Washington, DC is nothing if not rife with politics. When we asked permission to take photographs it was no surprise to get this answer, “as long as no one complains. After all, this is DC and most often there are people dining here with someone they shouldn’t to be seen with.” In fact, at Marcel’s on Pennsylvania Ave NW, there is a small circular room that is made more secretive with a curtain that encloses the entire table. “It was Petraeus’s table table,” we’re told with a giggle.
Marcel’s is one of Washington’s high-end restaurants that focuses on finding the best food from farmers around them. Inside the décor is stunning, it was a French farmhouse movie set when it was purchased and turned into a restaurant. Diners relax in a soft, romantic ambience with arched ceilings reminiscent of a European cathedral.
Service is classically traditional. When you get up from your seat, someone immediately runs over, folds your napkin and strategically repositions it. This hasn’t happened to Jon and I since we dined at Maze, Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant in London, England. The dining experience starts with a glass of French champagne – how royal are we feeling now?
Head Captain is Jonathan Crayne. Jonathan is the quintessential, European-style waiter with class. He’s what everyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant should aspire to be like. Jonathan opened Windows on the World and watched it close on 9/11. After 6 months of making sense of it all, Jonathan set his sights on Marcel’s in Washington, DC and has been here ever since. So what is a classical waitor? Jonathan can make tableside steak tartare, Caesar salads and flambéed cherries jubilee. He has an equal talent at making diners feel special, and pampered; like they are the most important person in the world.
The menu at Marcel’s is long with dozens of dishes. The concept here is that you pick 4 courses, 5, 6 or even 7 courses. The dishes are listed in order of light, fresh flavours and as you go down the list the flavours gradually get richer and more robust. Jonathan explains the dishes are small, tasting portions but this is really code for non-American portions. Our dishes come and they’re the perfect size. This is classic French Belgium cuisine by chef and owner Robert Wiedmaier.
With our champagne, we’re served the chefs amuse bouche, a lobster flan with truffled cream, fresh Scandanivian shrimp and caviar. It’s super rich, uber light and is a beautiful match to the champagne.
At the table across from us is Jayson Pahlmeyer of Pahlmeyer Winery of Napa, California. Jonathan gives us a sip of the 1991 wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. It still has big, strong bones and a blockbuster body – wow!
Marcel’s is the kind of restaurant where people come to celebrate special occasions and significant life milestones. People splurge for the privilege to savour the over the top dishes that Wiedmaier is famous for. Others come for the privilege of being seen and some come for the discretion of not being seen.
The cuisine is unlike any I’ve ever tasted. The accompaniments on the plate are equally if not more exciting than the main attraction on the plate. The first course was the Salmon Tartare with Yuzu and Wasabi Crème Fraiche with Smoked Bacon Crumble, Quail Egg and Sesame Tuile and the Pan Seared Diver Scallop with Bamboo Rice, Coconut Cream and Pineapple Chips.
Second course was the Chesakpak Rockfish with Pineapple Pico de Gallo, Pork Belly and Coconut Cream and the La Belle Farm Duck Breast with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Roasted Baby New Potatoes and Duck Jus.
For dessert was a celebration of Washington’s Cherry Blossom Festival. It was a double chocolate fudge soufflé with rich cherry ice cream, burgundy crème anglese and candied cherry blossoms – oh yum!
Ok, so how to sum up Marcel’s? In the movie, The Big Night, after the fantastic meal, one of the diners stood up and screamed, “This was so good, I think I have to kill myself”. So Marcel’s comes with a warning. The dinner experience is so freakin’ fabulous, the rest of life will simply seem so dull – but don’t kill yourself, just plan on coming back time and time again
Marcel’s, 2401 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC. www.marcelsdc.com