First restaurants closed. Then they opened for take-out. Then they were allowed to fully reopen. Now, California hit a dimmer switch and it’s patio-only dining—but from a diner’s point of view, it’s actually a wonderful experience.
Most restaurants had to pivot on July 1 when it was announced that indoor dining was temporarily on hold. Fortunately, many restaurants have patios, and those that didn’t – and even some that did – made use of their sidewalks and even parking lots to create additional ad hoc al fresco dining areas.
A perfect example is Tavern House Kitchen + Bar, which celebrated its one-year anniversary last week. One section of the restaurant is a covered patio overlooking the harbor, but leave it to restaurateur David Wilhelm to create an additional enclosed patio dining area in front of his restaurant, complete with AstroTurf, comfortable seating, umbrellas, decorative string lighting at night, and even music.
Another good example is Bayside Restaurant, which has an existing wrap-around patio. To make up for lost space, they added a large outdoor dining area by enclosing part of their parking lot and placing tables with umbrellas outside. They still have their live music seven days a week, with musicians set up outdoors. It’s a lively and comfortable experience.
Al Fresco France at Marché Moderne
So too is Marché Moderne in Crystal Cove Shopping Center, where fellow foodie Della Lisi and I dined last weekend. Marché already has an existing patio, and a section of their main dining room is actually part of that covered patio. The few seats they lost have been placed outside on the sidewalk, so there is ample al fresco dining.
We sat on the covered patio and started our evening with Schramsberg bubbly from Napa Valley, one of my favorites. Our delightful server suggested pairing that with blinis and caviar—an excellent recommendation.
Then it was on to entrees, and red wine. Della ordered coq au vin with linguini, paired with a sturdy Pinot Noir.
I had been wanting to try Le Big M&M Burger since I heard they added it to the menu, but I wavered between that and a rabbit special of the evening. I love how chef Florent Marneau prepares his traditional rabbit dishes, but the burger had been calling me, and I gave in—to the burger, and to a glass of Bordeaux.
When my burger arrived, I cut in in half to view the inner makings of this beauty, which uses an 8 oz patty comprised of brisket, short plate belly and short rib, and chuck roll. Add heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, truffle butter, peppers, pickled onion and cucumber, aged gruyere and fontina cheeses and sautéed mushrooms, all stuffed inside a brioche bun, and you have a hefty, juicy and decadent $28 burger, accompanied by addicting French fries.
The burger had a delightful crunch to it from the lettuce and cucumber, giving it more dimensions that a regular burger. Della told me I had a smile on my face during the short time it took to devour the burger. I did have a taste of her coq au vin, which of course was terrific.
Once we paused after the entrée course, we decided to share one of Amelia Marneau’s wonderful desserts: summer peach upside down gateau with late harvest wine ice cream. It arrived as edible art on a plate, almost too pretty to disturb but we made quick work of this delicate yet hearty dish.
The wait staff, chefs and GM all adhered to proper COVID guidelines, people were seated at appropriate distances, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The service was, as always, outstanding.
Marché Moderne continues to be a shining star in the So Cal galaxy of restaurants.
Café Jardin’s Dinner for Two
Chefs Pascal Olhats and Jessica Roy have been delighting diners at Café Jardin at Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar for the past year, even more so now that Café Jardin is serving exclusively on the lovely patio surrounded by plush gardens.
In addition to their weekday lunch service, Chefs Olhats and Roy have launched a new Thursday evening dining event beginning July 16 dubbed “Dinner for Two Under the Stars.”
“What could be better than Date Night with a leisurely dinner in these beautiful gardens, listening to romantic music, sipping perfectly paired wines & degustating fresh, flavorful dishes with your loved one, spouse, partner, or best friend,” said Olhats.
The Dinner for Two is a four-course prix fixe menu with wine pairing every Thursday night. Reservations are at 6, 6:30 pm or 7 p.m.
Second course is a Seafood Plate with Lobster Beignet, Smoked Salmon Crepe, and Scampi Provencal, paired with Infamous Gold (Cabernet Blanc) from the South of France.
Third course is a choice of Roasted Stuffed Quail, Confit Garlic Sauce, and Ratatouille Provencal, or Mediterranean Seafood Bouillabaisse with Bass, Clams, Mussels, Shrimp & Spicy Rouille. Either dish is paired with Scandalous One Cabernet Noir from France.
Fourth course is a choice of Baked Goat Cheese on Mache Lettuce with Brandied Raisin and Walnut Dressing, or Warm Chocolate Chestnut Tort, Raspberry Liquor Berry Compote with French Vanilla Ice Cream. Each is paired with a port wine.
The cost is $130 per person plus tax & tip, and includes paired wines and Sherman Garden entry fee. Priority seating for couples, however parties of four accepted if available. Please call (949) 673-0034 to make a reservation.
This menu is also available for take-out for $80 per guest (minus wines). Pick up is available between 5 and 6 p.m.