Since acquiring Marché Bacchus five years ago, New Orleans natives Jeff and Rhonda Wyatt have steadily built their brand, and today it is as much a fine restaurant as boutique wine store, the original incarnation of the space.
Marche Bacchus was opened in 2000 by Gregoire and Agathe Verge, a French couple who soon began serving lunch. The Verges kept the menu simple: cheese, charcuterie and bistro dishes, such as the ever-present steak frites. The Wyatts had a different vision. New to the restaurant business but devoted foodies, they envisioned the concept as a top-quality restaurant as well.
So they struggled with several chefs and menus—many of which focused on New Orleans as much as France—before finding Alex Stratta protégé David Middleton, an accomplished chef who is now handling the kitchen, ably assisted by San Franciscan sous-chef John Courtney.
Their menu has a spate of new dishes worth the detour, as the French like to say, including duck confit pappardelle, braised short ribs and a classic Lyonnaise salad—things that remind me of food served at the late, lamented Alex in Wynn.
Taking nothing away from the current chefs, I’m tempted to call the Marché Bacchus cuisine “Alex Light,” as the boys pay homage to Stratta with several creations.
You still enter the restaurant through the shop, which has a bar that also serves food. In its expanded format, Marché Bacchus seats 120. On summer evenings, when the air is balmy, misters and breezes wafting in off the man-made Lake Jacqueline cool the terrace.
As you head for the terrace, you pass by wooden crates of wine from France, Spain, Italy and California, most of them with more than 90 points from wags such as Robert Parker, or magazines including Wine Spectator and Decanter. If you wish to drink one at your table, there is a $10 corkage fee. That’s an enlightened policy. Go ahead, pay triple for your ’09 Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne on the Strip—if you can find it.
Cheese and charcuterie are still on the menu, along with homemade paté and rillettes, fine and fatty, all of which make a nice lunch with cornichons, a French baguette and Dijon mustard.
But the real action is on the dinner menu, with dishes such as steak tartare and heirloom tomato salad to start, and an eclectic entrée selection to embellish the appetizers.
That heirloom tomato salad does look quite like something I used to eat at Alex, the tomatoes yielding and a gorgeous deep shade of red, a delicate corn puree next to the pile, and a dollop of creamy burrata for emphasis. This steak tartare rivals any in the city, hand-chopped steak mixed with pine nuts and capers, and topped with an egg yolk done till it has an almost pudding-like texture.
Entrées show more range than at any time I’ve dined here. I tried two versions of the lobster ravioli, one with classic flour and water dough, the other gluten-free, which is the version I preferred for its firmer texture and no sacrifice in flavor.
Alaskan Skuna Bay salmon is done skin-side crisp, a technique most classic French chefs employ these days. The deep-orange fish has a surfeit of flavor and omega-3s. Crispy maple-leaf duck breast is a new wrinkle, the meat wonderfully tender, with orange-braised fennel, pearl onion, coriander and a black-pepper duck jus.
If you insist, there is that steak frites, and even moules (mussels) frites, two classic bistro dishes. Hey, that’s probably what the chefs dining on their night off will be eating.
If you have room for dessert, try the île flottante, another bistro classic—basically meringue floating in a pool of crème Anglaise—or an even more classic version of New Orleans bread pudding.
The Wyatts, it seems, haven’t abandoned their roots altogether.