Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches, Prosciutto, Hazelnuts, and Pt. Reyes Original Blue; Orechiette Pasta with Housemade Sausage, Broccoli Rabe, Red Chile, Grana Padano Cheese; Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream and Hazelnuts
Occupation: Certified Public Accountant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Marché Aux Fleurs
Reviewed Marché Aux Fleurs: Friday July 13, 2007
It’s always quite relaxing for us to go to this restaurant. We live in the city and it’s a short drive, but you feel like you are in a different world. Downtown Ross is very quiet and the restaurant is tucked away very quaintly with a large patio and open and airy feel to it. There is also a very warm feeling to the place that comes from the owners, as they are very involved in the restaurant. This night, the Executive Chef was working the front of the house and he greeted us and took us to our table. There isn’t a bad table, as almost feel outside even when you are sitting inside. My fiancé and I went with the couple that lives next door to us, and it was their first time there.
The staff is very helpful and knowledgeable of the menu. As usual, we went with a new wine, recommended by them. I happen to enjoy Cab Franc and they had a French one that was quite inexpensive ($40) and recommended by the Chef. It was very earthy and unique, which he had explained beforehand, and we really liked it. (We ended up having 2 bottles of it.) I ordered the BLT salad, which is a staple for me along with the shellfish escargot. They have started using the Pt. Reyes clams, as they have focused the entire menu more on using only local ingredients. I really enjoy trying the local ingredients, and we have even traveled to some of the places we find the ingredients from on the menu. The salad was perfect, as usual, and had lots of flavor from the thick bacon that I know my fiancé won’t eat, which is why I order this one or else she eats all my food! The clams were buttery and garlicky and the sauce was perfect to sop up with bread, just like the French do. Our neighbors had the salad with grilled peaches and absolutely loved it. I may have to order that one next time.
So, for an entree I ordered the pasta for the first time. The waitress and the chef explained the process, and I had to try it. They have housemade pasta, but I just never order pasta. Well, this pasta was great! Oriecchiette are these round discs that are fairly thick and chewy and have great texture. The sauce was light, but the real star was the sausage. It was not in a casing and was just really well-seasoned and crumbly. I felt like I was challenging this place to impress me with something I don’t often like to order, and they did just that. Everyone else really enjoyed their meals as well –there was halibut and the pork chop. The waitress spent much time explaining the dishes in detail beforehand, and I think everyone got something they enjoyed.
We finished the meal with a couple of desserts for the table and some coffee. We had the Chocolate Truffle Cake and the fruit crisp. Both were fresh and tasty. We had ordered the chocolate cake in advance, so we wouldn’t have to wait and it was warm and gooey. Overall the food was perfect, the place was quaint and quiet, and the service was perfectly paced, friendly and knowledgeable.
Occupation: Partner in Green Public Relations Firm
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Baladie Gourmet Cafe
Reviewed Marché Aux Fleurs: Saturday July 14, 2007
Traveling from Oakland to Ross to eat at Marché aux Fleurs was a fine way celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Despite 10 years in the Bay Area, I’d never heard of this small town, but felt adventurous enough to swing over from urban paradise to upscale pastoral. Any restaurant with a culinary philosophy focused on local, seasonal, sustainable cuisine is worth a pilgrimage, despite the carbon footprint of the drive.
I requested a quiet, romantic table when we made our reservation, revealing via Open Table that this was our anniversary. I could not imagine a more lovely setting or a more romantic, yet relaxed, décor than we experienced. We could have sat outside on the patio, sun and shade-dappled tables being easily available at our 5:30 dinner hour, but chose to keep the table offered, in a quiet corner just in front of the patio. We had views of both the patio and of the utterly tasteful Provençal-style interior. Second only perhaps to the décor was our server, who was warm and welcoming, but serious and sensitive to the rhythm of the romantic dining couple with an almost flawless pacing of the meal, and for the most part deeply credible in her descriptions of the food and the wine.
