Standing at the sweeping quartz bar, our party was ideally positioned to take in the breathtaking grandeur of the Marble Room. Designed by Walker and Weeks, the dream team behind Severance Hall, the stunning interior has all the hallmarks of Beaux Arts-style architecture. Ringed with columns, soaring to a neck-craning 40 feet, and embellished with gilded chandeliers, sexy marble staircases and ornate ironwork, the building is a bottomless bucket of eye candy.
We should know; the four of us stood at that bar for nearly an hour before being shown to our table despite having a reservation. Being glumly informed by an unapologetic host that your table isn't ready is one thing, but to be ignored for another 40 minutes without so much as an offer of a beverage is a demoralizing start to what was intended to be a celebratory feast.
"Is it worth it?" That's a question every diner must wrestle with personally. I'm more than happy to pay a steep surcharge for a steak, even though I can prepare one at home for a fraction of the price, to be treated like a king in a storybook setting. I've cheerfully forked over a half-week's wages to linger in some of the world's finest dining rooms, where guests are bundled up in the warm embrace of gracious, anticipatory hospitality. From the moment we crossed the threshold at Marble Room, we were engaged in a disappointing struggle for relevance with a service staff so dispassionate we could only assume it was performance art.
It would be another 18 minutes after being seated that water would find its way into our etched crystal glasses. When the wine finally arrived, another 10 minutes later, it was rightly offered to me for assessment and acceptance. The server then proceeded to fill my glass before those of my three tablemates, two of whom were ladies. I'm not one to stand on ceremony, but that runs afoul of both Wine Etiquette and just plain etiquette. I'll admit that the first glass of wine – a lovely Gran Reserva from Rioja ($65) – went down fast, but it would be another 20 minutes before anybody bothered to notice.
Marble Room specializes in the sort of high-ticket fare that one would expect in an opulent special-occasion restaurant. Oysters on the half shell, plump shrimp cocktail, King crab legs and butterflied lobster tails all can be ordered individually or united into one grand tasting. A slick of truffle-infused ponzu managed to not get in the way of the spotless hamachi crudo ($16), thin shingles of fish garnished with pert jalapeno wheels and radish shavings. Fish and Chips ($16), a cleverly named rolled sushi, sets the firm plushness of raw fish-filled rice against the crispy filigree of a thousand fried potato threads. In a place like this, for a price like that, you'd expect to see a lump-filled crab cake ($20) held together by little more than its own gravity. Here, the crispy cake is as slender and uniform as a quarter pounder, altogether lump, bump or chunk free.
At some point in the evening – precisely two hours after we arrived for our reservations, to be exact – management became woke to my identity and the performance art took a 180-degree turn. That's when no fewer than eight staffers descended upon our table and did their best service à la russe impression, attempting to simultaneously serve each diner. The awkward flourish ended with a slice of Hudson Valley duck breast ($36) lodged between my ass and the chair, to be discovered an hour or so later as we departed.
The steaks are USDA Prime and priced between $38 for small filet on up to $125 for a terrifying tomahawk. Our bone-in strip ($58) was nicely charred and cooked to temp. Chops are served simply and without sides, unless you add them. We did: the horseradish potato gratin ($11) was decadent and finely textured, but it had no identifiable heat or flavor of horseradish. Grilled broccolini ($12) appears just as it sounds: an attractive bundle of green, crunchy, flowery stalks. A seared sea scallop dish ($38), too, was pleasantly straightforward, with evenly cooked seafood atop a bed of chopped roasted cauliflower. We found the seafood cioppino fettucine ($37) to be too heavy on pasta and tomato sauce and too light on the promised clams, scallops, shrimp and fish.
It wasn't just our table that seemed to be striking out; everywhere we looked we saw diners craning their necks, not to better take in the view, but in hopes of flagging down a warm body. As once-romantic dates soured all around us, servers labored like untrained marathoners to keep pace with lofty expectations. More than anything, it was the defeated disposition of those servers that spoiled the mood.
There's no question that Marble Room will be high on the must-visit list of well-heeled diners both local and distant. And there's no question that we experienced them at their absolute worst. But if we want visitors to leave our city with a favorable impression of our dining scene, and if, like for most of us, a spin through the majesty and price point of Marble Room is a once or twice a year treat, they'll have to do a better job treating everyone, and not just a dining critic, like kings in a storybook setting.