View more photos in Anne Fishbein's "Bon Marche" slideshow.
Ventura Boulevard, as it passes through Studio City and Sherman Oaks, may have the highest concentration of restaurants in L.A., block after block of eateries where you can relax over pasta, baba ghanoush or a $13 hamburger with sautéed mushrooms.
The concentration of sushi bars is known all over the world. But the boulevard's star at the moment, the restaurant that is luring the food-obsessed from as far as Santa Monica and the South Bay, is Marché, a center of the clean, slightly crunchy, reasonably priced farm-to-table cooking that is taking over the local restaurant world at the moment, a restaurant as definitive of the teens' dominant style of cooking as Max's architectural pan-Asian cuisine was of the last decade. Marché is the creation of Gary Menes, a veteran of the Joachim Splichal empire, who helped develop the menu at Palate Food + Wine in Glendale. After an invitation from Andre Guerrero, who owned Boho, Oinkster and Max among other restaurants, Menes opened the restaurant in the old Max space, like a hermit crab taking over a shell. Here, in his new digs, he introduced the Palate-style virtues of craft and extreme seasonality, respect for eccentric wines and what might reasonably be called a fetish for the sweet, nutty taste of brown butter.
Marché is one of those places where everything that can possibly be made in the kitchen is made in the kitchen, so the butter is churned in-house, the bread freshly baked, the pickles brined on-site. Menes also has a thing for celebrity meat guys, so the lamb that comes nestled in a stew of barley and tiny favas is from Windrose; the beef with the baby broccoli is the grass-fed stuff from Painted Hills in Oregon (when it's not the prime beef from Harris Ranch). If you saw a vegetable in the farmers market this morning — broccoli sprouts, shell beans, spring onions — it will be on the menu at Marché that night. A recent version of garbure, a dense, wintry, soup popular around Bordeaux, was somehow expressive of early spring, lightly thickened with puréed beans and Japanese yams, scented with brown butter, and spiked with the first carrots, fava and asparagus of the season. You should really try the baby artichokes.
It's a carpe diem kind of place — if you like the roasted Happy Family Farms duck with kumquats and buttery puréed parsnips, you should savor it now, because next time you come around, when the season isn't at the exact nexis between March and April, the dish will have evolved into something else entirely, and those preserved kumquats will be decorating a bowl of Dungeness crab with English peas instead. One day, the roasted asparagus from Zuckerman, the Sacramento Delta farmer famous for growing what is sometimes labeled as "porno'' asparagus, will be served with a fried egg and shaved Parmesan cheese; a couple days earlier, the asparagus came with oozing burrata cheese and wedges of pink Cara Cara orange.
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Menes uses his share of modern techniques in the kitchen — his sorbets are whirred through a PacoJet — and much of the food, especially the meat, is cooked slowly, precisely and at length using the technique known as sous vide. His "60-degree egg,'' poached for an hour in a warm-water bath at precisely 140 degrees Fahrenheit, emerges more gelid than any egg you have ever tasted, neither liquid nor solid, and with no discernable textural difference between the white and the yolk. With the egg is kind of an inverted salad, where the crinkly leaves of mild Bloomsdale spinach are undressed, but the crisp, paper-thin slivers of toasted rustic bread are saturated with a sharp, mustardy vinaigrette — it doesn't quite reveal itself as a riff on a classic spinach salad until you break up the elements and toss them around a bit. That Windrose lamb, bits from a couple different parts of the animal, is well seared but almost supernaturally soft, less chewy than the bed of grits or the bitter Tuscan kale with which it shares the plate, and garnished with a crepinette, a kind of globular sausage, stuffed with a mash of crisp-edged long-braised lamb.
If you've visited Max in its last couple of years, you'll recognize the place instantly: pastel walls, scattered chalkboards scrawled with the day's specials and a big, dark-wood lattice overhead that looks like a giant Danish modern coffee table attached to the ceiling by its feet. Most of the Max waiters are still here; so too the funny little screened patio and the strings of lights out front. You will find familiar Bordeaux and California cabernets on the wine list, but you will probably be nudged toward an intriguingly oxidized Jura wine or a trebbiano made by nuns instead, and the reds are classified as "restrained, from idyllic to demure,'' "from a little loose to hussies'' and "bullies.''
A hussy with your lamb? Sounds like an evening to remember.
MARCHÉ: 13355 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 784-2915, marche-la.com. Dinner, Sun.-Thurs., 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m. Amex, D, MC, V. Full bar. Valet parking. Small plates, $4-$6, slightly less-small plates, $8-$17. Recommended dishes, which may or may not be on the menu by the time you get there: artichokes with cipollini; asparagus with fried eggs; shelling bean stew; lamb and crepinette of lamb.