1. Prepare to Be Transported
Chef Ford Fry commissioned designer Elizabeth Ingram to transform the space into a Gilded Age-style French brasserie (the restaurant gets its name from famous French boxer Marcel Cerdan). The results are undeniably spectacular: dim and opulent mood lighting, oxblood leather banquettes, thematic bric-a-brac, and an endless stream of thoughtful details will put you in a St. Germain-des-Pres state of mind. Put on your best garbs for maximum effect.
Should you want to forgo pursuing Marcel’s extensive wine list (it thoroughly covers both Old and New World selections) and bring your own favorite bottle, you can bring up to two for a very fair $12 corkage fee.
3. Brush Up on Your French (and Italian)
Having some competence in Romance languages wouldn’t hurt here, as all of the menu section titles and many of the dishes are classified in French, including a few Italian appearances. The knowledgeable coat and tie-clad servers will go through the menu with you, but here’s a small cheat sheet for a few:
4. Try the Escargots
Snails aren’t exactly a mainstay on American menus — and might make some diners squirm — but Marcel’s in-shell version makes for a suitable introduction. Put the irresistible melted parsley butter into good use as a dip for the tender escargots and hot, fresh pain d’epi (wheat stalk bread).
5. Do Not Miss the Late Night Menu
From 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., weekend night owls can still get in on Marcel’s sumptuous fare at a wildly-low price. Several lunchtime favorites re-appear on the menu such as the Marcel’s “Stack”- friend bologna with white American cheese —and the cheeseburger with thick-cut bacon. Each late-night entrée will only cost you $10 — for comparison’s sake, there are six dinner side dishes that are more expensive.
6. Must-Order: Oysters Bienville…
Arguably the most decadent treat on Marcel’s hors d’oeuvres line up, this Creole classic involves a quartet of large oysters stuffed with mushrooms, peppers, sherry, cheese, and bread crumbs. This is Mardi Gras for your tastebuds — ordering this is a must.
7.…Or Any of the Steaks
It’s no surprise that beef is the star of this brasserie, where well-publicized prices for cuts such as the porterhouse à deux ($124.95) turned many heads before its official debut. Ford sources his cuts from premium Chicago butchery, Meats by Linz, and each steak gets a wood-fire grill treatment and finished off in an butter and thyme-coated iron-cast pan. If you’re not rolling in the dough, the $30 l’entrecote avec frites option will give you great tasting steak at a great value for lunch and dinner.
8. Another Certifiable Hit
Marcel is Ford Fry’s first foray into steakhouse territory, and has done so with finesse and oodles of transporting charm. Just when you think his efforts could never surpass The Optimist’s everlasting buzz, this spot will usher you into a joie de vivre spirit unlike any other in the city. As a nod to Mr. Cerdan, the dishes pack a good punch but it’s the low-key, lavish ambience that makes Marcel a total knockout.