San Diego’s restaurant landscape has changed over the past decade. While the overall inventiveness exhibited at local eateries has increased on average, something important seems to have been lost along the way. Chefs’ obsession with cutting-edge methods (molecular gastronomy and other forms of kitchen sleight of hand) paired with diners’ ravenous desire for gourmet dishes at everyday prices have led to a county awash with “gourmet street food,” “reimagined comfort classics,” and a broadscale copycat culture. Meanwhile, restaurants steeped in the classic French techniques that, ironically, remain the foundation on which most “modern” culinary methodologies are based, have gone from plentiful to woefully underrepresented.
It’s come to the point where one wishing to revel in the handiwork of a toque who’s not only French-trained but actually honoring tradition by leading with Old World style and execution must suit up and pay up at a pricey white linen. Most of the bistros and casual neighborhood spots that allowed French cuisine to be a Tuesday night supper versus a special occasion splurge have fallen by the wayside. Which is why the torch-bearing persistence of
La Jolla’s Bistro du Marché is so important for local fans of cuisine française.
Established in 2015 by Jean Michel and Sylvie Diot, the formidable couple who operated French jewel in the Jewel, Tapenade, for 17 illustrious years, Bistro du Marché is all about “bistronomie.” This Parisian-borne gastro subgenre combines meticulous French cooking technique with fresh, seasonal, indigenous ingredients (hence the restaurant being named Marché as an homage to La Jolla’s Open Aire Market). Under Jean Michel’s oversight, Executive Chef de Cuisine Alain Delahaye crafts seasonally shifting menus capable of reminding longtime foodies of what they’ve been missing while inspiring young, bleeding-edge epicures the joys of going retro.
Bistro du Marché’s menu is stocked with time-honored dishes. Escargots with garlic-herb butter, beef shank-fortified onion soup, and caviar with traditional condiments grace the appetizer assemblage along with a sumptuous duck terrine. Smooth as silk, cognac-enriched foie gras is in chic winter fashion spread on country bread with a dab of Medjool date paste. Add Sauternes to the equation (something one can afford to do in a bistro setting), and perfection is achieved.
Lighter starters also abound, including grilled octopus served with a chilled salad of citrus oil-dressed cannellini beans. Topping a charred tentacle with a bit of orange-tinged dill makes for a combo worth seeking out. And a timbale of jumbo lump blue crab salad and brunoised mango sings the palate electric thanks to natural sweet-and-sour combo of coconut milk and lime. It would be a showstopper if Bistro du Marché’s extensive entrée section weren’t also so compelling.
Branzino anointed with potato scales and black truffle makes for a hearty, winter-geared fish dish, and moules frites is good year-round. Seafood seekers looking for something more esoteric won’t be disappointed by sizable quenelles of steamed pike in a shellfish-steeped lobster and crawfish sauce served with colossal-sized asparagus spears. Other hearty staples include coq au vin, Wagyu boeuf au poivre, and a cassoulet studded with house-made Toulouse sausage, pork belly and shoulder, topped with a crispy, confited duck leg.
Like any quality French establishment, adept sauce work is a highlight. Braised wild boar and pappardelle are served in Burgundy wine sauce, while Wisconsin pheasant breast is given a luxe spa treatment, bathed in black truffle sauce and showered in slivers of the earthen treasure. And the tartness of house-preserved huckleberries allows a red wine sauce to marry with the slight gaminess of venison loin while contrasting the butteriness of pureed celery root and spaetzle cut with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms. Additionally, Bistro du Marché’s deftly curated collection of wines is well suited for pairing with any dish on its menu.
On the dessert front, there’s plenty to love, but profiteroles given a flavor profile like that of a Break-A-Part Orange confection care of warm chocolate ganache and Grand Marnier ice cream are what to order if you’re only indulging in a single sugar-laced endnote.
An establishment that so well represents a class of eateries spotlighting the bedrock of modern day cookery makes it easier to celebrate its perseverance rather than lament its seemingly local endangered species status. Vive Bistro du Marché! 858.551.7500, bistrodumarche.net
Culinary Innovation: 3
Food Quality: 5
Wine List: 4
Beer List: 4
Craft Cocktail Program: 4