Eats: Marche bon! New cafe on Lisbon Street adds to the area’s growing flavor

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The door to Marche, downtown Lewiston’s newest eatery, was open on a sunny and breezy afternoon, and any passerby could catch a whiff of yum wafting out to the sidewalk. Once inside, the aroma of slow-roasted meats surrounds you and gets your palate ready for some good eats.

Eric and Carrie Agren, owners of Fuel, Lisbon Street’s popular bistro, opened Marche, Fuel’s “sassy little sister,” the last week of April and the nickname really fits. Everything about Marche has a little sass — all the menu items are absolutely fresh and there’s quite a bit of the unexpected sprinkled throughout.

 Marche is the second of three restaurants the Agrens envisioned opening to help serve as a hot spot of dining choices in downtown Lewiston. “What’s neat,” Eric remarked, “is if you think about downtown Lewiston in the last three years, you’ve got so much now all within a quarter-mile. All the restaurants — Fish Bones, Antonio’s, Espo’s, Simones, Guthries, Fuel, Mother India, DaVinci’s, Chop Sticks, Subway — they all help to develop a nice market. People think to go to downtown Lewiston for dining. We all help each other.”

This lively new lunch spot is an excellent addition to the mix. Whereas you may linger over your meal at Fuel, Marche is open to a lunch crowd that doesn’t have the luxury of lingering. The primary focus is on fast service, and despite a full dining room on this day, the service is surprisingly speedy. It helps that you place your order at the counter so there is no tableside waiting, but you still may need to wait in line a few minutes at the counter. The chefs, in an open view of the diners, aim to have your meal ready within five minutes of ordering.

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Another focus at Marche is to make everything from scratch and to use the freshest ingredients possible, mostly from local sources, which seems only fitting for a restaurant whose name means “market” in French. The menu is a giant nod to classic French cuisine inspired by the grande dame of America’s take on French cooking, Julia Child. The DVD collection of the original PBS series “The French Chef” serves as a running backdrop in the front dining area. I happen to LOVE love LOVE old episodes of Julia in her prime, towering above her apparently very short cameraman and tackling all sorts of culinary challenges. I must confess, however, the “To Stuff a Sausage” episode proved to be somewhat disconcerting for my vegetarian luncheon companion, but it made for lively conversation.

But Julia’s presence is more keenly felt on the menu, from a selection of both savory and sweet crepes to the house specialty, rotisserie chicken. In addition to a daily soup and lunch special, there’s a wide selection of burgers, sandwiches and salads. The sandwiches, which all come with generous portions of succulent meats, are served on a wooden cutting board. Salads arrive in the cutest little big salad bowl ever! With everything on the menu under 10 bucks, Marche makes for a tasty and affordable lunch option.

You may be drawn into Marche by the smells of good cookin’ but once inside, the energetic atmosphere makes for an inviting place to grab a quick bite to eat or hang out for a while catching up with friends. Tables with high stools are available throughout the main dining area in the back of the 40-seat eatery. You can also sit at the community table at the front and read the paper or chit chat with the nearest stranger. Doesn’t matter. It’s all a very pleasant way to have lunch.

“My favorite thing about this opening week,” Agren commented, “is that the community table has been used actively.” The community table takes up a huge amount of space — it seats 16 comfortably — and has the look of an old farm table, but it is equipped for wireless Internet and video hookup to the 42′ plasma HD TV. Called the Salon Bleu, the community table, which is set off to the side, is also available for parties of eight or more to reserve for a meeting or gathering during lunch hours. In the coming months, the Salon Bleu will also be available for private meetings and custom dinners during off hours.

Marche is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but will also be open one night a week on Marche Mondays beginning later this month. This unique dining experience is a single seating of a four-course off-the-menu meal. Because there is no specific menu from week to week, the chefs get to play around with new tastes and ideas. Limited to 20, reservations are required for Marche Mondays.

The chefs at Marche make fresh crepes every day, and they offer many ways to have your crepe and eat it too. Here’s the recipe for a savory chicken crepe.

Marche Rotisserie Chicken Crepe

Marche’s crepe recipe is derived from Julia Child’s original recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

This recipe makes one change: Julia used one cup of water and one cup of milk. Milk was much richer back when she wrote the cookbook, so we replace the water with all milk.

Crepe batter

2 cups cold milk

2 cups sifted white flour

4 tablespoons melted butter

4 eggs

Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high for 30–60 seconds. Refrigerate the batter for at least an hour, so the flour absorbs the liquid to ensure a smooth consistency.

Wilted spinach

In a saute pan over medium heat, place a large handful of spinach and one finely diced clove of garlic. Pour in 1 tablespoon of white wine and cook till reduced, about 30 seconds to a minute. Reserve.

Chicken

At Marche, they use the rotisserie chicken that they serve for lunch. Any cooked chicken will do. Pull the chicken in 1- to 2-inch pieces.

Bechamel Sauce (about 2 cups)

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

Salt and pepper

In a saucepan, bring the milk to just under a boil.

In another saucepan over medium heat, make a roux by combining the flour and butter, stirring with a wooden spoon, and cooking for 2–3 minutes.  

Remove from the heat. Stirring constantly with a whisk, add the milk to the roux. 

Place saucepan back on the heat, and stirring constantly, bring to a boil and cook for about a minute.

Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To complete

Over medium-high heat, brush a large skillet, or preferably a crepe pan, with melted butter. Pour in about ¼ cup of the crepe batter in the center of the pan. Very quickly swirl the pan, off the heat, around and around until the batter covers the entire pan. Set back on heat and cook for about 30 seconds. Flip the crepe over and cook another 30 seconds or so, until very small brown spots cover the crepe.  

At the same time, in a saute pan, combine the spinach and the chicken with a little oil, and cook till heated through.

Slide the crepe off the pan onto a plate. At Marche, they fold the crepe in a triangle. Top the folded crepe with the chicken and spinach. Top with bechamel sauce.

Next week: If an army moves on its stomach, the U.S. Army must move with a smile and a contented burp, thanks in part to a Lewiston native and Army chef with too many culinary titles and awards to list here. Meet Chef Rene J. Marquis.

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