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Saturday, December 24, 2011 - Page updated at 05:02 a.m.

Restaurant review
A bistro makeover for former Campagne

By Providence Cicero
Special to The Seattle Times

After nearly 25 years, Campagne closed last January. Heralded for fine French food and wine served in linen-draped elegance, the Post Alley hideaway enjoyed a longer run than most restaurants, largely thanks to sound management and a succession of talented chefs, among them Tamara Murphy (Terra Plata) and Jim Drohman (Le Pichet).

Current executive chef Daisley Gordon worked with both, having joined Campagne in 1995. Now co- owner, Gordon guided the restaurant's recent rebirth as Marché, an informal bistro and wine bar that hews to the modern dining vernacular: loud, tight quarters; hard surfaces; filament light bulbs; and a menu of large and small plates.

Make that plats, for the food is still French, though sommelier Cyril Frechier's wine list traipses the globe. No need to commit to a bottle: everything from bubbly to local barrel selections can be had by the glass. "Wine explorations" showcase special bottles (read: spendy). Preserved by argon-gas injection, they can be sampled in one-and-a-half, three or five-ounce pours (approximately $6-$40). Frechier himself wanders the dining room like a cheerful peddler lugging a wooden wine box dubbed vins fins: his eclectic personal picks culled from the handsome pine hutch that, like Frechier and Gordon, is among the few remaining vestiges of Campagne.

Marché's metrosexual chic is the flip side of Campagne's demure country charm. The bar is bigger, the lounge more intimate, the dining room racier, with red banquettes, gray-washed walls and tabletops that resemble concrete. Large gilt-framed mirrors reflect an up-close view of the red-neon Pike Place Market sign framed in a picture window. A bay window displays a red-painted farm wagon filled with seasonal produce. Both underscore the mission signaled by the restaurant's new name, French for "market."

With a few exceptions, I was impressed with the solidly executed bistro fare. Among "nibbles," you can't go wrong with pommes frites, a generous portion with a pot of thick mayonnaise on the side. Cheeses (priced by the ounce) included a beautifully ripe Camembert paired with walnuts and black pepper honey.

Petit plats are a bit more substantial. From the house-made charcuterie I chose a rosy ruffle of savory pork shaved from a shoulder that had been brined, stuffed, then roasted. It arrived on a thick wooden board with grilled toast, grainy mustard and pickled peppers.

There's no surcharge for a basket of Grand Central Bakery bread, with butter submerged in a bowl of golden olive oil. I used the bread to scoop the last bits of pistachio aillade, an audacious sauce of coarsely chopped garlic, nuts, capers, preserved lemon and mint that topped a roasted cylinder beet (elongated rather than bulbous). Just as delicious: the salty pop of salmon roe dotting warm, oniony potato salad tossed in Dijon-spiked vinaigrette.

Salade verte (butter lettuce, arugula and fresh herbs) becomes sublime veiled in lemon and hazelnut oil with curls of brique agour, a Basque sheep's milk cheese. It would make an excellent meal, partnered with the leek and tomato tart: oniony custard on a brittle, buttery pastry crust. Parsnip gratin — sweet, thin rounds embedded in a melt of Comte cheese — came with its own appropriately tart arugula salad.

Grand plats include a stunning Quenelle en nage: the most delicious chicken dumplings imaginable bobbing in a double-strength chicken broth dense with diced celery and celeriac. Parisian penicillin, bien sur!

Other large plates achieved varying success. Best was a simple broiled sole, briskly seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon and capers. House-made chicken sausage was a bit too mild to stand up to braised red cabbage smoky with bacon.

Linguine with braised calf trotter was dismal. The fresh noodles floundered in a gelatinous broth that was excessively salted, peppered and herbed. Not finishing it, however, left room to indulge in quenelle of another sort for dessert: sensational cognac-laced dark chocolate mousse with Chantilly cream.

Service veered from anxious to unctuous; some staff are still feeling their way. Probably in those first tender months decades ago, Campagne's staff was equally tentative. It's not easy supplanting an icon, and it takes a long time to become one. But Marché might have a shot.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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