Did you ever struggle with an album you're supposed to love?
It's a favorite band. They're in the prime of their career. The new album has a few hits, and their tour is bigger than ever. But every time you cue it up, you find yourself thinking of the one or two before.
For me that band is Editors, whose first two albums hit a sweet spot of interesting lyrics, great hooks and driving beats that made me wear them out for three solid years. Maybe it was unrealistic expectations on my part, but when their third album came out, I never connected with it the same way. It was good, but not what I had in my head.
That's how I feel about going to Marché for dinner.
I'm a huge fan of breakfast and lunch at Margot McCormack's casual eatery, just off of Five Points in East Nashville. It's one of those places that consistently exceeds my expectations (there's that word again) for what are usually casual meals. The savory crepes always seem to surprise, and even something as simple as fresh granola with yogurt tastes bright and interesting. When the Scene's editors talked with me about revisiting some established places, we agreed that supper at Marché was a good candidate.
Walking into the fishbowl that is the restaurant — tall windows on all sides; its angled, well-lit interior juts toward Main Street like a kind of food peepshow you can see a block away — there's a very warm, laid-back feel. Part of that comes from the staff, who are attentive and very friendly, and another part comes from the decor, as long, worn wood tables and wide wire chairs give off a vaguely European vibe. Even the two-seat tables, often an exercise in squeezing in additional paying customers, were comfortable and slightly higher than normal. My knees appreciated it.
The menu, which changes frequently, feels very comfortable, too. Alongside bistro classics like roasted chicken and braised short ribs, there was a stuffed pork loin and a skin-on salmon with risotto. Starters included a cheese plate, a pate with cherry jam and an apple salad. Maybe we couldn't pick out where in Europe we were supposed to be — France? Italy? Somewhere in between? — but the intent was surely there.
Clearly this is a place that's supposed to hit my sweet spot, and some things really did. The short ribs come as chunks of braised goodness topped with a bit of gremolata and sitting among mashed potatoes and some charred brussels sprouts. It's a classic combination that was well executed. The stuffed pork loin, filled with polenta, apples, Swiss chard and caramelized onions, was similarly excellent.
Among the appetizers, there were some truly great dishes. Both the apple salad and the roasted squash salad did the contrast dance well, adding gorgonzola and goat cheese, respectively, to play off of sweeter elements like a honey vinaigrette and cranberries. The pâté's smoothness on bits of toast with fresh jam made a couple of converts of folks who didn't know meat could be spreadably delicious like that.
There's a lot to like here. Even if it seemed like there was a little too much butter — I know, I know; I hadn't considered the possibility either — the mascarpone tortelloni with shiitake mushrooms, hazelnuts and brown butter were al dente, tasty and surprisingly hearty. Unsurprisingly, a place that has built its reputation on being an artisan market and cafe has excellent bread, and we found ourselves asking for seconds of the cake-like focaccia.
But occasionally the kitchen veered — sometimes in execution, sometimes in conception. Twice we ordered the roast chicken, and twice it came up a little dry, with disappointing skin. Getting that golden brown, slightly rich skin is the reason to roast a bird like that. One of my eating companions, picking over her chicken, couldn't find a really crisp piece and said dejectedly, "That's the best part!" I agree. The wild rice it was paired with was scattered through with tiny currants, not an altogether bad idea, but when there was none of the usual jus from the roasting process, a sweet pairing was hardly a consolation. Similarly, the leek risotto's somewhat sweet taste did not pair well with the skin-on salmon that sat on top of it. It had a few of us scratching our heads — the two things in isolation would have been just fine, but paired together, they were discordant.
Even in the desserts, there were very high notes and low ones. A peanut butter tartlet was delicious and intriguing, in part because the sweet peanut butter filling was lighter and smoother than any peanut butter I've ever had. And I know that they're a market and do cookies a lot, but I appreciate any place that elevates cookies to the level of a closing dish: The pecan meringue cookie sandwich with a smear of nutella in between was inspired.
But the bread pudding with creme anglaise set the form back a few years, coming off as a collection of disparate textures held together by custard. Likewise, the confident cookie making that gave us the meringue also gave us a buttermilk cookie indiscriminately smeared with icing. We found ourselves scraping off the topping to get to the good stuff underneath: It was tastier without it.
Days later, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the meals at Marché. Would I recommend it? Yes. The frustration for me came in the gap between what the restaurant is and what it could be. There's a legitimately great dinner place in there, built on a small menu of European-style comfort food and bistro favorites. But it needs that extra level of execution to set it apart in a Nashville food scene awash in locally sourced, seasonal farm-to-table fare.
In the meantime, I'll be back soon for lunch or breakfast. I'll also keep playing those first two Editors albums. Great work never goes out of style.