Classic Tables: Marcel's

French at its finest in Foggy Bottom

There was a time when D.C. was packed with white-tablecloth French restaurants.

And nearly all of them have closed. But Marcel's, the enduring star of the old guard, stands tall.

Chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier–a gregarious spirit, avid hunter and motorcycle enthusiast–presides over a serene and civilized kitchen, reinventing French classics with a lighter touch.

Whether diners choose the three- ($65), four- ($80), five- ($95) or seven-course ($130) prix-fixe menu, they should start with fish, like a tartare of Hawaiian ono with pesto made from minty Japanese shiso leaves, or a luxe dish of creamy lobster ravioli with shaved summer truffles.

The chef's longtime enthusiasm for hunting has made Wiedmaier a specialist with game. Delicate poussin trumpets the season over a bed of Brussels sprouts and lardons, while local rabbit is served with rich butternut squash purée.

Even Burgundian snails get a lighter treatment than the usual deluge of garlicky butter: Wiedmaier sautés them in red wine with tomatoes, chives and just enough garlic to accent their earthy flavor.

For a small taste of the Marcel's experience, order a drink or small plate at the newly renovated, Art Deco-style bar. Pianist Alex Jenkins plays jazz standards that help take diners back to a different era in Washington dining.

Marcel's, 2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (between 24th & 25th sts.); 202-296-1166 or marcelsdc.com