2011 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, October 16, 2011
What recession? Fine dining is alive and well at chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier's sumptuous stage set of a French restaurant, where the bread service features three kinds of butter and the menu spans seven courses, if time, money and appetite allow. Few Washington establishments know how to pamper as personably as this one; it doesn't hurt that the dashing servers look as if they were recruited from a Parisian runway to catwalk through the West End dining room. Chef de cuisine Paul Stearman, 35, lavishes equal attention on the plates. Shrimp from the Carolinas, so sweet you'd swear you're eating them at the source, are arranged in a tidy row with garlicky cauliflower bits and fava beans, everything brushed with a lemony beurre blanc. Veal tortellini set up with foie gras and woodsy morels comes close to my idea of heaven, while duck breast sliced over warm baby spinach and moistened with a sauce of tarragon and black raspberry is textbook perfect. Some dishes stop short of divine, however: Maine lobster salad, bound in a ring of crisp pastry, shares its plate with curls of mango, pleasantly earthy beet ice cream and a lime sabayon that (oops!) borders on dessert. Table 25, situated in a discreet nook between the main and the private dining rooms, is one of the happiest places to land. The choice seat comes with a view of the busy kitchen, thanks to a strategically placed mirror on the opposite wall. Souffles can be ordered for dessert, but my inclination is to go with whatever fruit is in season; bing cherry shortcake was one of summer's peak experiences.
Honeyed lighting and a tuxedoed staff set the scene for a night of indulgence. Marcel's is the most expensive of the pre-theater menus I sampled -- indeed, it is one of the costliest restaurants in the city -- but once you experience the details of the deal, the price of admission makes sense.
The breads are baked in-house, and they're lovely. The amuse-bouche might be a demitasse of chive-flecked mushroom consomme that tastes like the distillation of a forest. Elegant meringue cookies follow the dessert course, and a sedan purrs out front, waiting to whisk you to the Kennedy Center at your meal's conclusion.
Then there's the French-accented cooking, precise and fetchingly displayed, of chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier, who presides over Marcel's from a raised kitchen with a view of the richly appointed dining room. Fresh pea soup is poured at the table into a bowl holding a few fine veal meatballs. The liquid tastes of spring. A roseate slab of duck liver pate arrives on a large white plate with flossy greens, diced fruit or a pinch of celery root slaw dressing each corner. I'm fond of an entree of salmon -- its skin as crisp and light as a potato chip, its flesh soft and succulent -- bedded on a buttery potato puree and moistened with a tomato-flecked beurre blanc. But slices of pork, while perfectly proper, are also perfectly unexciting.
The best part of a chocolate chiffon cake is its velvety scoop of rum-raisin ice cream that doesn't stint on the spirit. Marcel's reminds you how wonderful creme brulee can be when it's done right. Here, the silken custard is cool, its thin sugar crust crackles at the touch of a tine, and the dessert is staged in a shallow square with macerated berries in a raised ramekin and with a fragile orange-scented cookie. Throw in service that sees to your every wish, and you've got a pretty grand performance.
--Tom Sietsema (May 13, 2007)
The Deal: Three-course dinner for $52 includes car service to and from the Kennedy Center
The Time Frame: Daily 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Nearby Stages: Kennedy Center
Reality Check: $75 a person with a glass of wine, tax and tip