Saturday, February 28, 2015


Tired of his French-Belgian restaurant in the West End being labeled old hat, Robert Wiedmaier, executive chef and owner, ordered up a fresh look for his property of 16 years, and re-opened in Fall of 2014.  Marcel's serves French-Belgian fare that is the epitome of Old World extravagance—labor-intensive and richly sauced. I knew it was the perfect elegant place to treat Keith for his birthday dinner this year.  Closet Metro is Foggy Bottom.

Image via Marcel's website
The dress code is a strict "business-elegant/jacket required" translating to no tie needed, but also no jeans.  Every man had a blazer or suit coat on, which confused us with the formality, since hearing that part of the restaurant's makeover was to appear less stuffy.  Tom Sietsema describes the decor: "White leather stools, a rich marble bar and a cupboard lined with sparkling stemware make for a newly glam lounge. In the dining room, fresh gold-green carpet cushions your stroll, chandeliers suggest starbursts and the chairs are so plush, the chef jokes that his servers ought to wear gloves to touch them."

The mood lighting was a deep amber glow with all the servers eagerly standing nearby at attention, and then murmuring "Monsieur? Madame?" each time they cleared a plate.

The menu is a prix fixe format where diners can create their own tasting menu — four, five, six or seven courses — from any of the lot, for $90, $110, $130 and $150, respectively.  Menu choices change regularly, so you may not be able to enjoy the same items I describe below.  We decided on five courses, and chose a nice bottle of 2011 Farmer's Collective, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA to accompany our meal.  This wine was smooth with deep cherry notes and marked up to $80.  A worthwhile splurge for this special occasion meal.

After selecting our courses, we were treated to an amuse bouche of duck liver pâté encrusted with pistachios.  This little bite was balanced with fat and salt to awaken our palate and tasted great with our red wine.  We also nibbled on fresh potato rolls with three kinds of butter: black truffle, olive, and sweet cream.

First in my tasting, I started with the Kusshi Oysters with Champagne Sabayon.  The oysters were deshelled and floating in a smoked onion puree dotted with micro chives and topped with smoked trout roe that popped in my mouth.  This dish was elegant and would have paired better with a glass of bubbly, than my rich red wine.

Keith started with the New Zealand Langoustines and Sweetbreads.  This dish was plated with a swoosh of English pea puree, garlic tomato concasee, and langoustine cream.  The langoustine meat was tender and the sweetbread was pretty mild in flavor as a fried croquette.  So far, we were off to a great start.

Next, I luxuriated in the Blue Bay Mussel Gratin.  Though it looked very similar to my first choice, this dish had a heavier composition with tomato fondue, baby spinach, vermout glacage, and thyme cream.  If I had to choose between the two, this dish slightly wins over the first as the tomato fondue was addictive and Chef Wiedmaier clearly knows how to cook mussels perfectly.

Keith controversially ordered the House Made Ricotta Agnolotti.  I say this, as our server made two different comments that "Chef never makes pasta!" - so we were not sure if that was a good thing or a risk.  Regardless, Keith found the Martins Angus beef bolognese to be flavorful and the pasta was topped with shaved Parmesan and micro basil to round out the traditional Italian flavors.

For my third course, I ate the Porcini Crusted Icelandic Cod served on a bed of yellow lentils, and topped with pickled pioppini and dill cream.  The fish was cooked perfectly and very light in flavor.  I liked the tart acidic punch of the pickled topping, yet did not understand the dollop of cream on top.  It had more horseradish flavor than dill, and was a bit unnecessary.

Keith ordered Marcel's Classic Boudin Blanc for his third course, and I also enjoyed it as my fourth.  Served with tournee apples, caramelized onions, celery root puree, and an apple cider reduction, this French sausage is made with equal parts sliced Hudson Valley foie gras, D'Artagnan free-range pheasant, and skinned chicken breast. The sausage is a multi-step process that is first pressed and grinded, then whipped with thick cream and a heavy handful of salt, before it is piped into a hog's intestine to give it shape, and then poached in chicken stock and released from its casing before final plating.  This labor of love produces a silky sausage that is decadent upon the tongue.  The bright apple and onion accompaniments on the plate impeccably offset the smooth richness of the sausage.

For his fourth course, Keith enjoyed the New Frontier Bison Strip Loin served with lady apple, pomegranate, candied walnut, roasted bone marrow, and a bordelaise sauce.  The meat was cooked medium-rare and was satisfying all in all.

For dessert, I ordered the Passion Fruit Gateau with blackberry and passion fruit coulis, blackberry sorbet, and graham cracker tuille.  The cake was light and the sorbet was a nice balance of sweetness and tartness.  The combination married exquisitely with the last drops of my Cabernet Sauvignon.

For his "Happy Birthday" dessert, Keith took pleasure in the Dark Chocolate Tower.  A warm
milk chocolate creme lager was poured over the top of the chocolate, melting the tower into vanilla risotto with toasted hazelnut crunch.

In case we did not have enough sweetness to round out the meal, we were presented a plate of petit fours including a brownie cookie, cream pie, almond truffle, and peanut brittle.  We had a wonderfully elegant French meal at Marcel's that was executed flawlessly, and presented at a perfect pace.  I can see why so many Washingtonians choose this restaurant to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries, and am glad we were able to experience the full treat ourselves.  If you're looking for a sophisticated and classic meal that transports you to France or Belgium, but without the insane ticket fares, then I highly recommend Marcel's.  Plus, since the menu options change regularly and the prixe fixe cost is not as high as other local restaurants, I am sure Marcel's will be returned to more than just once.

Total Rating: 4.65
Food: 5, Price: 4, Service: 4.5, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 5
What Micky Eats...

What I ate:
Kusshi Oysters with Champagne Sabayon
smoked onion puree, smoked trout roe

Blue Bay Mussel Gratin
tomato fondue, baby spinach, vermout glacage, thyme cream

Porcini Crusted Icelandic Cod
yellow lentils, pickled pioppini, dill cream

Marcel's Classic Boudin Blanc
tournee apples, caramelized onions, celery root puree, apple cider reduction

Passion Fruit Gateau
blackberry and passion fruit coulis, blackberry sorbet, graham cracker tuille

Plus Keith ate:
New Zealand Langoustines and Sweetbreads
English pea puree, garlic tomato concasee, langoustine cream

House Made Ricotta Agnolotti
Martins Angus beef bolognese, shaved parmesan, micro basil

Marcel's Classic Boudin Blanc
tournee apples, caramelized onions, celery root puree, apple cider reduction

New Frontier Bison Strip Loin
lady apple, pomegranate, candied walnut, roasted bone marrow, bordelaise

Dark Chocolate Tower
milk chocolate creme lager, vanilla risotto, hazelnut crunch

Marcel's on Urbanspoon


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