Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let's Get it On

M&A, newlyweds, were in town last week for a conference and wanted to meet for dinner. This presented a unique challenge: the last time I had seen them was at their wedding (a six course affair, not including the buffet service for appetizers and desserts), they are both excellent cooks, and you’d be hard pressed to dine with a better-traveled pair. M. used to live in DC and comes at least once a year, while it was A’s first time in the District. I had to find a place that was relatively new but still tried and true, representative of DC without falling into places mobbed by tourists, and a menu that was relatable but still managed to introduce them to something new.
Marvin, with its nods to Belgian and Southern cooking, met all my criteria, with a plus for being outside of M’s well-known DC neighborhoods and a minus for being a touch too loud for catching up with people you haven’t seen in months.

We arrived a few minutes apart and as I made my way from the back I caught M’s eye – our amused glances had the flash of recognition in them – Marvin’s bar, dark wood, brass, long mirror, and the hyper-articulate laying the groundwork for several levels of stupor, could have easily been our grad school watering hole. A, who hails from Rome, commented on the place’s European feel – that is, until we were sat smack in front of a huge oil on canvas depicting Marvin Gaye. In a place that celebrates otherness with such gusto, three expats had to feel at home.

Our server, a gentleman on the far side of thirty, realized that we were there to talk – gossip about our recently held (and missed) reunion, the behind the scenes scoop on their wedding, the challenges and opportunities of being away from home and country – and he let us order and look at the menu at our own pace. This was no small feat, as the place was packed. During our very long meal, he never pressured us to vacate the table, and only brought the check when we asked. We started our meal with the house sparkling wine – a great deal at $8 a glass. It is a brut, dry but not as mineral as prosecco, and it hit the spot perfectly.

For an appetizer, we shared moules frites – the mussels (my first batch since re-reading Kitchen Confidential a few months back) were plump and fragrant , with a fennel and chorizo sauce. The chorizo added smoke to the plate and I am not ashamed to admit I scooped up as many slices as I could – a few minutes floating in the broth did them wonders. As for the frites, they came piping hot and with three dipping sauces, but were missing a bit of salt.

As a second course, I had the coq au vin. While the taste and texture was definitively that of a young chicken (the traditional preparation calls for rooster), Marvin’s version does incorporate many of the traditional elements – mushrooms, a wine-based sauce, applewood bacon (in lieu of lardons, salted pork) and pearl onions. The sauce did not appear to be thickened and the overall effect was a deep sweetness folded into an earthy saltiness. A. went for what, in my mind, is Marvin’s signature dish – fried chicken on a waffle. A. has been living in southern Florida for a few months now, and had yet to taste fried chicken. He marveled at the technique, and the perfectly golden, crisp and not oily chicken is a sight to behold, gold upon gold with a side of collard greens and gravy, a reminder of the bridging qualities of food across cultures. I suspect this is the first of many pieces of fried chicken for A., and it was a superb introduction. M. had a seasonal dish, the pumpkin ravioli. The colors were wonderful, and it is always good to see a vegetarian option that looks so hearty.

After such a meal, we did not need dessert. But when the kitchen pleases you twice, you are always tempted to keep the streak going. For the sake of novelty, we ordered a hazelnut crepe cake (and three spoons). I expected to see little sachets filled with hazelnut cr̬me but was pleasantly surprised to find a stack of crepes, cut into a thick slice Рan overeager mille feuille, with an acidity to the crepes that was tempered by a scoop of creamy ice cream. I could not place it in either Belgium or the Southern US , but Marvin looked down from his canvas, approvingly.

Marvin on Urbanspoon
2007 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20009

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