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Monsieur Marcel Comes to Beverly Hills

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exterior

Shopping! I love it... that is, for food and groceries. (Couldn't care less about clothes, housewares and such.) When it comes to food shopping, I will visit any market, boutique or hole-in-the-wall food shop anywhere in the world. And have done so, in Asia and Africa, let alone all over Europe and South America. Here in Los Angeles my Saturday excursions to Trader Joe's and Pavilion in West L.A. are legendary... and expensive. But now I have a new destination, one which has absolutely consumed me for the last few weeks, since I first encountered it on its opening night in February. MONSIEUR MARCEL GOURMET GROCERY & RESTAURANT (447 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, with valet parking at lunch and dinner and a public lot next door) is a new venue from the two people who have made my many visits to the Farmer's Market & Grove always a pleasant adventure.

There they have had the grocery/cheese shop and restaurant for many years.

We have been looking for a choice spot in Beverly Hills for some years, but never could find the proper space... until recently. When a friend told us that the former Dutton book store location on Canon Drive was available, we immediately knew that it was right for us.

Katy and Stephane Strouk spoke to me at lunch yesterday at their new French bistro and grocery on Canon, right next door to the Wolfgang Steak House. Their place was packed with diners eating salads and soup, entrees and luscious deserts. I greeted Larry Flax, former owner of California Pizza Kitchen, and other friends who were relishing their French bistro experience. The new manager, Brian Whipp, stopped by... I know him from his previous place on Brighton.

dining room

View of the dining room.

Then I shopped in the huge grocery section for my dinner last night... a long tube of bottarga (tuna roe, so hard to find fresh). Since I am on a wheat-free diet, I got a package of rice noodles from the enormous pasta shelf. A container of their unique caviar cheese spread... one of the 250 cheeses on display from all over the world. Some chicken liver mousse from the frozen food container, where I was sorely tempted by the escargots, the boudin noir (blood sausage), and more. Fruit sorbet, from an extensive dessert selection. Examined the caviar cooler. A relatively inexpensive bottle of balsamic vinegar, which was sitting alongside a magical bottle of 100-year-old balsamic from Modena which sells for $488. I got a rosemary-flavored olive oil from a large shelf of oils from everywhere... and then spotted some rare, delicious Seville orange marmalade from the jam, jelly and marmalade shelf... and added it to my basket.

katy aand Stephane

Katy and Stephane are the owners of this establishment... still lovers after 23 years of marriage.

To those of us who are chocoholics, this is a dangerous place. Katy walked me through the shelves of decadent chocolates, including a full selection of those from my hometown, Brooklyn, N.Y., courtesy of Mast Brothers. She then steered me to her favorite bar, a noir 72 percent from legendary chocolate-maker Michel Cluizel. Pointed out the shelves of mayonnaise, including a selection made... yes, in Brooklyn. I stopped in open-mouthed astonishment at a shelf of... salt, 50 or more selections, and took a shaker of pink Himalayan rock salt. Mustards by the yard... even a brand of ballpark mustard I never heard of before.

someof 350 cheeses

Some of the 250 cheeses on display... all in perfect shape.

I surveyed the choice of over 800 wines, including every Chateau offered-Bordeaux appellation (AOC) from France. Suggested to Stephane that he add my favorites, Justin and Laetitia, to the California selections, to which he agreed (and has done so this morning.) This fabulous shop is going to break me financially and health-wise if I'm not careful. And of course I'm not. The Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market & Restaurant offers the crème de la crème of foods from everywhere in the world, and to those of us who are food-obsessed, it will be a destination to which we will head often and well. The restaurant is open for breakfast (starting at 9 a.m., too late, which may be corrected), lunch and dinner. It will not replace ny favorite French bistro, Le Petit Four on Sunset Plaza, in my affection... but there is room for more than one in my purview.

want olive oil?

You want olive oil? We have hundreds from all over the world.

Since 1993, Katy and Stephane have been dedicated to bringing the finest imported and domestic artisanal products to local epicures. The venue on Canon with new partner Emile Malka, a retail entrepreneur, is the third of the Strouk's places, joining the original opened 13 years ago in the Farmer's Market and an authentic petit bistro five years ago on the Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade. Theirs is a very romantic love story, which they happily recounted to me.

stephane andhis extensive bourdeauxs

Stephane and his extensive collection of Bordeaux, some of the 800 wines on display.

"I was traveling through Europe with some friends and, at a bistro in Paris, this handsome young man -- who spoke no English while I had no French -- approached me and somehow we communicated and exchanged info," said Katy:

Imagine my surprise when, some months later, he showed up in L.A. with some guys.

They stayed at my folks place in Orange County and then I went to Paris to join him... and we married a year later. Now we have two young girls and, after 23 years, are happier than ever.

Katy travels through Europe seeking out unique products, while Stephane handles the wines and the operations.

sauces

Some of the many sauces on their shelves.

The full-service 136-seat restaurant is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and last night I sampled the extensive but comfortable menu. Lots of traditional French dishes... salads (nicoise, yes) , soups (a fine onion one), crepes and quiches. My favorite entrees: a succulent beef bourguignon ($19), roasted chicken ($17), and the most popular dish, striped bass ($21). There's a fondue savoyarde for two ($39) several melted cheeses and sides of apple, potato, bresola and cubed breads. Fabulous amuse bouche: think tuna tartare ($15), escargot ($14), Hamachi crudo ($16), Kobe steak tartare ($17) and a merguez croquette (my favorite, $13). Delicious 'crostini' sandwiches from $7 to $10, the latter an Iberico ham with manchego cheese and roasted pepper. The Norwegian smoked salmon ($7) is made with the famous Mon. Marcel home-made caviar cheese and their crusty bread. That bottarga/tuna roe I took home goes into a linguini pasta dish with clams and a white wine butter sauce ($18). The most expensive dish on the menu is the Sole Meuniere ($36), real Dover sole with beurre blanc, a very fair price. The grass-fed beef truffle burger ($18) comes with a choice of several cheeses. Mousse au chocolate and tarte tatin are desserts of choice. You can buy any bottle of wine retail there and, for a corkage of $20, have it with your meal.

50 different salts

Some of the fifty or more salts on display.

Monsieur Marcel is a wonderful addition to the Beverly Hills culinary scene, and I predict that people will be coming from all over the city to enjoy this authentic French dining and shopping experience. Paris in Beverly Hills is not a bad idea!

To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for 12 monthly issues) email him at jayweston@sbcglobal.net.