I haven't seen a report on Marcel's in over a year so I thought I'd describe our experience there last night. I am sorry to say it was our first visit [looong overdue]. It won't be our last.
First let me say that far too many restaurants don't pay sufficient attention to front-of-the-house staff. Chef owners often forget that our first impressions are as we arrive, not as we are served our first course. This is not an issue at Marcel's. From the valet, to the doormen, to the host, the servers, busboys, I have never met a group more friendly, helpful staff eager to make your visit enjoyable. This attitude comes from the top and makes an enormously favorable impression before the first taste.
Marcel's offers valet parking [welcome in a neighborhood with few parking places]. It is also about two blocks from the Foggy Bottom metro. If you are going to the Kennedy Center after dining, they offer a free ride in a Mercedes to and from the Kennedy Center. A nice touch and in keeping with their customer-centric service.
There are two connected dining rooms, each serving about 40 people. We ate in the back room and one of my very few complaints about the evening was that the room was noisy and difficult to hear my GF at times. On the other hand, there were two large parties in the room [10-12 people each] and that contributed to the noise as people spoke loudly to be heard by everyone in their party [and us!]. Marcel's also has a piano bar in the front of restaurant with live music, about four tables, and bar stools. A pleasant place for a pre- or post-dinner drink.
The wine list has a good selection with very afforable prices. They have some top-end wines but most are less than $100. They also offer a nice selction of wines by the glass and half-bottle. This is important to me as my GF likes dry, oaky, reds and I like non-oaky whites. We rarely share a bottle. We both ordered by the glass; I got a very nice white Bordeaux and she couldn't decide between two reds so they quickly offered to let her try both. She ended up ordering one of each with our two courses. These were not glasses of "house" wines. The sommelier brought all three wines to us in unopened bottles and served us.
We were both tempted to try the tasting menu to get to know the chef [Robert Wiedmaier; Marcel is his son, in case you were wondering]. However, we wanted to try several signature dishes about which we had read that were on the a la carte menu. I might add that the online menu is the same as what we were offered in the restuarant; however,they did have two nightly special appetizers and entrees.
The meal began with a complementary amuse bouche. The server called it a fennel flan but it wasn't set like a flan. It was closer to a thick veloute. Sprinkled with chives, it was a delicious hint of things to come. My appetizer was lobster bisque en croute. It was a ramekin of bisque baked in a puff pastry shell, expertly opened tableside. It was accompanied by a small lobster salad of bruinoise of vegetables and a whole (unshelled) lobster claw. The bisque was a bit thin but had a number of pieces of lobster meat. I noticed quite a few people ordering this appetizer but it looked better than it tasted, although it was very good. My GF ordered the boudin blanc. It was served with a celery root puree and a truffle red wine sauce. She raved about it. Light as a feather, expertly prepared, she was very happy with her choice and highly recommends it.
For an entree, I ordered roast chicken. Not many high-end restaurants offer roast chicken so it had better be good if they do. This was outstanding. It was a breast of chicken with a paper thin crispy skin with moist, perfectly cooked meat. This was among the best roast chicken I have ever eaten [it may be THE best but I am reluctant to admit that I can't do better]. It was served with a potato-gruyere cake, carmelized shallots, and perfectly cooked asparagus, green beans, baby carrots and parsnips (two of each). This is a must-try dish. My GF chose the venison special. She received 4-5 large medallions of perfectly cooked vension [please order it rare]. It was served with a red wine pan sauce and a slice of gallantine of venison, sweetbreads, and snails. She did not care for the gallantine [she's not a fan of sweetbreads] but she raved [again!] about the venison. Fond of eating forest creatures, she said it was the best venison she has ever had.
For dessert, we both chose chocolate and shared a chocolate mousse and a chocolate souffle. The mousse was a mini chocolate bombe with rasberry suace and mandarin orange ice cream. I like chocolate with rasberries and chocolate with orange, but all three together didn't blend well for me. The pastry chef should have chosen just one of the two accompaniments [I suggest the wonderful mandarin orange ice cream; everyone serves rasberry sauce with chocolate]. I enjoyed it but I expected, and wanted, something a bit lighter. The choclate souffle was indeed light and was perfectly prepared. Served with a rasberry sauce [again !] and cardamom ice cream, it was the dessert of choice.
Try Marcel's ! I intend to go back and try some more dishes.
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