A gourmet deli in Ojai
By JR Grant 07/26/2012
133 E. Ojai Ave.
Last Easter several friends and I had brunch at Ojai’s Garden Terrace Restaurant. This longtime, comfortable, favorite restaurant always served delicious, well-presented and satisfying meals. At that Easter brunch we learned from chef Pat Cluche and partner Gay Martin that they were opening a gourmet deli in downtown Ojai, between the movie theater and a dress shop. Exciting news indeed for those of us who appreciate Ojai’s culinary options.
And that exciting news became reality the first week of June with the opening of Marché Gourmet. Beautifully designed and decorated in whites and blues with an upscale bistro feel, this very small space is welcoming and, with its presentation of many tasty offerings in the refrigerated cases, this deli/bistro will no doubt become a destination visit for Ojai residents and visitors alike.
Chef Pat has always been a terrific baker; at Marché Gourmet this is most apparent in her quiches. My first visit offered a simple asparagus quiche: flaky and buttery crust, creamy and savory filling, and tender yet perfectly al dente asparagus. Each day a different quiche is offered, and so far this has become my favorite signature dish for the deli.The portion size is not overly generous, but when combined with a salad it makes an ideal luncheon offering.
The many salad options provide great diversity of choices. As at her previous restaurant, Pat combines simple quality ingredients for a full-flavored result. The fresh mozzarella in the caprese salad is a great contrast to the olives, tomatoes, capers, basil and greens. A friend of mine has taken to eating lunch at this deli several times weekly, and is addicted to the Greek salad, similar to the caprese but with a dynamite feta, black olives, cucumbers and a great fresh basil vinaigrette. I also quite like the salmon salad Niçoise.
On my last visit I sampled the curried chicken salad, with orzo, sunflower seeds, raisins, red onions, green pepper and scallions. Delicious. But a side note here: As this is mostly designed to be a take-out deli (there are only about six small bistro tables), the flavor is much fuller when the salad (or whatever the order happens to be) is allowed to settle into room temperature. I noticed this as well with the Asian salad: tofu, snap peas, oranges, almonds, julienned carrots, Napa cabbage greens and a very tasty ginger soy dressing. The combination of those flavors really blended perfectly when the salad was allowed to lose its icy refrigeration.
Although a small physical location, this deli does offer a large variety of both take-away and dining-in options. One particular favorite of mine is the country pâté with black truffles. Extra creamy and like velvet on the palate, with flecks of shaved truffles and an accompanying cornichon, this delightful offering is not to be missed. Each day there seems to be a different panini offering as well. I’ve had the roasted eggplant, which was OK, but humdrum in its presentation and flavor; perfectly adequate, but I wanted to experience a “wow”. The same goes for Black Forest ham with Swiss cheese, and the pastrami. I know the owners are still deciding on deli meat providers, and it is probably too early to make any final declaration on specific servings; Pat and Gay’s long history in the food hospitality industry (and Pat’s perfectionist qualities as a chef) will certainly win out in the end. One particularly admirable menu distinction is the decision to utilize Ojai’s own Les Bles d’Or bakery for most of the bread offerings. A frustration for the proprietors has been an inability to find the perfect rye bread. I certainly trust that very soon a provider will be discovered so that even this small deli detail will meet Pat and Gay’s exacting standards.
Space does not allow a description of the many delicious dessert offerings or the vast cheese selections. But I cannot leave this review without mentioning Pat’s famous Turtle Tart: mouth watering chocolate ganache, toasted pecans, creamy caramel — in other words, heaven in every bite. Yes, there is gelato, cheesecake, petit gateau, flourless chocolate cake … but for my palate the Turtle tart has no match.
There is still the occsional kink to be ironed out in the operation of Marché Gourmet, but the opening of this deli/bistro/catering option is a terrific addition to Ojai’s formidable culinary scene.