Year after year Marché Moderne has won accolades as the best restaurant in Orange County. Sometimes restaurants glide by on their reputations while the food slides downhill. Not so at Marché Moderne.
We hadn't reviewed this restaurant since 2008 and wanted to see if it still measured up. Indeed it does! Everything from the quiet ambience to the impeccable service to the superb food is as good as ever. With careful attention to detail, using only the best seasonal ingredients, chef Florent Marneau and with his wife, pastry chef Amelia, continue to turn out impeccable cuisine.
The attractive room is composed of rich dark woods, stone elements, mirrored pillars, beautiful hardwood floors, etched glass French doors, comfortable upholstered chairs and banquettes. There is also a delightful covered outdoor patio made possible by Marché's secluded location on the topmost floor of South Coast Plaza.
A beautiful and delightful amuse bouche hinted at more good things to come. Resting on top of a narrow glass of coral colored soup was a buttery round of crostini topped with yuzu marinated, silky salmon tartar, covered with a dab of crème fraîche and flecked with micro-greens. The potage beneath was Thai inspired, spicy coconut milk lobster bisque. Vibrant with the essence of lobster and rich with coconut creaminess, it was just divine.
We wanted to order the grilled octopus, but our waiter informed us that the chef felt it needed more tenderizing and wasn't quite ready to serve, so we chose instead the seppia French calamari Grenobloise. (Seppia is the largest of the cuttlefish.)
The tender grilled seafood rested on an herb puree and was sauced with lemon caper butter dotted with a few sweet whole roasted garlic cloves and a sprinkling of croutons for crunch. The lemony notes, the hint of garlic and the salty overtones of the capers provided a luscious layering of flavors, making a perfect sauce for the calamari.
The Dungeness crab salad was really more of an avocado salad mixed with slivers of pickled green papaya and some shredded crab. Cubes of tomato water gelée added a salty accent (perhaps a bit too salty). The mixture was lightly spiced and nicely textured with the crispy papaya balancing the creamy avocado. A scattering of micro-greens created a pretty picture atop this tasty salad.
As we awaited our entrées, the maître 'd arrived with a plate of the grilled octopus saying, "It's ready now so I brought you a taste."
It was quite a generous taste, three long tender tentacles, beautifully grilled, finished with arugula, micro- parsley and small black pepper pods and served with an excellent béarnaise mousseline (hollandaise type sauce with vinegar, shallots and tarragon, finished with whipped cream).
We always request duck breast rare because it makes it tastier if somewhat tougher. This was an unusually plump one in a sweet Amaretto jus, dotted with Marcona almonds and accompanied by the sweetest carrots we've ever eaten, roasted in red wine, along with little gem potatoes cooked in duck fat and a grilled romaine heart. The sauce was fruity and sweet, almost caramelized, a perfect complement to the crispy skinned duck.
Our sand dabs in citrus yogurt emulsion were the only disappointment in an otherwise amazing meal. They were somewhat overcooked, dry and lacked the sweetness characteristic of this particular fish. The best part of the dish was the little squares of fried crispy rice.
Chef Amelia prepared a classic looking apple tart but her unique touch was to cloak the apples in caramel and flecks of fleur de sel. The apples rested on a perfect, thin, buttery crisp puff pastry crust. The finishing touch was a scoop of Calvados gelato.
The service is always good but was superb on this particular evening, thanks to Danny. The excellent cuisine is beautiful presented and, unlike many high-end restaurants, served in generous portions.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Where: Penthouse at South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., # 3001, Costa Mesa.
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily
Dinner: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
Sunday: 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Sundays
Appetizers and salads: $9-$32
½ bottles: $20-$80
By the glass: $8-$24
Corkage Fee: $15 for first bottle $25 for additional
Information: (714) 434-7900 marchemoderne.net