Thu 22 Jan 2009
At 10pm on a recent Saturday night, the dining room of Marvin is a bumping, raucous playroom. Barely more than a week later, the crowd at Sunday brunch is the same crush. In the immortal words of Fats Waller, this joint is jumping.
Marvin is named after DC’s native son Marvin Gaye, who keeps an eye on diners like a benevelont, goovy Buddha from a giant painting on the north wall. Marvin’s atmosphere is speakeasy chic, with simple wooden chairs, exposed light bulbs and faux gas lamps by the bar. The proprieters clearly put thought and effort into generating a specific vibe for the restaurant and the energy continues into the waitstaff who are friendly, familiar and enthusiastic (although our brunch server crossed the line into frantic from time to time).
The kitchen serves up a combination of American Southern and Belgian food, the latter an ode to Gaye’s self-imposed exile in Ostend, Belgium but also a pretty nice fist-bump to the success of Belgian restaurants in DC.
Food experiences after the jump!
My first visit to Marvin was part of a girls night with Nell and Itty Bitty Bitter Betty. We finally got our table (about 20 minutes behind schedule but we entertained ourselves at the bar) and eyed the menu. What I’m about to tell you is sometimes a surprise for people who know me, as I am so obviously not a former athlete: I can get a little competitive. Don’t believe me? Check out the scar on my hand from family game of Spoons gone awry. This competitive spirit leaks into dining. What do I want? What is my dining companion considering? Which dish will taste best? If I get out-ordered, will I stare down my friend’s superior dish while picking at my sullen order? After years of dining together, Mike and I are in the habit of tasting each others’ dishes and one of us concedes, “You out-ordered me.”
I keep my competitiveness under wraps when dining with friends but in my mind, the stakes were high. The untried menu offered a dozen tantalizing options and I had a hard time deciding. In the end, we ordered the shallots, fennel and white wine mussels (Bitter Betty), chicken and waffles (Nell – who negotiated for parsnips since she doesn’t like collard greens, or any veggie greens, actually) and rack of lamb with white beans (me), a special of the evening. Who ordered best? I can actually, honestly tell you it was a draw. Bitter Betty’s moules were plump and flavored brightly with the shallots and white wine. I pretty much wanted to make out with my lamb dish, the meat was cooked perfectly and I couldn’t get enough of the white beans (a first for me). And Nell’s chicken and waffles? Awesome. The waffles were slightly crisp on the outside but airy in the middle and the chicken, served atop the waffle, was succulent, crispy and light. This actually surpassed the chicken and waffles dish I had a Roscoe’s in LA, which was good but more great-for-your-hangover greasy than delicious.
The following weekend at brunch, I discovered the indulgent joy of Marvin’s shrimp and cheese grits. The shrimp was meaty and cooked to a pink perfection, nestled on top of rich, decadent cheese grits. Unlike gritty, small grains of lesser grits, this dish offered plump, round grains creamy with butter and cheese. It’s a heart stopper, yes, but also a great way to ease into a wintery Sunday morning.
While I was savoring my southern delicacy, Mike was tucking into a bacon, egg and cheese waffle, also known as the Mother of all Breakfast Dishes. Served with apple wood smoked bacon (a fixture on menus these days) and scrambled eggs tucked neatly into a fresh-from-the-iron waffle with a tin of syrup on the side. The combination of the bacon inside the waffle with the side syrup created a sweet and savory flavor that can’t be beat. Marvin’s pommes frites were also a brunch highlight. Oh Belgian-style fries. I always think I can resist you but I am wrong. At Marvin, the fries are served hot in a tin cup with a trio of dipping sauces: wasabi mayo, curry mayo (which we assumed at first would be a Dijon sauce), and ketchup. The wasabi mayo was by far the favorite of the table. Other hits were the brioche french toast and croque madame. House fries got very little love. There wasn’t anything wrong with them, they just couldn’t stack up to the pommes frites. One of the most notable elements of brunch at Marvin is the cost. For the quality you get, the prices are really reasonable. Mimosas are $4 and most brunch items run about $8. Compare that to a diced ham and scrambled egg platter at IHOP for $7. It’s nice to find a well cooked meal for a deal these days.