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An Anniversary Dinner at Marcel's

12 Mar

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Marcel’s is the epitome of French-Belgian fine dining without the stuffiness and outdated dining room.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.

Lobster bisque

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.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon

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.

Nantucket Bay Scallops,

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.

Seared rare 'big eye' tuna

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.

Roasted monkfish cheek

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.

Boudin Blanc.

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.

Five Spice Beaver Creek Wood Pigeon Breast

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.

La Belle Farm duck breast

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.

Border Spring lamb chops

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.

Martin's Angus filet mignon

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.

Melting hot chocolate cake

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.

Pineapple souffle

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.

Miniature desserts

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.

Marcel's on Urbanspoon

A Pre-Theater Brunch at Ris

8 Aug

A few weeks ago, we had Sunday matinee tickets for The Book of Mormon at the Kennedy Center. Considering we were already walking around the West End, we thought we might as well take advantage of the neighborhood and get a meal before the show started at 1:30. Given the proximity to the theater as well as the appetizing menu, Ris turned out to be a great choice for a pre-theater brunch.

I tried their house-made ginger beer. Prepared with fresh ginger juice, lemon juice, and club soda, this was a perfect summer beverage. Rachel ordered a delicious mimosa with lavender and thyme.

House-made ginger beer

For our main course, I opted for a classic breakfast staple, Huevos Rancheros. A heap of fried eggs were topped over a layer of corn tortillas and served with black beans, rancheros sauce, rice, queso blanco, and chorizo. A very satisfying dish without being too heavy, I particularly enjoyed the spicy chorizo as it had a nice kick to it.


Rachel ordered the Farmers Market Omelet. It was prepared with summer squash, carrots, mushrooms, kale, green beans, and Monterrey Jack cheese and topped with a drizzle of sour cream and scallions. The omelet was good if not a little small, but she loved all the fresh seasonal vegetables it came with. The accompanying side of was delicious, but some potatoes would have been a nice addition, too.


We capped off our brunch with a scoop of their housemade raspberry sorbet. Topped with fresh raspberries as well as a raspberry tart, the sorbet was simply outstanding and was a great way to conclude our meal.


Between the exceptional service and terrific food, Ris is an ideal destination for pre-theater dining. Or any type of dining for that matter.

Ris on Urbanspoon

Rasika West End

22 May

Rachel and I have always loved Rasika, and with her brother in town from Seattle, we wanted to show him that Washington D.C., just like the Emerald City, is a dining destination.

Rasika West End, just like its Penn Quarter counterpart, has been in high demand since it first opened its doors. In fact, we had to book our reservation nearly a month in advance to lock down a table for a Saturday night.

After toying with the idea of ordering the four-course tasting menu, we ultimately decided to share a bunch of plates and go the a la carte route instead. That turned out to be a very wise decision since there was so much we wanted to try from Executive Chef Vikram Sunderam’s kitchen.

Palak chaat

Of course, one cannot visit Rasika without ordering the trademark palak chaat. There is a reason why this is one of the top dishes in the District. Featuring crispy baby spinach, yogurt, tamarind, and dates, the combination of ingredients amounts to a memorable first course.

Honey ginger scallops

Just as good were the honey ginger scallops. Typically two to a plate, our waiter was able to accommodate an additional scallop for our table for an additional fee. The scallops were large with with a nice blend of flavors from the honey and ginger with just the right amount of sear from the kitchen.

Banana avocado chaat

Not to be outdone was the banana avocado chaat. Just like the palak chaat, this was an exceptional dish. Prepared with cumin, red chili powder, tamarind, and date chutney, the combination of crispy banana and creamy avocado made this my favorite plate of the evening so far. You wouldn’t think these flavors would go well together, but they blended perfectly and we couldn’t get enough of the grilled banana.

Khatta Meetha black cod

We decided to share two entrees amongst the three of us after a trio of fantastic first courses. First was their signature Khatta Meetha black cod. Unlike the Penn Quarter location, it’s prepared two ways at West End. The first preparation uses their classic recipe of fresh dill, honey, star anise, and red wine vinegar. The second preparation, however, incorporates a cheddar and tamarind glaze. In short, both pieces of fish were absolutely stellar.

