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Marché Moderne heads for a bigger, 'totally new' restaurant experience at Crystal Cove

After nearly 10 years in the third-floor penthouse of Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza, renowned French bistro Marché Moderne will open a bigger, oceanside location at the Crystal Cove Shopping Center in Newport Coast.

It will be the restaurant's first major move, expected sometime in early spring. The South Coast Plaza location will close early in the new year.

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"It's a great transition. It kind of gives us a chance to relaunch and refresh," said head chef Florent Marneau. "It's been a great 10 years, and we've truly loved being here. We can't wait for the next 10, 15, 20."

Marneau and his wife, Amelia, pastry chef (and the businesswoman behind the kitchen), had been in talks for about a year with the Irvine Co., which manages the Crystal Cove center.

"We looked in different Orange County neighborhoods from when we first opened," Amelia Marneau said. "We've seen a lot of restaurants open up multiple locations, but we really wanted to do this one correctly and get the good, right formula, really focusing on our guests."

The couple — who met working at Aubergine's in Newport Beach and later worked at Costa Mesa's Pinot Provence (both now closed) — say they have always focused on consistency, execution and excellence in everything they do, from hospitality to the menu.

"We're very much focused on our craft," Florent Marneau said. "Opening a restaurant is hard, but keeping it open is a different story. If you change the menu, some people might get mad, but if you don't change, people don't come back."

Marché Moderne — French for "modern market" — opened in April 2007 and has become a popular fine-dining destination for locals and tourists.

The restaurant also has received attention and reviews from many food critics. Marché Moderne is one of the few Orange County restaurants to land a spot on Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants in the Los Angeles Times.

With seasonal events, an ever-changing three-course prix fixe "Spontané" menu and critically acclaimed dishes such as wild Spanish octopus and classic French coq au vin, Marché Moderne has entrees inspired by the places the Marneaus often travel to — restaurant-rich cities such as Paris, New York and San Francisco.

"We get inspired from our travels to France and around the world, and constant creativity is the best part of it," Florent Marneau said. "Sometimes we'll go back to a popular dish and try to make it better, changing the little details, while keeping the flavors fresh and consistent."

They describe their staff and patrons as family. Even their children, Mateo and Juliette, help out in the kitchen.

After Indian restaurant Tamarind of London closed at the Crystal Cove center last October, the Marneaus were excited to hear of a bigger coastal location closer to their home in Newport Beach.

The new restaurant, now in escrow, will revamp its open exhibition kitchen design, have a "warm, earthy, inviting" tone inspired by modern Europe, and include more indoor and patio seating.

"Everyone is excited for the move," Amelia Marneau said. "People are already trying to book reservations for the new location.

"It's going to reflect us over the past 10 years, but it's also going to be totally new," she added. "We're already playing around with new dishes for the menu."

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Easther Liu, chief marketing officer of Irvine Co. Retail Properties, said: "Marché Moderne is the best in its class, from impeccable service to outstanding French cooking — where every meal is a special culinary experience. We're thrilled to bring a renowned restaurant of this caliber to Crystal Cove Shopping Center."

Debra Gunn Downing, spokeswoman for South Coast Plaza, also wished the Marneaus success.

She also said an unidentified restaurant will replace Marché Moderne in the penthouse space in 2017.

The Marneaus said they feel bittersweet but excited about moving on.

"We always love the extremes," Florent Marneau said. "We've learned to trust what we do."

"We have a great, committed Orange County loyalty. They're not looking for what's trendy," Amelia Marneau said. "They ... stick with what's good and they come back. People will follow a great chef."

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