Chef’s Table Experience at The Marc Restaurant
(Walla Walla, Washington)
As we checked in to the Marcus Whitman Hotel, our home for the balance of our trip to Walla Walla, a small sign on the front desk counter caught our eye. Phrases such as “Washington State Wine Award Restaurant of the Year” and “James Beard recognized chef” begged us to take a closer look and consider the Chef’s Table Experience at The Marc Restaurant located in the lobby of the hotel.
Few details were given so we asked our Concierge for more information. He quickly explained that it was a highly personalized experience that required us speaking directly to the restaurant manager about what we might expect and made a call to the restaurant to track him down. Our curiosity was piqued but we were skeptical that this might just be a stroke of marketing genius to find a way to overcharge some unsuspecting tourists. As he hung up the phone he said that the restaurant manager wasn’t on the premises but the restaurant chef would be glad to speak to us if we wouldn’t mind meeting him in the kitchen as they were just beginning preparations for dinner later that evening. The concierge led us through the dining room and into the back kitchen to a small alcove where a table large enough to seat 12 sat empty. This wasn’t just a front row seat to what was going on, this (as we Canadians like to say) was centre-ice. We weren’t sold yet but the thought of this view alone was certainly promising.
Grant, the restaurant sous-chef, greeted us warmly and began to tell us about the restaurant’s philosophy of being ‘local-vore’; working as much as possible with food that is locally sourced using sustainable farming practices. In fact, the restaurant even has their own grower on staff. He showed us the pantry where the shelves were filled with fresh herbs, flowers and vegetables including a new shipment of fresh heirloom tomatoes all from farms in the Walla Walla area. Grant’s passion shone through with each word that came from his mouth. It was clear he loved what he did and couldn’t wait to share it. We were definitely buying what he was selling but we weren’t quite there yet. We were taken a few more steps around a corner to where a tall and imposing bearded figure stood butchering fresh halibut that had been caught that morning. “This is Chef Antonio”. When Grant mentioned to him we were interested in possibly doing the Chef’s Table Experience, Antonio broke into a wide grin and exclaimed “Cool!” His enthusiasm was infectious and we were sold. (We later found out that Antonio, along with Grant and the Sommelier had previously been at the renowned Broadmoor Resort in Colorado—a AAA Five Diamond Preferred Hotel).
We reserved the experience for the following night and were given a choice on number of courses and an opportunity to advise of any allergies or dislikes as well as any special requests. The minimum number of courses is 4 (with no maximum) and you’re given the option to have the Sommelier pair local wines with your menu or you can bring your own wine. We opted for a 6 course meal including wine pairings giving Chef Antonio carte blanche to make those courses whatever he deemed the best that the region had to offer. Needless to say, we walked away excited about what was to come, anticipating a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we hoped would live up to this billing.
We arrived the next night for our 6:30pm reservation and were guided back to the kitchen where dinner preparations were in full swing. The table was simply but beautifully decorated and to our pleasant surprise, the setting was just for two. Dan the Sommelier introduced himself and began by asking us to review the personalized menus on our plates and let him know if there was anything that we would like changed. The food courses looked incredible and we were very pleased to see that the wine pairings were mostly from wineries we had never heard of and none of the selections were wines we had tasted before.
Each course was beautifully prepared and perfectly matched with an equally brilliant local wine. Dan took great care in choosing wines that accentuated the ingredients in each course including a somewhat surprising choice of a red wine (and NOT Pinot Noir) with the salmon.
The standout combinations for us were the Dazzle Rosé (which we learned was made by the winemaker Gilles Nicault from Long Shadows, formerly the winemaker at Woodward Canyon) paired with the Heirloom tomato salad, and the Balboa Syrah paired with the lamb loin from Upper Dry Creek which featured our first experience eating ‘lollipop kale’, a brussel sprout/kale hybrid that bears no resemblance to what mom used to force you to eat!
Midway through the meal we were treated to the Marc Signature Table Side Sorbet, a preparation involving fresh raspberries, German gin and a container of liquid nitrogen 374 degrees below zero.
As we sat back finishing our last sips of dessert wine, believing the evening was coming to a close, Grant came back to the table and invited us on a tour. While I expected a further tour of the kitchen, we ended up wandering down to the basement of the 100 year old hotel where he showed us a small corner amongst the graveyard of furniture, housing shelves of micro-greens they were growing themselves. He then led us up to the roof of the hotel to finish our wine while enjoying the view from the tallest building in Walla Walla.
The Chef’s Table Experience at the Marc Restaurant will certainly rate amongst our top meals of all time just based on the menu, food preparation and wine. But it was the passion of the team and the frequent personal touches that truly made it so memorable.