Some critics have named Newport Coast’s Marche Moderne the best French bistro in California. I wouldn’t argue that point. Owners Florent Marneau, executive chef, and his wife Amelia Marneau, executive pastry chef, create flawless dishes made with the finest ingredients. Their dishes boast flavors that are balanced to perfection, their presentations splendidly orchestrated. Both are perfectionists and well-thought-out dishes that please both eye and palate are de rigueur.
Although critics heap praises on them, the two hard-working chefs maintain a gentle humbleness. Poise graciously simmers with drive fueled by culinary passion.
Recently, Florent Marneau joined me in my home kitchen to show how to prepare his irresistible Poisson Cru with Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette, a dish inspired by a trip to the South Pacific. In Tahiti, he enjoyed the dish tossed and served informally in a halved coconut. He gives the dish a more elegant take at the restaurant, arranging the components on a dressed-up dinner plate. Fish slices repose in frothy sauce at 3, 6, 9 and 12 positions.
“Poisson cru” translates as raw, super-fresh fish, thinly sliced big-eye tuna and even more-thinly sliced fluke. He explained that halibut or albacore could be substituted for the fluke, but not a fatty fish such as salmon. The vinaigrette is a sweet-sour masterpiece, a refreshing mix of citrus, coconut milk and a smidgen of sugar.
It goes together quickly, but home cooks most probably will need to go to a Japanese market to collect a trio of ingredients: yuzu juice, yuzu kosho paste and white soy sauce. Yuzu, a pebbly-skinned Japanese citrus, is an essential element; it’s highly fragrant with intense lemon-lime-tangerine flavors. It’s extremely rare to find it fresh, so chefs rely on bottled yuzu juice, and in this case, a flavorful yuzu kosho paste made from the fruit’s skin and chilies.
Cooking with Florent taught me many things, but our chat after our kitchen time gave me a peek into both personal and professional tidbits. Who knew that this star-chef couple loves to camp and eat sous-vide delicacies by an open fire? Read on …
Favorite Veg: He loves the base of leeks completely burned. The outer burned portion is removed and the interior has a complex, super-leek flavor. He slices it and serves it with a warm vinaigrette made with garlic, red-wine vinegar, green onions, shallots and chopped hard-cooked eggs. Very French.
Ingredient Discovery: Black Australian truffles. He says that they are amazing and very underrated. They are a little bigger than European truffles; their softer texture makes them terrific in sauces but aren’t as good for shaving. A favorite way to use them? Take a slab of foie gras and one truffle; wrap with unsmoked bacon, then wrap in puff pastry. Bake and serve with a Port wine sauce. It is so-o-o-o good. He says it’s the best truffle outside Europe and priced at around $600 bucks for a pound. Available in May or June, while European truffles season is over in January or February.
Biggest Culinary Disaster: Trying to make a luscious roast ham for Thanksgiving at home, he didn’t realize that he had ordered the wrong kind. It was a bone-in hunk that was cured, something akin to prosciutto. He roasted and roasted; it was awful, as dry as a bone. The twelve guests pretended to like it. Thank goodness, he also prepared a succulent prime rib.
His Home Freezer: He always has French butter and an ice pack for his aching back, as well as lots of Tahitian vanilla beans. The prized vanilla was brought home from a vacation to Tahiti. Ameilia bought a couple of kilos of these plump prized pods.
Something That Few Know: He and Amelia love camping and bought a small motor home. They love to have a great meal with their two children around a big fire – far from home in spots such as Wyoming or East Oregon. They plan the meals ahead and sous vide the dishes, then buy fresh fruit and vegetables at remote farms along the way.
Drink of Choice: Kir Royale, Champagne and Crème de Cassis
Poisson Cru with Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette
Yield: 4 servings
Crispy skin for crisp garnish, 3 or 4 pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 tablespoons yuzu juice, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon yuzu kosho paste, see cook’s notes
Minced zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon white shoyu (white soy sauce), see cook’s notes
Granulated sugar, to taste, about 1 teaspoon
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup coconut milk (include the thick-creamy cap that rests on top in the can)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 pound sushi-grade big-eye tuna, bloodline removed, cut into block without sinew, thinly cut into slices about 2-by-1-inches
1/2 pound sushi-grade Japanese or domestic fluke, thinly cut into slices (a little thinner than the tuna) about 2-by-1 1/2-inches
Minced lime zest
Ripe, but not squishy, avocado scoops (done with small melon baller device)
Breakfast radishes, cut into very thin lengthwise slices (mandolin is best), stored in chilled or iced water to curl
Green onion, cut thinly on diagonal
Lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil
Smoked sea salt
Cook’s notes: Yuzu juice, yuzu kosho paste and white soy sauce are sold at Japanese markets; Mitsuwa in Costa Mesa is a good source.
- For crispy chicken skin. Place chicken skin in small skillet. Add about 1/4 cup water, just barely enough to almost cover; season with salt and pepper. Place on medium-low heat and cook until fat renders out and skin is crisp. Place on paper towel.
- For vinaigrette: In a large mixing bowl, add yuzu juice, yuzu kosho paste, lime zest, lime juice, white soy sauce, and sugar. Whisk in coconut milk. Add olive oil in thin steam, whisking constantly to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- To plate: On each of 4 dinner plates, spoon sauce in middle of plate and spread out a little with the back of spoon. Top each with 2 tuna slices and 2 fluke slices. Top with minced lime zest. Garnish with small avocado spheres, radish “curls,” green onion slices, a drizzle of lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil, pepper, micro cilantro and smoked sea salt. Serve immediately.
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”
Photo credit: Curt Norris