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First Look: Restaurant Marcel

Ford Fry's big and bold new steakhouse sticks with the classics

Restaurant Marcel is a steakhouse named after a French boxer, and like any great boxer or Frenchman, Marcel embraces spectacle. From the moment you enter and see not one, not two, but eight business cards for various personnel of the restaurant (chefs, managers, maître d'), you know Marcel intends to impress. Open since July in the Westside Provisions District, the new steakhouse inhabits what used to be the roomy, farm-chic Abattoir. The space has been transformed into a dark, luxurious den, with blood red leather banquets and gilded mirrors lining the walls. Vintage boxing photos pepper the room, complete with attached magnifying glasses to help you view every bruise on the rugged men. Marcel's luxe atmosphere makes you want to dress up, although, maybe not as "up" as Marcel's small army of tuxedoed captains.

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The menu — from proprietor Ford Fry and executive chef Brian Horn — could be described as classic American steakhouse with Continental leanings. Fry has insisted that his goal with Marcel is to implement "no innovation whatsoever." Although, one could argue that offering an array of gussied-up classics in this modern age is its own form of subtle innovation, with dishes like oysters Bienville, sole meunière, pommes dauphinoise or aligot, even a beef Wellington that must be ordered 24 hours in advance. The core of the menu, though, is all about the steaks, which Marcel sources from noted Chicago area purveyor Meats by Linz.

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Most of the food here is very rich. The bread served at the outset of dinner is fried (reminiscent of that served at Fry's St. Cecilia), heavy with garlic butter, ricotta on the side. Delightful oysters Bienville are topped with cream and bacon bits. Silky, sherry-rich lobster chowder comes crowned with a croissant-worthy puff pastry. A broiled disc of Humboldt Fog cheese oozes into the tangy, terrific tomato gravy it rests in, ready to be spooned over crusty bread.

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Marcel's steak section includes six options: an à la carte petit filet ($45), a large bone-in filet ($70), a dry-aged côte de boeuf ($76, but plenty for two), or porterhouse intended for two ($125, but more than plenty for two). My table's favorite, however, was the humble but expertly prepared steak frites ($30) topped with an herb-laden sauce verte. If you're not in the mood for steak, Marcel has non-beef entrees such as chicken paillard, veal parmesan, a daily catch, and more.

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From 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends, the restaurant offers an abbreviated late-night menu with several dishes priced at $10. The most popular option among the decidedly younger and hipper late-night crowd appears to be Marcel's burger but the $10 portion of steak frites is a steal. Lunchtime provides another somewhat-lower-priced and decidedly less formal chance to experience Marcel, featuring many carry-overs from dinner, but also sandwiches such as a decadent shaved beef with gruyere ($16) or a greasy fried bologna "stack" ($14) with white American cheese.

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If you're a stickler for the French language, you may have a beef with Marcel on several fronts – especially during lunch. Marcel doesn't balk at using the word "duck" and then not including said ingredient on that dish (the lunchtime frites canard), or referring to a lovely herb-accented salad as "iced crudités" even though it clearly requires a fork, or even calling a flat round of whipped eggs an omelet despite there being no fold. Call it nitpicking, but Marcel doesn't mind messing with your expectations.

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The wine list has two dozen eclectic offerings by the glass and a bottle menu that's a step ahead of most steakhouses in its wide span of old and new world offerings. You want SoCal chardonnay? Marcel has cult favorite Liquid Farm for $25 a glass, but they also have perfectly fine $9 pours of French Muscadet, rosé, or malbec. Better yet, bring your own bottle for a very fair $12 corkage fee (limit two bottles). The cocktail menu lists a mix of classics and custom creations. The lower octane, aperitivo/vermouth-based Raging Bull cocktail isn't so raging, but it provides just the right acidity and sharpness to play nice alongside the heavy food.

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For dessert, the signature baked Alaska gets the full bonfire show at the table and benefits from a modern s'mores tweak with graham cracker ice cream to go with the chocolate cake inside and marshmallow meringue on top. And you may as well wrap up your over-the-top indulgent meal with a glass of Madeira or port.

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Marcel flaunts its throwback lavishness compared to Buckhead's more conservative steakhouses. If you're eager to embrace such spectacle and drop a couple hundred bucks (or more) on dinner, go ahead, gussy up and go toe to toe with Marcel. I'm more likely to duck in for a simple salad at lunchtime, or join the merry crowd munching on $10 steak frites and burgers at midnight on a Friday night.

??Editor's note: This story has been updated to correctly identify the steak pictured. It is Marcel's 24-ounce dry aged Côte de Boeuf.

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