Marché Moderne: Setting the O.C. Bar at South Coast Plaza [MOVED]

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French Restaurant Orange County

Pick up a pair of Christian Louboutins before dining at Marché Moderne.

Florent Marneau and wife Amelia opened this contemporary French bistro on the third floor of ritzy South Coast Plaza in spring 2007. He handles savory; she’s in charge of sweets. Florent spent 10 years as executive chef of nearby Pinot Provence, which is part of Joachim Splichal’s Patina Group. I’ve had several respectable meals at Patina Group restaurants, but none were as remarkable as Marché Moderne.

The restaurant was an island oasis in a sea of outrageously expensive shops. The interior was like the Marneaus’ food, polished without being stuffy. There was an inviting open-air patio, but we sat inside at a prime table overlooking the packed dining room.


French Restaurant Orange County

We encountered clean wood lines, crisp white tablecloths, sumptuous chairs and plenty of plant life.

Blanche de Bruxelles Belgium ($9) was a spicy Belgian beer brewed with coriander and orange peel. The Hand-Crafted Martini Moderne ($15) combined Idol French vodka, elderflower and jus de citron.

We each received a house-baked baguette and cheddar roll, served warm with a dish of whipped butter. Later, we spotted a tray of gougères, but we’d already moved on to our appetizers.

French Food Orange County

Our Amuse Bouche consisted of crab crostini with mustard aioli.

French Food Orange County

Good pizza is impossible to come by in Southern California, but Florent Marneau’s wood burning oven tart was a highly satisfying substitute. The supple crust was topped with gobs of creamy burrata cheese, smoky sautéed escarole, slabs of caramelized braised bacon, sweet red onion jam and earthy truffle tapenade ($16).

French Food Orange County

Marche Moderne’s Confit Pork Belly ($14) was one of the two best pork bellies ever (the other was at Palate). Florent’s version was crisp at the edges and meaty with very little fat. Chunks of braised peach and black Mission fig jam topped with played off the richness of the meat. At the base, we found pools of “un jus parfumée a l’anis,” an anise scented jus.

French Food Orange County

Bouillabaisse ($48) could have easily fed two people. The entire dish was staggeringly good, but highlights were firm, luscious fish fillets, tender calamari and fennel slabs.

Ambrosia-like fish broth contained large portions of fresh seafood flown overnight from the Med, including John Dory, rouget (a crisp-skinned fish similar to red mullet), dorade grise, dorade rosé, calamaretti (miniscule calamari), mussels, clams, rouille (garlic paste), fingerling potatoes, fennel and leeks. The dish came with a few interesting accompaniments, including a pot of additional rouille, tapenade, roasted cherry tomatoes, lemon preserve and millimeters-thin toast.

French Food Orange County

5 oz. Millbrook venison “caramelizé au vin” ($27) was a surprisingly simple dish, celery root mousseline topped with seared slices of succulent burgundy-hued venison and plump chanterelle mushrooms. The plate was streaked with a red wine reduction.

Danny our outstanding waiter, spent six years at Pinot Provence, before then a wine steward at Morton’s. He paired the bouillabaisse with a glass of rose and venison with Amarone.

French Dessert Orange County

Amelia Marneau prepares all of Marche Moderne’s desserts. We spilt Rhubarb-Strawberry Crème Brûlée Tart ($10) with a bracing scoop of peppermint-scented gelato. The pastry cup contained a sweet rhubarb and strawberry layers sand an especially yolky crème brûlée cap. Very good.

We were impressed with the high quality of the ingredients, the large portions and the originality of the menu. We ordered five dishes, and would have gladly eaten ten other selections, at least. The Marneaus are operating at a high level. There isn’t another French restaurant in Los Angeles where I’d rather eat.

Note: Marché Moderne relocated to 7862 Pacific Coast Highway, Newport Beach, CA 92657.

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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