Marcel’s

Thanks to a generous OpenTable gift card we received from our family for Christmas, we were able to have dinner at Marcel’s, the French-Belgian fine-dining destination in the West End. From 5:00pm-6:30pm each night, Marcel’s offers a $70 per person pre-theater menu. You can choose from one of three options for a first course, main and dessert. When it’s all said and done, you get whisked away in a town car to the Kennedy Center. When we were first seated, our server asked us what time our show was so that the kitchen could get could get the timing down.

Marcel’s, the French-Belgian fine-dining destination in the West End

For our first course, the local mixed green salad with shaved cucumber, beet, carrot and sherry vinaigrette topped with shaved cheese was a master-course in proper seasoning and texture. Meanwhile, the duck confit tortellini with black trumpet mushrooms and scallions in a parmesan cream sauce was the definition of decadence. We both forgot what was stuffed inside the pasta because all of the flavors went so well together.

Marcel's duck confit tortellini

Marcel's local mixed green salad

Mains included pan-seared Norwegian salmon with lobster risotto and English peas and the New York strip steak with potato gratin and white asparagus matchsticks in a cabernet reduction. The salmon had an impossibly crisp skin, but it was the lobster risotto, with its huge chunks of sweet lobster, that stole the show. The New York strip compared favorably to the “DC Steakhouse” course at Pineapples & Pearls, thoroughly seasoned and with a nearly complete absence of grit and gristle. Chef Paul Stearman cooked the steak to medium rare, which is his preference, but the server gave me the option of choosing something else if that is what I wanted.

Marcel's pan-seared Norwegian salmon with lobster risotto

Marcel's New York strip steak with potato gratin

Dessert is where we encountered a minor hiccup in the meal’s pacing. Everything had been planned out just so, but the restaurant did not account for the fact that the hot chocolate soufflé would take longer than our other dessert. As a result, we arrived at the Kennedy Center minutes before our show started. It didn’t affect our experience at either Marcel’s of the Kennedy Center, though.

The hot chocolate soufflé with raspberry white chocolate ice cream was a showstopper. Our server punctured the inflated soufflé, added the ice cream in the middle and then doused everything with hot chocolate. We also got the chocolate mousse with crispy praline, chocolate caramel sauce and a cocoa nib tuille. The best part was the praline on the bottom, although the whole dessert was good. The soufflé was just amazing, though.

Marcel's chocolate mousse with crispy praline

Marcel's hot chocolate soufflé with raspberry white chocolate ice cream

Marcel’s is one of the best examples of old-school fine dining in DC, and the complementary town car ride to the Kennedy Center put it over the top. However, the food is anything but old-school.

Marcels, Marnay and Paul

Best Bite
Paul: Hot Chocolate Soufflé
Marnay: Duck Confit Tortellini

Address
Marcel’s: 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20037
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom

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Ultimate Staunton Weekend

Friday

Staunton weekend was birthday weekend for me. We picked out Staunton because of the fact that we could take Amtrak there and because there was a restaurant that we wanted to try. Of course, we have taken Amtrak many times. However, we had never taken this line or been on these tracks before. I was SO excited!

On Friday morning, we got Shake Shack breakfast at Union Station. We enjoyed our greasy (in a good way) sausage and egg sandwiches and before we knew it, we were boarding Amtrak Cardinal train 52 en route to Chicago. The trip took a little over four hours and it brought us through the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia. We got some picturesque views of the Shenandoah Valley after we left Charlottesville.

Once we arrived in Staunton, we walked from the station to our Airbnb. I would describe it as a fancy treehouse located on the fourth floor of a 19th century mansion, with a scenic rooftop deck.

Staunton Virginia Airbnb

We started our tour of Staunton by scaling the steep streets to the highest point, Mary Baldwin College. The main building of the college is a great example of Greek-revival architecture, slightly resembling the White House.

Mary Baldwin College

Hungry from our journey, we had an early dinner at Taste of India where we enjoyed two different types of naan, Lamb Rogan Josh and Aloo Tikka.

Taste of India

We happened to go to Staunton during their annual holiday event, known as Sparkles & Sweets. All of the stores on Beverley Street are open later than usual and they give out cookies and refreshments. Many have live music and events. Our Airbnb host owns an antique store, which was having an art show that night in their “Artisans Loft.”

Later on in the night, we checked out Yelping Dog Wine, a retail store which also served wine by the glass. Each of us had two glasses of Virginia wine. After that, we were tired and ready to call it a night.

Yelping Dog Wine

Saturday

We woke up early to go to the Staunton Farmers Market. There were a lot of vendors selling root vegetables, as you would expect this time of year. More surprising was a food truck serving Salvadoran food, which I would not expect in this corner of Appalachia.

Next, we took a self-guided tour of the 19th century homes in the Gospel Hill neighborhood. There is some truly stunning architecture in this area.

Staunton Virginia architecture

Staunton Virginia architecture

After traipsing around Gospel Hill, we walked north and checked out Gypsy Hill Park and sat around the duck pond. We watched the birds and the children trying to play with them.