The menu featured a tight but impressive selection of sustainable meats, seafood, and vegetable dishes. We shared salads, mine of grilled peaches, prosciutto, arugula, Pt. Reyes Blue cheese and hazelnuts; my husband’s of farro grain, accompanied by a chopped salad of crunchy summer vegetables. Mine was delicious, although the grill marks on the peach were a bit too perfect, and the peach itself enormous to the point of being awkward. I loved the combination of the warm, sweet, smoky fruit and the rich, salty meat, supported by the bitter depth of arugula, sharp, creamy cheese and hazelnuts. Perfect for a hot day, the farro salad had an excellent flavor profile of those crunchy local summer vegetables — cucumber, radish, and feta were the stars. With tomatoes finally arriving at peak (I bought 4 pounds at the market just that morning), the tomatoes in the salad were disappointingly few. Also, the balance of vegetables to grain — and farro is a hearty grain — skewed heavily in favor of the grain; I could have eaten that salad alone and gone away full. Having told our server that we wanted to explore the menu fully while still eating relatively lightly, I was disappointed in her direct recommendation of that salad. I also would have wished for local feta rather than French (I suspect Valbreso. Why not a local feta — Redwood Hill or Spring Hill?).
The gnocchi, served with tender English peas and morels, were sublime and perfect in every conceivable way. Book a table now just to eat it! Ask them: which local farmer grew the potatoes? The peas? Whose cows gave the cream for the sauce? Whose butter? Palate for once trumped food conscience: I didn’t even care!
I must digress. Two things in American restaurants demoralize me: gigantic portions that force one to grossly overeat, grossly waste by leaving half a portion on the plate, or grossly pack up a big sagging leftover box that doesn’t allow me to indulge my daily need to cook at my own stove. We were spared that indignity by the reasonable portion sizes at Marché. My second pet peeve is a server that interrupts your meal at its most sublime and delicate point. Just when your bite of food is positioned perfectly, so that all flavors are harmonizing and reaching a climactic peak or when an animated, intense conversation is about to culminate in joyous agreement with your spouse over the merits of organic personal lubrication vs. McEvoy olive oil, it is shattered by dreaded the servers looming over you with the dreaded bleat: “And how is everything tonight?” No such shocker at Marché. You can safely book a table there and pretend you’re in France.
Back to the food. Some disappointment with my main course: grilled Alaskan wild (need you ask? Sustainable fish, of course — nothing not on the Seafood Watch sustainable green list appeared on this menu) salmon, wrapped in a grape leaf. The salmon was perfectly cooked, the grape leaf provided a nice tang, but it needed a sauce. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the entire meal was the fregula accompaniment — a great idea, how often do you see the foods of Sardinia on a Bay Area menu? — but again, too much grain-to-other-more-exciting-stuff ratio. The green grapes were a delightful surprise. Sour and tangy, they almost saved this rather hefty pilaf, but unfortunately they could not tie the dish together sufficiently. My husband fared better with a flawless confit of duck leg on a bed of fresh black-eyed peas with tiny onions and a grilled pepper snaked subtly into the welcoming mound of peas. Unusual and so tasty.
The wine list also stood out with the unusual and necessary descriptions of what each grape in each region actually meant. I will spend much more time reading it on future visits. I could see that most diners in the restaurant ordered red wine. On a blazing hot afternoon at the peak of summer, not a wisp of fog in sight, I felt hot. I prayed for a good selection of rosés and was rewarded with a wonderfully balanced Bandol Rosé. Deliverance, Provence-style.
Dessert was not a highlight. Despite the height of stone fruit season, the only seasonal fruit offering was a blueberry crumble. Seemed a bit down-home for that menu. We opted for the chocolate soufflé cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and hazelnuts. It was serviceable, but not the brilliant finish that we wished. The cake was overly sweet, lacking the promised molten center. I’d hoped for a Scharffen Berger varietal chocolate taste profile, but alas, the flavor was indistinct. Whose chocolate, then? The ice cream was forgettable, and I suspect it was not from a local Pt. Reyes creamery within 20 miles. The hazelnuts were perfectly toasted, however, but the dish begged for the additional interesting level of a sauce.
I would visit this restaurant again, perhaps once each season to enjoy Marché’s interpretation of the local sustainable palate, its exemplary service, and charming décor.