Salli Boti

Next was another West End exclusive — Salli Boti. This savory Parsi dish features tender chunks of lamb, onions, tomatoes, apricot, and straw potatoes. It was essentially an Indian stew and made for great comfort food.

Ringana Nu ShakGobhi MattarDal Dhungaree

On top of all of this, we also ordered a trio of vegetarian sides to share which ranged from eggplant to smoked lentils to cauliflower. Oh, and you can’t have an Indian meal without an order of naan. Rachel and I opted for the garlic naan while David, Rachel’s brother, went with the spicier chili olive variety.

Garlic naan

There’s a reason why both locations of Rasika are one of the toughest tables in town – they serve up the area’s best Indian food. All three of us were incredibly happy with what we ordered, and there were no regrets once we finished. On top of that, our waiter was incredibly knowledgeable with the menu and actually recommended the Salli Boti to us after debating what to order with the magnificent black cod. Between the exquisite food and wonderful service, it’s no question why Rasika is so cherished in the District.

Rasika West End on Urbanspoon

National Peach Month at Blue Duck Tavern

23 Aug

Prior to last week, Rachel and I have only been to Blue Duck Tavern once, and that was over three years ago. While it’s been a long hiatus between then and our most recent visit, the food has remained exceptional.

In what turned out to be one of those rare summer evenings where the humidity was nonexistent, we opted for dinner out in the restaurant’s patio that overlooks the corner of 24th and M Street.

Crispy fried veal sweetbreadsfried

August is also National Peach Month, and Blue Duck Tavern celebrated the harvest by offering a special appetizer – crispy fried veal sweetbreads. Featuring bourbon marinated peaches and roasted Path Valley Farm sweet peppers, the sweetbreads were delightfully crispy but not too heavy. The peaches complemented the veal and peppers and it was a nice contrast of sweet and savory. It was a very summery dish that was accentuated by the juicy peaches.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

We also shared an heirloom tomato salad which was prepared with aged goat cheese, basil, and olive oil croutons. Gorgeously presented, the colors alone were stunning let alone how refreshing the salad was. The slivers of goat cheese were strong but not overpowering at all.

12-hour roasted suckling pig

As for our main courses, I immediately went for the 12-hour roasted suckling pig. Accompanied with baby vegetables, mustard jus, and topped with what appeared to be homemade pork rinds, the pig was spectacular. A knife was not necessary as it was incredibly succulent. Now I know why it is one of Blue Duck Tavern’s most popular dishes.

Braised beef rib

Rachel ordered the braised beef rib with a housemade steak sauce. The beef itself was delicious and fork tender, a theme to our meal, but it was the sauce that took it to another level. Thank goodness Blue Duck’s dishes are presented family style since I was trying an equal amount of each entree.

BDT fries

Of course we had to get the BDT fries as one of our sides, which did not disappoint. They might be the best fries at a fine dining establishment in the entire District. The mustard aioli that accompanies them makes them a perfect side.

Dandelion greens grilled with fresh garlic and bacon

We decided to try the daily harvest vegetable, which were dandelion greens grilled with fresh garlic and bacon. It was definitely something different and we loved every bite. It was also a nice change of pace from ordinary vegetable sides such as spinach or broccoli.

Milk chocolate banana smores

We could not decide on which dessert to order since they all sounded appetizing, so in the end we tried the milk chocolate banana smores as well as the nectarine blackberry crumble. The former proved to be a little too sweet for our taste buds but the latter certainly made up for it, especially with the cornmeal crunch which added a nice texture to the dish.

Nectarine blackberry crumble

Despite not having been to Blue Duck Tavern in years, the kitchen has not lost a step. There’s a reason why it is considered one of the best restaurants in DC, and our most recent visit certainly validated that claim. On top of that, the service was top-notch. Our waitress was very helpful considering our patented indecisiveness on what to order, and she certainly steered us in the right direction in regards to the excellent braised beef rib. While summer is drawing to a close, be sure to enjoy their cucumber lemonade on the patio while you still can!

Blue Duck Tavern on Urbanspoon