With all of my previous attempts to visit Patrick and Doris Saurette’s newly opened The Marc Restaurant foiled, I found the stars aligning on Monday night. Grabbing a reservation for 6, Sarah and I headed north to meet our good friend Bin for a crack at the French inspired bistro food.
Though the room has been described in various ways, from stark to must-see, I think it works well at the bottom of Sterling Place. With a wall of windows facing the street and a long slim mirror on the opposite wall, the cement floor seemed to disappear in the white room as the sun dropped below the horizon. Not exactly oozing with that old steakhouse romance (think wood and dim lighting), I quite enjoyed the atmosphere and ambiance.
After placing our order, three thin slices of French style bread, along with a ramekin of butter were brought to the table. A soft yeasty inside combined with a light exterior crunch making these a tasty appetite enhancer. I should mention that the bread seemed endless, as both times we finished the plate, 3 more slices appeared. For appetizers, we decided to share the Braised Beef Cheek – Wild mushroom gnocchi. Salsify chip and Beef Tartare – Cornichon. Pickled pearl onion.
The beef cheek arrived not with wild mushroom gnocchi as originally thought, but with a mixture of golden potatoes and mushrooms. Mr. Saurette stopped by at one point to mention the gnocchi was taking 2 hours each day to prepare and just wasn’t worth the effort; hence the potatoes. The cheek, which came well seasoned, pulled apart with ease allowing the three of us to share the meat without creating a mess. The tartare was unlike any I’ve had before. Clean and refreshing, the biggest note and profile I found was citrus. The meat was tender as can be, and melted away in my mouth. The accompanying pickled vegetables were big enough hits that I could have eaten a complete side – I’d love a copy of this pickle recipe. The bread, which found it’s edges burnt, was drizzled with olive oil and made for a very French meat-delivery system.
With more meals to attend this week, Bin, who described Monday’s as a day to eat healthy, went with the fish of the day; Pan Seared Halibut – Flageolet. Roasted Acorn Squash. Roasted Garlic. Lemon Herb Butter. The fish came with a thick slice of herb butter that almost melted away before I could snag a picture. The solid piece of halibut was meaty but light, and cooked to a nice medium. The beans were cooked lovely, and really if there is one thing we wondered about, it was the acorn squash…where did it go?
Sarah, who discovered the joy of a perfectly cooked pork chop this year, seemed easily seduced by the Pork Loin Chop – Flageolet. Dijon Cream. A sample of this perfectly cooked, yes pink pork is the only way, bone-in pork chop had me dancing in my seat. Bursting with flavour by itself, the Dijon cream added another rich level to the already fantastic chop.
Having recently encountered one of the best lamb shanks of my life at The Manor Casual Bistro (post to come), I was easily swayed by Patrick’s mention that this hunk of meat was one of The Marc’s house specialties; Lamb Shank – Pomme puree. Rosemary oil. The shank came well portioned, although after all the size talk from Patrick, I found the lamb not as big as what I found at The Manor. There was some mention that the supplier had recently changed, and if I remember correctly this lamb is now a product from down under. The shank was tender and delicious, with a pink center exploding from behind the brown, rich exterior. I found little of the gamey lamb flavour some come to expect. The one down side to this shank was the fatty nature. After rolling the piece over, I was left with a rather large pile of fatty richness. The pomme puree, which is really a fancy way to say mashed potatoes, was excellent. A creamy texture that coated my mouth and when mixed with the drizzle of oil that topped everything created something so good that I had to stop Sarah from stealing it.
Ordering our round of after dinner beverages, we also selected two of the nights four available dessert options. Made in house, we soon found a slice of Salted Chocolate Walnut Gateau and plate of warm Beignets sitting in front of us. The chocolate cake was rich and worked wonderfully with the salty walnut filling. I do have one pet peeve though. Slicing into the cake saw the two layers break away from each other like two positive terminals; making it all by impossible to include both the top and bottom layer on my fork. The beignets, which always remind me of the mini-donuts older brother, came sprinkled with sugar and were a big hit. A freshly fried, golden crispy outside gave way to a pillow-like interior. Dipped into the sides of chocolate and calvados caramel took these thigh building treats to another level. The one problem we encountered with this dish was the caramel, which when eaten by itself had a gritty texture.
You might be surprised that with just about every aspect of this meal spot on, there was a problem. Make that two. The first, the timing, meant we found ourselves delayed for a considerable period from appetizers to mains. Our dishes, which always seemed to be on-there-way, created a big enough gap that, had it not been for the great company, could have easily made a terrible impression. As our desserts and coffee were brought to the table, we were told these items were on Patrick; showing great form and customer awareness. The second issue, which actually stems from this, was the bill. As I drove home, our server called my cell phone to inquire about why we had not paid the bill correctly. Mind you, when we left, the bill and tip were covered. Trying to clarify over the phone, I quickly discovered that the bill we paid had the appropriately comped items, while the server had one which included the above comped items for some reason. The whole situation created something obviously uncomfortable for myself, and I soon found myself driving back downtown to add more money to the bill.
If you take out the timing and bill confusion, I think The Marc created one of the most memorably meals I’ve had this year. The products are fresh, flavourful, and reasonably priced (mains – low $20’s). If I lived downtown, I think this could easily become a weekly adventure to both my wallet and waistband. I just hope those who live in the area, jump on the wagon and relish in what they have.