by Lauren McAllister & r & When I heard that the folks who bestowed the lovely Luna on Spokane were birthing a new restaurant, I couldn't wait to see what they would create. Caf & eacute; Marron took over the little spot in Browne's Addition previously occupied by the Cannon Street Grill. The name means "brown" in Spanish -- probably a reference to "Browne's" Addition rather than the color, as I was surprised to find a light and airy interior dominated by a huge, round rustic chandelier. The entire front of the cafe can be opened to the sidewalk during warm weather (decidedly not the case, alas, on the evening we visited). Though there was a bit of a chill initially when we sat down, the restaurant quickly warmed up as more people arrived. Tables are covered in what appears to be artist's canvas, adding to the rustic, casual atmosphere.
The menu features upscale comfort food with a bistro flair. For starters, we considered the Penn Cove mussels with Italian sausage and parsley ($13) but ended up choosing the Fritto Misto, which was a selection of battered, deep-fried vegetables with a roasted garlic and chili aioli ($10). This was a big plate of mysterious veggies -- our server said occasionally a piece of lemon made its way into the medley, but we weren't lucky enough to find one in our batch. No matter -- who knew that deep-fried avocado was such a creamy treat? The slices of yellow squash and red onions were also yummy.
Next up were salads. Our dinner companions chose a tomato salad with zucchini ($8), topped with olive oil and basil. They pronounced this a nice variation on the tomato-basil salad so popular in summer months. My partner and I split the fall greens and green bean salad ($9). A nice light Dijon vinaigrette topped this salad, with hearty amounts of crisp bacon and croutons tossed in for good measure. The truly intriguing part of the salad, though, was the poached egg on top. The runny yolk mingled with the dressing in a delightful way. Our only complaint was the scarcity of the green beans -- I ended up with just three little pieces, which was unfortunate because they were so perfectly complemented by the bacon and savory dressing.
A fairly small selection of entrees still offers a surprising variety at Cafe Marron. It's especially nice to see a wide price range -- three gourmet sandwich offerings check in at the $10 mark, hardly more than you'd pay at Jack in the Box. I was intrigued by the free-range chicken with red peppers pancetta and tomatoes ($18) but settled on the Duck Confit ($19) after our server declared it her favorite item on the menu.
Confit is a fancy old French way of preserving duck. The duck is soaked in brine, slowly poached in fat and then can be stored -- for months even, but at least for a day -- while covered in fat. As with sausage-making, that's about all you want to know about the process. The return on the investment is tender, flavorful meat. My duck confit was served on a bed of lentils, with a neat little green apple-celery relish and just a hint of mint. The tastes were delightful -- the earthy soft lentils in nice counterpoint to the crunchy, crisp celery -- but the duck itself, although flavorful, was a bit on the dry, stringy side.
My partner ordered the grilled Hereford steak with French fries ($18). The steak was perfectly cooked, tender and, best of all, organic in origin, with the lemon garlic butter providing a lovely accompaniment. The fries were, well, fries. Still, this was a hearty and happy entree that demanded no more than enthusiastic munching.
Our friends ordered the salmon with polenta and orange-green olive relish ($18) and the linguine with cherry tomatoes and squash ($12). The linguine was a warm and garlicky delight, while the salmon was nicely cooked, but a bit on the salty side.
For desserts (all $7), we tried the pumpkin bread pudding and the chocolate custard. The bread pudding was rich and sweet and might have been balanced by a creamier topping than the sweet hard sauce. The chocolate espresso custard was rich and thick -- almost like a chocolate ganache in texture, but oh so heavenly with the whipped cream on top.
There's a wonderful wine list at Caf & eacute; Marrron (again, shades of Luna), with interesting selections available by the glass if you can't agree on a bottle with your companions. Service was pleasant, but seemed a bit rushed throughout the evening. Before I knew it, my bread pudding was whisked away unfinished, with a bite still on the spoon. Another little grievance was the server's insistence that we save our silverware, leaving it lying on the table without so much as a bread plate to rest it on between courses.
Still, there is much to commend Cafe Marron. And let's face it: There's a foot of snow on the ground, and it's icy cold. What better way to spend an evening than in a convivial little neighborhood cafe. And how lucky we are to have one with such interesting and creative cuisine as Caf & eacute; Marron.
Caf & eacute; Marron. 144 S. Cannon St. & r & Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 8 am-3 pm & r & Lunch: Mon.-Thu., 11 am-3 pm Dinner: Daily, 5-10 pm & r &