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MGM National Harbor opens with star chefs

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Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson has long admired D.C.’s food scene — from the longstanding cuisine of its Ethiopian community to a new generation of chefs that has turned it into one of the nation’s premier food cities.

So opening Marcus at the $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor casino resort, which debuted last night, was a “no brainer” for the Top Chef Masters winner and Red Rooster Harlem owner.

“The restaurant scene in D.C. has gone through the roof, which is super exciting,” says Samuelsson, who has cooked at the White House. Marcus will serve comfort food all day in a 208-seat dining room and offer in-room dining for the 308-room hotel.

Marcus is one of three restaurants helmed by famous chefs at the Vegas-style resort, whose owners are betting that destination dining will reel in repeat visitors to the new Oxon Hill, Md. attraction, just outside of the District. D.C. restaurateur José Andrés, whose Minibar in D.C. received two Michelin stars this year, is opening FISH. Lobster jambalaya, Maryland crab cakes and Chesapeake oysters are among the signature seafood items. The deck, which overlooks the Potomac River, will turn into a crab shack during the warmer months, Andres says.

And brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio are debuting their first collaborative concept, Voltaggio Brothers Steak House. With a living room and library, the restaurant has been designed to evoke their childhood home in Frederick, Md.

“It’ll literally look like you’re walking into someone’s house,” says Alison Bybee, MGM National Harbor’s vice president of food and beverage.

The resort includes two other full-service restaurants: TAP Sports Bar and pan-Asian restaurant Ginger. Pastry shop Bellagio Patisserie features a 12-foot-high chocolate fountain — a replica of the much-photographed one in Bellagio Las Vegas.

MGM National Harbor is the first MGM casino resort that doesn’t feature a buffet.

“We’re finding a lot more sophisticated diners who are looking for great, chef quality food,” Bybee says.

Guests saving their dough for the poker and blackjack tables can head to the National Market, whose 10 food and beverage stalls include cult favorite burger chain Shake Shack and Pappas Crabcakes. The latter is a favorite among locals, Oprah Winfrey, and MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren and his wife Heather.

“We’re bringing in what the Murren family considers one of the best crab cakes you can find,” Jim says. “We’re finding local food gems that are unique to the region.”

The resort also features two nightlife spots: Felt Bar & Lounge and Blossom Cocktail Lounge. Samuelsson’s restaurant will contain a cocktail bar in the back, Sammy’s, whose name is an ode to the Rat Pack legend, Sammy Davis Jr. Gospel brunches, DJs and jazz music will be part of the entertainment.

His restaurant will feature dishes, like blackened catfish, which pay homage to the south. Others, like the fried whole chicken, will be familiar to guests of his New York restaurants. An open kitchen with an exposed grill adds to the vibrancy.

“My whole goal is to match the energy of the casino floor,” Samuelsson says.

Check out the gallery above for a closer look at the MGM National Harbor’s new flavors.

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