Paul standing at Gypsy Hill Park

On the walk back, we shared a maple bacon doughnut from Rolling Pin Pastries. Rolling Pin is only open 3 hours a day, 3 days a week and the doughnut was one of my best bites of the weekend.

Rolling Pin Pastries: maple bacon doughnut

Still hungry, we shared a bratwurst sandwich with local sausage from By & By. At this point, we had done a lot of walking and a lot of snacking, so we headed back to the treehouse to nap. The big activity of the day, anyway, was dinner at The Shack.

The Shack lives up to its name; it really is a shack, and in a less than desirable location at that. These factors allow the chef, Ian Boden, to focus on food rather than trying to make rent. By the way, our Airbnb hosts were actually the chef’s parents! They were very nice and welcoming to us.

We went with the four course pre-fixe meal at The Shack. Both the food and the hospitality met our high expectations. Some highlights included crispy sunchokes and sweet potatoes with black garlic and chile dressing, squid ink rigatoni with pesto, crispy garlic chips and bottarga and an apple fry pie.

The Shack: Squid Ink Rigatoni

The Shack: Farro Pappardelle

The Shack: Lambchette

The Shack: Wild Black Bass

Sunday

On Sunday morning, we made coffee and enjoyed the mountain views from our Airbnb’s rooftop deck one last time. Next, we walked down the hill on Beverley Street for bagel sandwiches at the By & By.

By & By bagels

Fortified by breakfast, we walked up a very steep hill in the Sears Hill neighborhood. Our reward was the overlook at Wilson Park, where we got a view of the entire town. We stopped in Gospel Hill to see the homes and then got a quick lunch to go at Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery, a natural foods store.

Wilson Park

At 2:03pm, exactly on time, Amtrak Train 50 stopped at Staunton and we started our journey home. I am emphasizing the fact that it was on time because the train left Chicago at 5:45pm Saturday!

Staunton makes a great weekend trip from the DC area and is accessible by public transportation. It has a perfect combination of history, nature and food. We highly recommend it!

Ultimate Staunton Weekend: Marnay and Paul

Where we went
Taste of India: 105 West Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Yelping Dog Wine: 9 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Gypsy Hill Park: 600 Churchville Avenue Staunton, VA 24401
Rolling Pin Pastries: 302 N Central Ave Staunton, VA 24401
By & By: 140 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
The Shack: 105 S Coalter Street Staunton, VA 24401
Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery: 7 S New Street Staunton, VA 24401

Rose’s Luxury

At 8:30 on a Wednesday night, Marnay and I and six of our friends had the incredible fortune to dine (with reservations!) at one of the best restaurants in DC for a five course pre-fixe meal.

Rose’s Luxury: party of six

All eight of us started the night off with a cocktail, the best way to start a meal at Rose’s.  Since the food options were decided ahead of time, we sat back and let the talented staff put on a show.  The first hit of the night was Rose’s whimsical bread course, a take on a baked potato with potato brioche and a side of whipped sour cream butter topped with chives and crumbled potato skins.  After devouring the bread, the staff brought over a single-bite amuse bouche: a potato chip with crème fraiche and salty orbs of trout roe, or, for the vegetarians, capers.

Rose’s Luxury: potato chip with crème fraiche

Our first full course was foie gras and chicken liver pate with plum mostarda and slices of toasted brioche on a bed of plums.  While the rich pate was great on the toast, one of our dining companions noted that it was even better on the soft potato brioche.

Next up was grilled romaine heart with hard-boiled duck egg, crispy potato, herbs and creamy buttermilk dressing.  The strong flavor of the grill on the romaine made this dish a winner.  It tasted like we were all hanging out at someone’s backyard barbecue.

Rose’s Luxury: grilled romaine heart with hard-boiled duck egg

The servers and staff at Rose’s Luxury want to make sure that you are having fun.  They are extremely skilled and knowledgeable, but they are equally laid back and funny.  While the restaurant has received numerous accolades (2016 James Beard Award Best-Chef Mid-Atlantic Aaron Silverman, Bon Appetit Best New Restaurant), and its heart Rose’s is just a neighborhood restaurant.  It just happens to have incredible food and be nationally recognized.

Anyway, our next dish was their signature dish and the one that I was looking forward to the most:  Pork sausage, lychee and habanero salad.  The salad comes in a bowl topped with a poof of coconut milk cream, which acts as the dressing.  As our server explained, the fifteen-ingredient salad tastes best when all of the ingredients are mixed together so that the disparate salty-sweet-spicy components become one.  While I loved this dish, if you are not a fan of very spicy foods, like one of our companions, this is not the dish for you at Rose’s.

Rose’s Luxury: Pork sausage, lychee and habanero salad

My favorite dish of the night was the confit goat with BBQ Sea Island red peas, creamy Carolina Gold rice and garlic bread crumbs.  This dish received universal praise from everyone at the table.  It was layered together with the confit goat on top, the BBQ peas and breadcrumbs in the middle and the rice on the bottom soaking up all of the umami-flavor.

