Chez Michel, one of Paris’s beloved bistros, has a new chef/owner, but not to worry, it is just as good, if not better, than it ever was. Longtime owner Thierry Breton has sold the place to his former sous-chef Masahiro Kawai, another brilliant French cook from Japan (see last week’s review of Le Kigawa), who is carrying on its tradition of excellent down-home Provençal-style cooking.
Personally, I never much liked the ambiance at the old Chez Michel, although the food was always fantastic. The servers seemed unhappy and so did the customers. Under the new chef, all that has changed. There is only one waitress, so don’t expect speedy service, but she is a total sweetheart, and she is assisted by the cheery chef himself, who always has a big smile on his face when he delivers one of his creations to your table.
What has not changed is the decor, which resembles a fusty French country inn, with wood-paneled walls, faux exposed beams, random copper pots and utensils hanging from the walls and kitschy bibelots here and there. Some spaceship-shaped lighting fixtures hanging from the ceiling add a discordant note. It is totally out of place in Paris, and therein lies its great charm. Another very un-Parisian thing about Chez Michel is that it is strangely quiet, once again, an advantage.
At lunchtime that day, my friend Perry feasted on pure comfort food for both courses, starting with a hefty dish of Iberian sobrasada sitting on top of mashed potatoes, a fried egg and quince paste. The sobrasada (a chorizo-like sausage without the casing) was an especially good example of the genre.
Following that not-exactly-light starter, he had a big dish of light, pillowy gnocchi smothered in a beautifully flavored wild-boar bolognese sauce. He was a happy but heavier man when he got down to the last gnocchi, which he just couldn’t manage. Luckily, I was there to snap it up.
I ordered the lunch special, with three courses for €26, far less expensive than the à la carte prices, and started with a delightful fish soup with chorizo, parmesan and croutons.
That was followed by blanquette de veau, a dish that used to be common in French bistros and has lately been revived. This was a marvelous version, with the welcome addition of fine vegetables, cooked al dente, mushrooms and slivered almonds. The melt-in-the-mouth veal was immersed in a flavorful, creamy white sauce.
Those were hearty dishes, too, but I had enough room left for the special Halloween-themed dessert, a light and luscious pumpkin (actually kabocha squash) cake, appropriately orange, with the bonus of an adorable whipped-cream ghost with a chocolate Casper face.
I couldn’t imagine a better, more satisfying meal for our last restaurant outing before France’s second lockdown kicked in the following day. Thanks, chef Kawai!Favorite