firm, yet tender. They weren't really adequately caramelized on top. Between the two scallops was a 3x6 inch cabbage-wrapped "burrito" with a whole prawn on top. The prawn was a bit of a pain to de-shell without a knife. It was a very strong-flavored prawn. Not off-tasting, just strongly seafoody, like reduced lobster broth. Inside the cabbage, the mixture was mostly vegetables with little prawn. All the parts were fine, but it didn't come together as a dish that well. The sum was not greater than the parts. And the parts could have each been better.
The venison came as approximately eight medallions wrapped in bacon. The bacon was soft around the outside, not crispy. The venison was very tender and not overly gamey. I'm not sure whether the celery root puree was a good match for the venison, though on its own it tasted good. The dish also came with braised chard, but I don't know that it harmozined well either. The huckleberry sauce was more meaty that fruity and wasn't intensely flavored enough to stand up to the meat. Another disappointment. Not bad, just not as good as the menu made it sound nor as good as the price tag required.
We both had dessert. My wife had the meyer lemon tartlet with wild huckleberry sauce and candied orange peel and I had the duchesse de parme torte layered with hazelnut meringue, zabaglione buttercream, and chocolate buttercream. Each were $6.50.
The tart was quite tart. It was good, though I expected a more distinctive and milder flavor from the meyer lemons. I wonder if they only used meyer lemons. It was a single-serving, not a slice, topped with dozens of dollups of baked meringues, crispy on the outside and airy on the inside. The shortbread crust was good and worked well. The huckleberry sauce, again, was too weak and couldn't hold up to the intense tart filling.
The torte was decent as well. It was creamy, chocolatey, and nutty. Additionally, it had a dark chocolate top layer and sauce. It was good, but like the other dishes of the night, not lick-your-plate good.
Pre-tip, we spent around $90. It's prices put it at or above places like Wildwood and Paley's, maybe a little under Hurley's. There are a lot of luxurious ingredients and interesting sounding dishes on the menu, but the execution is lacking.
My wife and I agreed that the place it most reminded us of was Laslow's before they went out of business. Except, Laslow's prices were more in line with the neighborhood spots like Fife and Lauro where most entrees are under $20. Laslow's always had interesting menus that just never quite lived up to the promise on paper. But it was good and fair for the price, a cheaper alternative to the nearby Wildwood and Paley's for NW cuisine in a nice setting with decent service.
Marche is a good restaurant, but it would price itself out the market in Portland. Maybe it's doing so a little in Eugene, too. The table turnover was surprisingly bad for New Year's Eve. I definitely saw several tables waiting around 7:30 to 8 pm.