Rose’s Luxury: confit goat with BBQ Sea Island red peas

Now I know that this seems like a lot of food, but we still have four more courses!  The pasta course of bucatini with sungold tomato sauce, basil and parmesan was one of my surprise favorites.  Best parts: the texture and chew from the housemade bucatini and the sweetness of the fresh tomatoes.  Our main course was smoked brisket, better than at any barbecue restaurant I have ever been to, with Sunbeam white bread, horseradish cream and slaw.  We had this the only other time we were at Rose’s and I thought it was better this time, more tender.

Rose’s Luxury: smoked brisket

Dessert was two courses—first up, a deceptively simple bowl of vanilla ice cream with sea salt and olive oil.  This was another dish that received universal praise at the table.  Finally, our last course of the night was coconut ice cream with kiwi, lime zest and edible flowers on top of a caramel sauce with what I think were pieces of sugar cone.  This was a good dish, no doubt, but I think we all would have been fine without it.

Rose’s Luxury: coconut ice cream with kiwi

Out of all the meals we have reviewed on this blog, I would put Rose’s in a tie with Vernick Food & Drink in Philadelphia for the best meal ever.  A truly special experience.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Goat confit

Address
Rose’s Luxury: 717 8th Street, SE Washington, DC 20003
Closest Metro: Eastern Market

Masseria

Masseria is a unique restaurant that actually looks like three restaurants in one.  Set on a barren, industrial stretch of 4th St NE, although one block from Union Market, there was plenty of space to build the restaurant however they wanted.  The front is an open courtyard lounge area with couches and some small tables.  The first indoor dining room is all windows, even the part that is attached to the second indoor dining room.  Finally, the back dining room, with the open kitchen, has no windows and mostly cinder block walls.  It truly feels like a wine cellar.

We were lucky enough to eat in the “wine cellar” dining room.  At Masseria, you choose a four or five course pre fixe menu.  You do not have to choose one from each category, but your last course must be cheese or dessert.  Cocktails are the best way to start a meal.  We got The Toronto, with Dickel Rye, Fernet, a touch of sugar and a lemon twist.  We also got the Count Camillo, with St. George Gin, Contratto Bianco Vermouth and Beet Infused Campari.  I really enjoyed the sweet earthiness from the beets while Marnay liked how the sugar cut the bitterness from the Fernet in the Toronto.

We were served gratis arancini, potato doughnuts with mushroom powder, focaccia and a squid ink sesame breadstick that had some serious heat.  Our first courses could not have been more different.  Marnay got the cobia crudo with fennel, blood orange, basil, basil seeds and green chiles.  The chiles were hot but the cold, raw slices of fish mercifully took out much of the punch. I got tender sweetbreads in a sweet and salty salsa benadetto with almonds. This was one of my favorite bites of the meal.

Our second course was pasta, which Masseria excels in.  I got the linguine with XO sauce, olive oil, garlic and a handful of spicy breadcrumbs.  XO sauce, which is a Chinese dried fish-based sauce, is one of the most delicious sauces on earth, so it makes perfect sense that an Italian chef would want to play around with it.  The breadcrumbs soaked up the sauce and the housemade linguine had a good chew to it.  It’s hard for me to decide between the linguine and the sweetbreads as my best bite. Marnay got the egg raviolo with Louisiana Crawfish, Olio Santo and Falanghina Zabliglione, possible the best looking dish of the night.  It tastes best with all of the ingredients eaten together, in one bite.  Leave any element out, however, and the dish just was not the same.

Another great presentation:  Two “scarpettas” of semolina bread served in a cigar box, intended for the remaining pasta sauce.

The third courses are divided into fish, meat and vegetables.  I went the vegetable route with the wild mushrooms, turnips, Tuscan kale and honey, and I am glad that I did.  The meaty, umami-packed mushrooms certainly did not make us miss meat.  Marnay’s striped bass with bacala, potatoes, black garlic and a brown butter sauce was a heavy misfire.

Dessert included more free bites, such as passionfruit sorbet with coconut crema and pineapple salsa.  This was truly one of our favorite parts of the meal.  I ordered a plate of poached rhubarb with lychee ricotta spuma, preserved lemon meringue and rhubarb sorbet.  Marnay got the crostata al marmellata, which was a spiced pasta frolla, preserves, berries, malted milk gelato and almonds.  We each really enjoyed our desserts.  My favorite part was the cool, soft sorbet with the crispy meringue and the spuma eaten all together.  Marnay liked how her dessert looked simple but clearly involved a tremendous amount of skill.  Our check came along with cannoli and a housemade lemon gelee.

The only quibble I have with Masseria is that the servers tend to be absent most of the meal.  This is a good thing in the sense that you are saved from unwanted intrusions, but it does lead to glasses being left empty for long periods of time.

Masseria is an experience with the food to match.  It is not an “everyday” restaurant but for special occasions, it is a great choice.

Best Bite
Paul: Sweetbreads
Marnay: Linguine with XO sauce

Best Sip
The Toronto

Address
Masseria: 1340 4th Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002
Closest Metro: Noma