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A Surprising Meal with Good Friends

When I heard a local restaurant was offering a lower priced 3 course menu, I was skeptical about what would be served. After all, it is one thing to order off a menu filled with mouth-watering descriptions and price tags to match, it is quite another to order from a discounted menu and maintain the same quality. I was very pleasantly surprised. In fact, I was blown away.

Marchand’s at the Vinoy has a reputation for being expensive. The last time I dined there was a couple of years ago, and I found it to be okay, but I never seemed motivated to go back. Fast forward to 2010, and I found out about the Classic Menu. This is a menu not widely publicized by the Vinoy, but it lives on.

The Classic Menu can only be ordered from 5:30 pm to 7 pm each day. When you arrive, you have to ask the hostess to provide you with this separate offering when you are seated. For $19.25 (this is the year the hotel opened) you receive an appetizer or salad, an entree and dessert.

The first thing that struck me about Marchand’s was the level of service they provide. We were seated (in incredibly comfortable throne-like chairs) and immediately brought water and told our server would be right with us. Donald showed up in short order to take our wine selection. When our selection was unavailable, they were kind enough to bring us a Cakebread Chardonnay at no additional charge. I was very impressed by that gesture! Class and service is obviously the hallmark of this restaurant.

There is still the matter of the food. From the Classic Menu, I ordered the Potato Leek Soup, Chicken with Pappardelle and Apple Tart. The soup came, and the first thing I noticed about it was the texture. Sometimes potato soup (or Vichyssoise) can have a thick, almost pasty texture. That was not the case here. It had been prepared with care and they took the time to strain the soup through a Chinoise so that it was silky smooth. The flavor was very pleasant with just a hint of leek in the background. The chicken, if I were to guess from the size and the texture, was free range. It was what you call an airline cut, which allows the bone to remain in for maximum flavor. Alongside was beautiful pappardelle pasta. The pasta was outstanding and obviously fresh. There is no way this pasta came out of a box. The vegetables that were roasted with the chicken were a tasty compliment. It was incredibly satisfying to have food that was executed perfectly in the classic manner I was taught. These days, it is rare to find that.

Salmon was also offered on the menu and both of my dining companions ordered it. I hesitate to order salmon sometimes when I am at a restaurant because you just never know what day it was delivered. When I tried it, I was so upset I hadn’t ordered it myself. The salmon was pristinely fresh, and probably the best salmon that I have had in recent years.

Honestly, after this satisfying dinner, I needed a moment before dessert. We ordered some cappuccinos and relaxed in the dining room, taking in the sights. The bar in the center of the room was filled with happy chatter. From the soft lighting, to the small alcoves, the elegant fabrics and the piano playing pleasantly in the background; it was enough to make me decide at that moment that I will become a regular patron at Marchand’s from now on. (And I hadn’t even had dessert yet.)

In the past there were times that I had amazing dining experiences, only to be disappointed by dessert. No chance. The apple tart was made in the traditional French manner. The pastry was flawless. My friends ordered the profiteroles filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate sauce on a bed of raspberry coulis. I don’t usually even eat dessert, but I had to try both of these and it was well worth the calories. The raspberry coulis was made from fresh raspberries which gave it a pleasant tartness with a hint of sugar added. It was just right after the big meal we had.

A good two hours later after we sat down (they did not rush us or try to turn the table), the check came. I would have paid twice what they charged for this meal, but it was $19.25 and I was very happy about that. There are many restaurants in town where one could never have more than 1 course for that amount, let alone 3 courses. And truly, no restaurant in St. Petersburg remotely approaches the level of service we received. It should be a requirement for servers in this area to observe the staff at work in Marchand’s.

Someone once said, “It is not so much what you say or even what you do; people remember how you made them feel.”

Marchand’s made me feel very special that night and I will never forget it.

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