Even the most spectacular entrees tend to lose their luster after the third bite, which is why so many chefs and diners have latched onto the ideas of tapas, meze and other "small plates." And few chefs have a better handle on this concept than Alex Urena of Marseilles, the exotic looking Mediterranean bistro in the heart of the theater district.
Urena's $20 meze platter – which is nicely splittable by two diners as an appetizer, or makes a really fun meal for one – contains 9 to 10 "two bite" delicacies designed to tingle and tickle your senses. Among my favorites: refreshing marinated striped bass, kicky merguez sausage dipped in a creamy hummus; a square of fried paella topped with saffron tartar sauce, a tangy spinach and goat cheese cigar, and excellent meyer lemon-spiced calamari ceviche.
Of course, there's more to Marseilles' menu than meze – it's actually a rather elaborate affair that showcases a number of unusual taste and texture combinations, such as an appetizer of cold marinated octopus coated with a black olive tapenade. That inventiveness continues with the entrees, including a slab of delicious crispy salmon (which arrived slightly more cooked than requested) that gets a nice jolt from a chorizo "croustinade" or slices of roasted duck breast (a tad too fatty) that share the plate with a pair of intensely flavored cannelloni filled with duck confit.
Like many theater district restaurants, Marseille is bustling before 8 p.m., so if you want a more leisurely and quiet dinner, it's best to come after the crowds have hit "The Producers." That way, you also don't have to rush through the house's fine desserts, such as a nicely sour key lime cannoli (the shell is actually made of graham crackers) or the addictive grand marnier bombe with its irresistible whipped chocolate mousse. You can even indulge in a cheese course, or linger over a specialty cocktail such as the joie de vivre (Maker's Mark, sweet vermouth, fresh mint and ginger ale). That's what we call living.