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The Gossiping Gourmet: Up for a spontaneous lunch?

March 05, 2014|By Terry Markowitz
  • The roasted wild Spanish octopus with chorizo emulsion, celery, potatoes, chorizo, lemon and huile d'olive 16 at Marche Moderne.
The roasted wild Spanish octopus with chorizo emulsion,… (SCOTT SMELTZER )

One of the best bargains in Orange County is the lunchtime prix fixe "Spontanee" menu at Marche Moderne in South Coast Plaza. It is also, in my opinion, the best restaurant in the O.C.

The excellent three-course meal costs only $25. The meal usually begins with soup or salad and ends in dessert, with a choice of two main courses in the middle. The menu changes daily.

My favorite dining companion ordered the "Spontanee" menu, and I opted for two appetizers and a dessert. The first course was a brilliant composed salad of baby artichokes, tomatoes and frisee lettuce topped with shaved coppa ham and dressed with a light Meyer lemon vinaigrette. A beautiful basil emulsion decorated the plate.

This was a wonderful starter to a delicious meal, salty, tart and crunchy, with perfectly fresh vegetables in a generous portion that could be a lunch in itself.

For an entrée, my companion selected the pork paillard. The slab of tender, juicy pork featured a crispy top crust. It was served with an emulsion of whole grain and Dijon mustard that added zest and a bit of texture and married deliciously with the pork.

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Especially sweet, caramelized onions balanced the tart mustards, and some surprising potatoes finished the dish. They looked like regular little fingerlings but had a unique flavor — they had been pickled. I had never tasted anything like that before; they were great. A small salad of little gem lettuce provided a final light touch.

Dessert was a cream puff filled with pistachio crème, accompanied by a strawberry meringue and topped with whipped cream. The crème was good but didn't have much pistachio flavor.

Two of my favorite things in the culinary world these days are pork belly and octopus, so I was delighted to see both on the "pour commencer" list. The belly was very meaty, with just the right amount of fat and a lovely browned exterior. A marvelous preserved cherry and Maui onion jam provided, with its sweetness and hint of tartness, a nice contrast to the salty pork. Its finely chopped cherries and onions offered texture.

Beneath the pork was an a jus accented with Madeira. Alongside were some crunchy leaves of choux de Bruxelles (Brussels sprouts) that were so good I was longing for more.

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