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[whitespace] Marché
Photograph by Michelle Dudley

Upright Gourmet: Sophistication and glamour are on the menu at Marché.

Marché Moves In

It's not Paris, but Menlo Park's new Santa Cruz Avenue establishment may have you saying ooh la la

By Christina Waters

IT'S A DONE deal. The dedicated gastronome needn't leave home in order to find a sophisticated meal. At least not if home is Menlo Park. Yes, Santa Cruz Avenue has recently sprouted yet another culinary destination.

Marché blends Euro glamour with fresh California ingredients, and the result put me in mind of a brisk trek to Paris. Appointed in tailored tones of gray with generously spaced tables and banks of tall mirrors, the place looks like a million well-placed dollars. Amusingly oversized lampshade chandeliers loom from the high ceiling as if crafted by Claes Oldenburg. As in high-end Parisian culinary temples, Marché boasts a substantial and highly competent staff. The entire effect is of a welcoming private club. The menu changes nightly, keeping pace with patron attitudes and seasonal moods. An eclectic wine list, long on California all-stars, matches the vibrant tone of the entrees.

My dining companion Jay and I see each other so rarely that we spent the first half hour gushing over life, love and business ventures--while enjoying pampering warm rolls and glasses (gorgeous stemware!) of Frick Merlot 1997 ($9) and Baileyana Syrah 1999 ($8). The impeccable taste of Marché's restaurateurs extends to such details as serving Badoit, the top French mineral water.

Opting for a la carte dishes, rather than an enticing prix fixe offering, Jay began with Peekytoe crab salad ($14) a gorgeous arrangement of colors and textures. The tender, sweet Maine crab meat alternated with housemade cumin crackers and ripe avocado, dressed with a voluptuous passion-fruit vinaigrette. My starter of diver scallops, seared simply and presented on a crimson micro-dice of beets and ginger with earthy black mushrooms underneath, was--we both agreed--absolutely perfect, moist but not raw. Our spacious black leather booth gave us a view of the kitchen in action through an adjoining glass wall. A terrific show, we nodded, polishing off the last trace of gingery beet. If pressed, I'd say the crackers were slightly too spiced for the delicate crab. Otherwise, a faultless first act.

On huge white porcelain circles came entrees completely in keeping with the subdued French setting. Jay's order of Peking roasted duck breast arrived with the game meat fanned atop a bed of spinach ($29). A mirror-image fan of poached spiced pears--overly spiced--sat punctuated with puffs of pomme dauphine, a retro-style of delicately flash-fried mashed potatoes. My filet ($29), done exactly as requested, occupied the center of a series of concentric bands of edible color. First a pale ring of puréed cauliflower, redolent of butter, surrounded by another deep crimson ring of sauce bordelaise. Rich beyond belief, the dish was further heightened by a marmalade of shallots atop the buttery beef, and a side platter of slender pommes frites. The latter were very acceptable, and the beef was sensationally top quality. But the entire dish was over-the-top. Too much and too rich, it exhausted us after a few bites. (Let me quickly add that it yielded a fine steak sandwich for lunch the next day.)

A glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle late harvest Riesling ($9) joined us as we split one of Marché's secret weapons. Even in a kitchen so young, there are rising stars. One of them has to be a lemon curd-infused meringue, shaped into a soft star, baked to quivering warmth and served with slices of delicate toasted almond cake ($8). The behind-the-scenes kick of this sensuous dessert was provided by an inner core of wild huckleberries, whose tangy glory played against the lemon meringue with each bite. We were utterly seduced by this splendid finale, so comforting and simultaneously glamorous. Marché offers an accessible ambience, thoroughly skilled staff and soothing surroundings, paired with a sophisticated menu and polished kitchen. Despite the tendency to excess, there's plenty to admire. Given this amount of refinement at such an early age, this new Menlo Park dining spot looks like a contender with staying power.

Address: 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park
Phone: 650.324.9092
Hours: Dinner Tue-Sat from 6pm
Chef/Proprietor: Howard Boca
Cuisine: New American with French accent

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From the December 27, 2001-January 2, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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