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Marcel's

2401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington , 20037, United States

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Marcel's is a quite traditional French restaurant in central Washington D.C., open since 1999. Its two large ground-floor dining rooms can seat 125 diners at any one time, and has a formal feel, with white linen tablecloths, thick carpet and dinner-jacketed waiters. There are chandeliers but the lighting is remarkably murky in the evening, the menu barely legible unless you have a torch or eyes like a hawk. My camera was sending a message that roughly translated as "have you considered using infra red, sonny?".

The menu format offers from four to seven courses, the price increasing as you order more elements; four courses were $85, seven courses $145. Chef Robert Wiedmaier is Belgian, and now runs no less than five Washington restaurants, so not surprisingly he was not in the kitchen on the evening of my visit. Bread was supposedly made from scratch but the rosemary bread that I tried had poor texture, tasting of rosemary but being very dry.

A nibble of smoked salmon and creme fraiche and a garnish of whitefish caviar was pleasant enough, but the smoked salmon had little flavour; this was the sort of thing you might serve at a dinner party (12/20). The first proper course was better, layers of tuna tartare with sesame tuile crisps, garnished with watercress salad and wasabi creme fresh (not real grated wasabi root, but the stuff from a tube). The tuna was well seasoned, though of unremarkable quality, but the salad leaves were fine and the tuiles were delicate (14/20).

A single scallop was carefully cooked, a diver-caught scallop that had pleasant sweetness and was properly prepared. This was served with butternut squash hash and crispy shiitake mushrooms, which provided an effective textural contrast (15/20). Venison was also fine, cooked medium rare and having pleasant flavour, served with trumpet mushrooms and a sauce of beetroot and blackcurrants that was rich but had enough acidity from the fruit to be balanced; it was also nice to see an actual pool of sauce rather than the smear that chefs find fashionable these days (15/20).

Cake of passion fruit and chocolate was pleasant but no more than that, rather dry and a little light on passion fruit flavour, with a chocolate coconut crumble and a custard seemingly flavoured with coconut rum, though that was subtle (13/20). Coffee was rather bitter. The bill came to $130 (£81) before tip, with just two glasses of wine and for the cheapest possible food option. Service was courteous but seemed rather stretched, despite the number of waiters, and dishes arrived at the gallop, presumably to allow for the turning of the table. The cooking was generally competent, but it was far from dazzling, and it felt odd to be rushed through the meal at what is clearly aiming to be a high-end restaurant.

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