Inside his restaurant at the Original Farmers Market, Stephane Strouk waltzes from table to table, greeting faithful diners like old friends and ensuring new faces are enjoying their dining experience.
For Strouk, who has owned and operated Monsieur Marcel with his wife Katy for the past 30 years, the Farmers Market restaurant is reminiscent of bistros that can be found in Saint Paul de Vence, the South-of-France city in which he grew up.
“It’s like a little village where you know everyone,” Strouk said. “You can meet your butcher, your fish guy, your bread guy every day and you know they’ll have what you need because they know the customers too.”
Sitting at white linen tables, diners become part of the cozy community. Passersby remark on the French onion soup and the custom cheese boards, making one forget the holiday hustle and bustle of the shopping center just around the corner. Some weary shoppers shuffle in, thankful to see the extensive wine list that boasts French and California varietals.
As I looked over the menu, I was joined by Chef Christophe Breat, who explained the traditional bistro menu focuses heavily on bread, wine and cheese, though Monsieur Marcel also serves a bounty of seafood.
Imagining myself in Southern France, I decided to start with a classic: escargots de bourgogne. Chef Breat serves his escargot the traditional way, in a garlic and shallot green butter. The buttery, tender snails were full of flavor and meant to be savored, so I made sure to dip the crusty French bread in every drop of butter.
I was intrigued by a Nicoise salad served at the table next to mine. Seared ahi layered with all the traditional toppings looked hearty enough for a main dish — in fact, it’s Strouk’s favorite menu item — but, dining as a party of one, I opted to save room for an entrée suggested by Chef Breat.
The truite amandine is a true French plate, featuring simple ingredients prepared with nuance. The butterflied trout is served in a sumptuous lemon butter sauce, topped with crisp haricots verts. Sundried tomatoes offer a welcome punch of acid and toasted almonds add a nice crunch to the melt-in-your-mouth fish.
Strouk takes pride in the cuisine served at his restaurant, visiting tables to discuss the fine cookery and often, the diners’ travels to France.
“Angelenos are well traveled and when they come back, they want to eat and remember what they had there,” he said. “We’re bringing Europe to them.”
Of course, no French meal would truly be complete without dessert, and though Monsieur Marcel serves classics such as crème brûlée, I opted for an apple tarte tatin.
Beautifully caramelized apples were artfully placed in a thin, flaky pastry. The tart apples were complemented by a single scoop of rich vanilla bean ice cream, which melted and oozed down the side of the warm dessert.
As I sipped a cup of tea, I watched Strouk step into the restaurant’s accompanying market, helping happy diners select ingredients used in the dishes served at his restaurant. His red, white and blue hat, which matches the small French flags strung throughout the restaurant, proudly states “La vie est belle chez Monsieur Marcel.”
For non-French speakers, Strouk is happy to translate: “Life is beautiful at Monsieur Marcel.” Indeed it is.
Monsieur Marcel is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Mrmarcel.com, 6333 W. 3rd St., (323)939-7792.
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