Some cravings in life can best be attributed to some distant relative’s DNA tingling from deep inside, sending some sort of scientific bat signal from within. For me, it usually comes by way of odd European fare: perogies and kielbasa, spaetzle and ham, sometimes a steamy bowl of French onion soup.
Tonight, my 1 percent Napolean Bonaparte-like, 23andMe DNA strand sent me on a wild ride to the French Quarter of Newport Coast at Marché Moderne; seconds after I parked on a rainy coastal night, I could hear a bog filled with an army of frogs. “I wonder if they have frogs’ legs on the menu,” I said half-jokingly, diving into the restaurant, hunched over, Neanderthal-like in a pair of slip-on Vans.
Scientifically speaking, the desire to chow down in cold weather stems from our primitive origins, back when the fittest survived by gorging on food as the days were shorter and temperatures cooler. Marché Moderne’s menu is perhaps the best place to indulge in such cave-like fantasies.
“Today, chef is doing a homage dish of salmon and sorrel,” my well-dressed server noted. A quick Google search reveals the dish originated with three-star Michelin chef Michel Troisgros. Thin salmon cutlets are flash-fried, then placed on thin ribbons of tart sorrel and a satisfying cream sauce. When served, the dish hits like a playbook for how to produce primordial-like, chest-pounding moments while eating: Mop your bites in the sauce as you try to resist yelling as if you were Tarzan.
But this place is probably the furthest thing from a cave, and the food and décor are both exquisitely Moderne. The bar sets the tone with an aquarium-sized Cruvinet wine dispenser and a suave set of red-toothed patrons surrounding it. “I’ll start with a Sancerre,” I say, trying to sound fancy.
“We have Les 7 Hommes Sancerre Blanc, an upper Loire white,” says Marché’s bartender. A quick swirl bursts bold, floral honeysuckle; night jasmine; and orange buds with mouth-watering acidity—a perfect match for the salmon and sorrel.
From the dining room, you can view the show in the glassed-off kitchen, as the chef-hive silently sets aflame dishes in various copper pans. It also gives you a look into what a married couple can achieve, as Florent and Amelia Marneau are not only owners, but also chefs.
The menu has classics such as coq au vin and crispy duck confit, but something about seeing steak frites au poivre cut me to the core. “I must eat that,” I grunted.
Actual French-style fries—stiff enough on the outside to play the drums, yet soft enough on the inside to melt souls—are piled festively like the Eiffel Tower. The steak, crusted with various herbs and peppercorns, made my arm hairs grow like a werewolf after the first bite.
“Parlez-vous sexy?” I mutter, forking the steak and wild mushrooms with an evil smile.
Dessert seemed like a blur after coming to on the couch the next morning. Was that crème fraîche and black winter truffle vanilla ice cream all a dream? The to-go box with a leftover madeleine tells no lies.
Marché Moderne, 7862 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (714) 434-7900; marchemoderne.net.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening this June!