Occupation: Special Education Instructor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Sumi
Reviewed Marché Aux Fleurs: Saturday July 7, 2007
Being city folk, my husband and I rarely venture forth across the Golden Gate for a meal. But on a cold, foggy, summer afternoon in the city, I looked forward to the opportunity to head up to warm, sunny Marin for an early dinner seating at Marché Aux Fleurs in Ross. We had allowed over and hour to make the trip, but making it up there in less than 40 minutes, we had plenty of time to explore “downtown Ross,” a quiet, little, well-to-do, idyllic village hidden away off the main Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Walking up to the restaurant, we first came upon their lovely outdoor heated garden setting with a few diners already seated at the white tablecloth covered tables. Although it was a lovely evening, we decided to eat indoors where we would have a better view of all the action.
Upon going inside we were greeted by Holly Baker, one of the proprietors and wife of the chef, Dan Baker. We were immediately taken to our seat against the wall in the simple, rustic, yet colorful dining room. While Holly was bringing us our choice of sparkling or still water, another staff person was placing huge wedges of rustic sesame-crusted bread and a pot of creamy butter on our table. Our wait person came over, introduced herself, and enticed us into having the Medjool dates wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon and stuffed with pecorino cheese for a starter. She helped us choose a lovely and reasonably priced half bottle of Chateau Tarciere Muscadet sur Lie 2003 to go with. Not being a real date lover, I was blown away by how delicious these little tidbits were! The sweetness of the dates and the creamy cheese center mixed with the saltiness of the bacon was just incredible. I would have been happy to have just kept ordering these all evening, but alas, move on we must.
As we were enjoying our wine and the quiet atmosphere, my husband, sitting across from me, noticed a long drip of “something” on the back of the booth next to my shoulder. Lo and behold, a bottle of wine laying on the wine rack hanging on the wall behind me was leaking and running slowly down the back of the booth right next to my white jacketed shoulder! Our wait person was surprised as we were, and thanking us for the heads up, cleaned it up and removed the bottle immediately.
After that bit of excitement, we were quickly served our first courses — three of them! They all looked so good that we had to try the very tangy and refreshing gazpacho soup with avocado. I also had a wonderful arugula salad with juicy grilled peaches, proscuitto, a sprinkle of pine nuts, and Pt. Reyes Blue cheese. My husband had a grilled ahi fava bean salad served on a crispy grilled piece of their rustic bread. Anxious to try another split to go with our first course, our server suggested a nice French Pinot Noir. Having such an extensive half bottle wine list on the wine menu made it easy and fun to try out several wines during the course of dinner. I think it also made us want to order more courses just to be able to pair them up with the different wines. A smart thing for the restaurant to do, as we ended up having more food and wine than we normally would if we had only had whole bottles to choose from.
Again, with the help of our knowledgeable server, we choose a 2003 Mantra Cabernet Sauvignon that she said would go well with both our entrees and dessert. My husband had the grape leaf-wrapped King salmon with sour grapes, fregola, and torpedo onions. He enjoyed it, although he said that it was all served at room temperature and he would have preferred it to be warmer. Having read rave reviews about their gnocchi, I had to give it a try, and I was not disappointed. They were just heavenly clouds of melt-in-your-mouth potato pasta along with morel mushrooms and English peas, all drizzled with white truffle essence. I really did think that I had died and gone to heaven!
Of course I had to order the molten chocolate cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream for dessert, even though we were warned in advance to order it early as it takes an extra twenty minutes to prepare. It was more than worth the wait with its warm gooey center mixing with the cold ice cream in every bite. My partner had a nice — but not as memorable — fresh, warm blackberry and nectarine crisp served with honey-vanilla ice cream.
For many reasons, I was sad to see this wonderful dining experience come to a close. For this kind of quality of fresh, seasonal food served in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere with such attentive service, I would return in a heartbeat. Although it turned out to be quite pricey, with us getting carried away matching up the wines and food, it is on the top of my list for the next special occasion meal. I look forward to returning in the fall to enjoy the next season’s bounty.