As is the tradition every year, Rachel and I always love to try out some of the very best restaurants in the Washington metropolitan area whenever our wedding anniversary rolls around. From the glamorous Inn at Little Washington to the gluttonous BLT Steak to the classical L’Auberge Chez Francois, we have always looked for a romantic backdrop to celebrate the occasion.
When choosing a restaurant, we always pick a place we have not been before, and considering that Marcel’s, chef Robert Wiedmaier’s flagship establishment of his ever-growing brand of restaurants (his Ballston branch of Mussel Bar being the most recent opening), has been a mainstay at the top of the charts, we thought it was an ideal venue for dinner this past Saturday night.
Marcel’s is the epitome of French-Belgian fine dining without the stuffiness and outdated dining room. Instead it felt homey and modern. When we walked in, maitre d’ Adnane Kebaier warmly greeted us by wishing Rachel and me a happy anniversary and seated us at a table for two while pouring us each a glass of celebratory champagne. Needless to say we were both taken aback by this gracious gesture and already fell in love with the place.
Our table captain Jonathan then introduced himself and broke down how the menu works. It is a prix-fixe format where diners have the option to choose four to seven items from each of the seven courses on the menu. For example, if you do a four-course menu, you can choose two items from the first course, one from the third, and then a dessert. Four courses start at $85 per person, five courses at $105, six at $125, and if you’re hungry enough, seven for $145.
For some odd reason, we had the preconceived notion that every meal included the dessert course, so we opted for the four course menu, not realizing that we were doing five courses at the time. That was our fault as we should have asked sooner, but I’m honestly glad we made the miscue as there was literally zero regrets about what we ordered once the meal concluded. Besides, this is a special occasion place, so you might as well go all out, right?
Jonathan was great as he was extremely familiar with the preparations and was entertaining to boot. Restaurants always carry a certain kind of charm when the staff has such great personalities, and Jonathan was no exception. Being the head captain of Marcel’s, it’s a big responsibility to ensure that his diners leave satisfied, so we knew we were in good hands all evening.
Before we got started, we were served an amuse bouche of lobster flan that was housed in an egg shell. Despite just being a teaspoon or two worth, the amount of flavor packed inside was tremendous. Just one taste and we knew we were going to be in for a very memorable dinner.
For our first official course of the evening, I had to go with the Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon. Served atop a slice of grilled brioche and situated on a bed of blackberries and port syrup, the foie gras was sublime and was one of the best preparations I had ever come across.
Rachel decided to go with the Nantucket Bay scallops, along with marinated octopus, black garlic purée, and smoked tomato coulis. The combination of all the flavors was outstanding, and she particularly loved the black garlic with the octopus. It was a light and lovely dish to start things off.
For our second course, I went with the seared rare ‘big eye’ tuna. Topped with seared foie gras (because hey, you can never get enough foie gras) and accompanied with purple potatoes and a Cabernet reduction, the tuna, which was a generous portion, was actually cooked more on the medium to medium rare side. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the seared foie gras/tuna combination despite the slight overcooking.
Next for Rachel was the roasted monkfish cheek with white asparagus, mandarin, and a Maltaise sauce. This might have been the weakest dish of the evening, but she still loved the perfectly cooked monkfish and the decadent sauce. The mandarin added a nice tang as well.
While we were waiting for what was to be our third coach, Chef Wiedmaier surprised us with his renowned Boudin Blanc. If you are to ever dine at Marcel’s, I highly recommend you order this dish. In fact, we felt foolish not ordering it to begin with as it is one of their most ordered items. The housemade sausage, prepared with a blend of chicken and pheasant, was deceptively light and wrapped in a lightly browned casing. Topped with a generous amount of black truffles and placed under a bed of butternut squash puree, caramelized onions, and Madeira sauce, the savory, melt-in-your-mouth sausage is one of the very best dishes you will ever come across in the District. There’s a reason why it’s so popular.
Following that extravagant course was the Five Spice Beaver Creek Wood Pigeon Breast. The juicy slices of pigeon breast were complemented with a stuffed leg, Napa cabbage slaw, and Madeira sauce.
Rachel then had the La Belle Farm duck breast, with braised salsify, duck confit, chocolate, and brandied cherries. The duck was phenomenal, but the best part may have been the cherries. These deceptively small gems packed a powerful punch, and you could taste the brandy in each bite. What you would think is a traditional duck with cherries dish was anything but.
I went with the Border Spring lamb chops as my final main course of the evening. Outside of the Boudin Blanc, this was my favorite dish of the meal. Prepared medium rare with a horseradish crust, the succulent lamb was simply extraordinary. Served with a smoked mozzarella polenta cake and rainbow chard, it was at this point that I began to hit the proverbial wall in terms of being full, but I marched on as I could not leave one bite of lamb behind. I just felt it would have been sacrilege to do so.
The last savory dish for Rachel was the Martin’s Angus filet mignon, with Yukon gold potato purée, wild mushrooms, lemon zest, and horseradish. It may sound boring to have a filet, but how can you not? Of course it was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and paired with the potato puree and sauce made for wonderful bites. Granted, she was slowing down too, but what a way to cap off dinner.
For dessert, each of our plates arrived with “Happy Anniversary” spelled out in chocolate, which was a very nice touch. Despite being absurdly full, I could not resist ordering the melting hot chocolate cake. Beautifully arranged with a scoop of salted praline gelato and a dollop of hazelnut coffee crema, the melting cake was as decadent as it sounded. The warm, rich chocolate cake paired incredibly well with the creamy gelato, which as it turned out was caramelized on the bottom! Just a transcending finale to a great meal.
Rachel went with the special dessert for the evening, which was a pineapple souffle, served table side with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pineapple sauce on the side. Jonathan had mentioned that the sauce was particularly sweet so to use it sparingly, and he was spot on. While you didn’t need much of it, the sauce added just enough to bring it all together.
And then there was the service. Part of going to Marcel’s is the white tablecloth experience, and the waitstaff operates like clockwork. Between the timing of the dishes, the highly knowledgeable sommelier, our enjoyable table captain, and the friendly maitre d’, the service was immaculate. It really adds to the overall experience and makes the evening feel that more special.
Overall this was arguably one of the best meals we have had in the District. Between the outstanding cooking and exceptional service, Rachel and I left with a smile on our (very full) faces. I was already joking with Rachel that I would gladly go back here for my birthday in a few months. With so many new restaurants that have opened in DC the past few years, Marcel’s is one that should not be overlooked. Wiedmaier works wonders in the kitchen and this is one place you should not pass up for your next special occasion.