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Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

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Valentine’s Day Perfection at Marcel’s

February 15, 2017

By Michael McHenry, Officier, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

Members of the Greater Washington Bailliage gathered the evening of 15 February 2017 to celebrate Valentine's Day at Chef Robert Wiedmaier's flagship Marcel's restaurant, named last year by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington as Washington's Best Formal Fine Dining Restaurant.

Looking back on our evening, three words come quickly to mind—spectacular, masterful, and perfect. Presentations were simple but highly effective, making the most of color and color contrast, height and dimension, and different textures; the menu reflected Chef Wiedmaier's culinary talent and the skills of his team; and the flavors and preparation of the dishes were perfect in the colors, tastes, textures, and seasoning of the dishes and the overall design and balance of the menu as a whole. Another perfect note were the wine pairings from the Bailliage's cellar that accompanied Chef Wiedmaier's menu, which proved to be outstanding counterparts.

On arrival, Bailliage members and their guests joined a welcoming reception that featured passed hors d'oeuvres, including sautéed Gulf Shrimp with Garlic and Thyme; Mushroom "Cigarettes," perfectly formed cylinders of mushroom duxelles wrapped in layers of crispy phyllo; and small bites of foie gras pate with a quince jam, where the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness in the quince jam tempered the richness of the foie gras. During the reception, we enjoyed a Pierre Gimonnet Blanc des Blancs Brut "Cuis 1re Cru NV—a light and crisp champagne, using Chardonnay grapes, produced on the same property as the grapes (a relatively new trend). This wine was a good complement to the flavors of the mushrooms and the foie gras.

After we were seated, Chef Wiedmaier served an amuse-bouche of butter-poached Maine lobster, served with a cauliflower mousse and topped with Osetra caviar, presented in a precisely cut eggshell. This dish was light and silky, with the butter-poached lobster perfectly cooked, tender, and flavorful; the cauliflower mousse was light in flavor and texture in order not to overwhelm the flavor of the lobster. Accompanying this course, we enjoyed a Domaine Jean-Claude Bachelet et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet "Les Encegnieres 2013, a family-made chardonnay using natural yeasts and aging in French oak barrels, resulting in a rich and complex flavor. This was one of the attendees' favorite wines served during this dinner.

The first course was a pan-seared diver scallop, served on bacon-potato hash. The perfectly seared and lightly cooked scallop was placed on a bed of bacon-potato hash, sized to match the size of the scallop, topped with a spoonful of Osetra caviar on top of the scallop and decorated with chive oil on the plate to add another flavor element and a splash of color. The wine for this course, a Joh. Jos. Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2012, was a low-alcohol and light-bodied Riesling, with gorgeous hints of fruit and herbs and an acidity that matched well with the richness of the scallop and the bacon-potato hash.

The next course was a halibut en matelote with pearl onions, shiitake mushrooms, and a red wine sauce; Chef Wiedmaier's take on a classic fish stew that is traditionally done with a variety of either freshwater or saltwater fish, and a reduced wine sauce. For Chef Wiedmaier's version, he used halibut and the traditional pearl onions but selected red wine as the base for the sauce and updated the classic recipe by adding shiitake mushrooms, which added a deep and earthy mushroom flavor. A Carrick Pinot Noir 2012 from Central Otago, New Zealand, was an ideal match for this course, with a complex and silky flavor and tones of dark red cherry and black raspberry.

The third course served was a braised veal cheek, with Virginia ham, caper, and parsley veal jus—another of the attendees' favorites. The veal cheek was beautifully braised, fork-tender (without losing its texture or falling apart) and flavorful, and the sauce had a rich flavor and "mouthfeel." A Morlet Family Vineyards Syrah Bouquet Garni 2010 matched well with this dish. The vineyard, near St. Helena, CA, mixes traditional European methods to produce rich, ripe wines that reflect Napa Valley influences; and this wine had a great depth, balance, and character.

After this, we reached the main course, a black Angus New York strip steak, served with a russet potato-parmesan gratin and microgreens, sauced with a seasoned Cabernet reduction. Rather than serving a complete New York strip at this point of the evening, Chef Wiedmaier wisely sliced and plated perfectly cooked medium-rare portions of steak with a small portion of potato gratin and microgreens for a splash of color. A Joseph Phelps "Insignia" 1999 was served with this course—a signature wine from the Joseph Phelps winery, blending several varieties of red grapes to produce a premium Bordeaux-type wine with lots of tannin and cherry flavor and a good acidity balance. The wine had been bottled in magnums, which slowed the aging process, making this 1999 wine taste fresher and younger than if it had been aged in standard bottles. This was the attendees' favorite red wine of the evening.

And finally, dessert—Marcel's talented Pastry Chef Ashleigh Pearson produced a lemon meringue parfait with candied fennel and a lemon graham cracker ice cream, which was beautifully plated, and had a variety of intriguing textures that set off the flavors of the parfait, fennel, and ice cream. Dessert was served with a Domaine St Arnoul Coteaux du Layon 2009, made from Chenin grapes that had been allowed to develop "Botrytis Cineria," the mold that produces Sauternes. For this wine, the process took a middle ground, producing a sweet—but not too sweet—and fruity wine that matched the dessert and the notes from the lemon and fennel without overpowering the dessert flavors.

Chef Robert Wiedmaier and his team, including Chef de Cuisine Paul Stearman, Pastry Chef Ashleigh Pearson, Maitre d'Adnane Kebaier, Sommelier Moez Ben Achour, and their colleagues in both the front and back of the house did an exceptional job of creating, producing, and serving a spectacular and memorable meal. Service was excellent—not surprising, as our dinner was the same day as the James Beard Foundation announced the nomination of Marcel's as a semi-finalist for this year's Beard Award for Best Service (finalists will be announced in March, and the winner will be announced at the James Beard Awards in April).

Looking ahead, mark your calendars now for upcoming events—our next dinner is at Todd Gray's Equinox, on the Spring Equinox on March 20th, with a menu that will be the epitome of Spring!

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