Fine dining is more polyglot than ever. It’s also less fine. Sauces take maybe ten minutes, not ten hours.
Among the last bastions of the old ways is this elegant lair in DC’s West End, where the cooking is classically French, portions are fit for men fresh from the hunt, and everybody dresses up for dinner. You can still get a Dover sole fileted at table, and the veteran, tuxedoed waitstaff makes you feel like a power player.
Marcel’s will never be taken for one of the purist places that entice thrill-seeking foodies. Chef Robert Wiedmaier is not one to feature a regional delicacy in the interest of supporting a local industry; he is not above using imported crab, for example. His cuisine is rooted in the past and is as labor-intensive as cooking gets, made up of heavily reduced stocks for which no shortcuts can be brooked. His osso buco cooks overnight over low heat, the fibers of the meat dissolving slowly. The making of his sublime boudin blanc consumes half a day and hours of vigorous whipping by hand; a food processor would destroy the texture.
It’s a style of cooking that is fast becoming passé. But so, too, are jackets at dinner. Marcel’s is an elegant, delicious reminder of the way it used to be.