by Vice Chargé de Press Bill Babash with Dame de la Chaîne Kelli Goel
On the evening of February 24, 2022, Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier welcomed the Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC, for a sumptuous five-course dinner. Marcel’s is a long-time favorite of the bailliage – indeed, it is one of the finest restaurants in Washington – and the group was thrilled to be back for the first time in five years.
Leaving a chilly winter rain outside, members and guests gathered in Marcel’s sophisticated bar where they were greeted with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois Champagne. Composed of equal proportions of the classic trio of Champagne grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier – this wine is vinified and aged for six years in oak casks, producing a distinctive and aromatic cuvée. Long-time friends caught up with each other and new acquaintances were made as attendees enjoyed delectable passed hors d’oeuvres – smoked salmon Napoleon with trout roe, gruyere gougères with truffle bechamel, and mushroom and escargot cigars with parsley aioli.
The group then moved to the dining room for dinner prepared by Marcel’s Chef de Cuisine Jenn Castaneda-Jones. Chef Castaneda-Jones grew up loving to cook. When she was just 14 years old, her mother was deployed to Iraq, and she began cooking dinner nightly for her father and sisters. This gave her a deep appreciation for food, and her meals were an anchor for her family in during her mother’s absence. She planned to become a nurse and got a job as a prep cook and pastry assistant to earn money for college. She quickly discovered, however, that her passion for cooking was stronger than her passion for nursing. She enrolled in the Louisiana Culinary Institute, where she graduated at the top of her class in an accelerated two-year program. Jenn soon met chefs Robert Wiedmaier and Brian McBride who became her mentors, and she one of their youngest talents. She worked at one of their Maryland restaurants for a year before moving to Marcel’s, where she became a junior sous chef after only six months and ultimately earned her current position as Chef de Cuisine.
Dinner began with an amuse bouche of a demitasse of lobster bisque, a luxurious preamble to the first course – a pan-seared scallop with roasted butternut squash, pecan and oat crumble, crisp mangalitsa, and cognac essence. The gentle sweetness in the accompaniments beautifully elevated the briny sweetness of the scallop. Jacob-Frèrebeau Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc 2011 with its ample fruit and minerality was a great match. The Pernand-Vergelesses appellation in Burgundy is noted for its chardonnays that age particularly well.
Next was Norwegian halibut. Braised leeks, parsnip purée, and caviar beurre blanc wonderfully complemented the mild flavor of the delicately cooked fish. Domaine François Mikulski Meursault Les Tillets 2018 was an elegant pairing. From the Côte de Beaune region of Burgundy, this chardonnay is from the winery’s half-acre Les Tillets plot, which produces just 1,200 bottles per year. Slow fermentation in cool cellars and twelve months of aging in 20% new oak yield a wine notable for hints of fruit and a long finish.
Diners were then treated to Marcel’s specialty, boudin blanc. Chef Wiedmaier’s boudin blanc is a delicate blend of foie gras, pheasant, and chicken breast ground (twice) and blended with cream, reduced duck and chicken stocks, and a bit of white truffle oil. The secret to the sausage’s ethereal texture is that mixture is whipped entirely hand until it is light and silky smooth before it is formed into the links and poached. Chef Wiedmaier’s boudin blanc has been on the menu at Marcel’s since the restaurant opened 23 years ago. In comments after the dinner, the chef noted the incredible amount of work involved in producing the delicacy and joked “I really can’t stand it. I would be in big trouble if I took it off the menu though.” Indeed, while the bailliage thrives on seeking out novel dishes, a dinner at Marcel’s wouldn’t be complete without the boudin blanc. This evening, the chef served it with hedgehog mushrooms, truffle soubise, caramelized cipollinis, and Madeira, creating a superb composition. Domaine Phillippe Charlopin Gevrey-Chambertin Cuvée Vielles Vignes 2010 was a worthy match for this classic dish. Pinot noirs from the village of Gevrey-Chambertin in the Côte de Nuits are considered Burgundy’s most full bodied and structured, with impressive longevity. The vielles vignes – old vines – for this cuvée are 60- to 100-years old.
The savory courses culminated with a Cervena venison chop. This pasture-raised New Zealand venison is renowned for its buttery tenderness and rich yet delicate flavor, which was enhanced by the accompanying braised beets, trumpet mushrooms, chocolate black garlic purée and venison jus. Wine for this course was Lacoste Borie 2010 from Médoc in Bordeaux. This blend of 62% cabernet sauvignon, 32% merlot, and 6% cabernet franc is vinified with a long period of maceration and is aged in 30% new French oak barrels for 14 to 16 months creating a robust wine with a smooth balance of earthy and dark fruit notes – a truly spectacular partner to the venison.
Dessert was a blueberry white chocolate mousse presented with lemon curd, blueberry confit, and lemon sable. The tartness and acidity of the blueberry and lemon elements of the composition were great counterpoints to the decadence of the mousse, adding layers of flavor to this delicious finale. Ferreira Porto Duque de Bragança 20-Year-Old Tawny NV, with its nice balance of sweetness and fruit was an inspired pairing.
Following dessert, Chef Wiedmaier answered attendees’ questions and introduced several staff members of his staff who had been with him for more than 20 years. Bailli Judy Mazza presented Chef Wiedmaier and Chef Castaneda-Jones with Chaîne wine coasters as a token of the bailliage’s gratitude for the memorable evening. Conversations continued as attendees nibbled on mignardise and shared their impressions of the evening’s outstanding food and wine