Chez Michel

1871 Oak Bay Ave, Victoria BC, V8R 1C6  Tues-Sat 6pm-10pm

I am a fan of classic French cuisine, despite its often peculiar aesthetic and sometimes routine familiarity, I love the concept of culinary structure - i.e. all French restaurant should be more or less the same, and distinctions should be made by virtue of execution, not innovation. Perfection is only attainable if you limit interpretation.  So despite its obvious limitations - I think it's a noble cause.  

Chez Michel is a classic French restaurant. Generally the execution was strong and decidedly classic and I enjoyed all items tasted. We did have a few issues with presentation, beverage service and price.

We joined a a few friends on a rainy Saturday night. Chez Michel is rarely a 'busy' restaurant, so I was a little disappointed by the amount of energy I had to expend to get a couple of cocktails. This would set the tone for beverage service for the rest of the night. With a reasonable wine and beverage list, it seemed that the service staff had very little interest in serving it. Poor Debbie was getting quite flustered by the end of the evening with the lack of refills offered. On two occasions, I had to get out of my seat to harangue a server to bring us more wine.

Patty and I started off with the escargot. Not much room for error on this one, people never seem to innovate on the garlicky presentation - today was no exception. Debbie and Greg split the foie gras terrine, making me quite jealous and forcing my fork to travel across the table on a number of occasions. It was tasty, but I would have liked to see a more strongly flavoured aspic. Again, they missed the ball on the booze upsell, as I had to walk up to the bar to get Debbie a glass of Sauterne to accompany her terrine.

For our mains, I had veal sweetbreads. One of my favourites, served in vol au vent pastry with heavy cream sauce. I liked the pastry presentation, but the sweetbreads were a smidge overcooked for my taste. Patty's duck leg was tasty, albeit  not a thriller. Debbie and Greg split the chateaubriand steak. For $34.95 per person, I would have liked to seen this dish served in its traditional method - carved tableside. A lovely piece of meat, but Debbie and Greg both complained that the Béarnaise sauce, while tasty, was overwhelming. Indeed, there was a lot of this very acidic sauce spooned on top of their steaks. Tableside service would have resolved this issue as well.

Too full for dessert, we decided on digestifs, where I again had to walk to the bar to solicit beverage service. What's with these people?? We're lushes - we've made that much clear.

We had a lot of expensive dishes, drank a moderate amount and were expecting a fairly large bill. That said, the bill was over $200 per couple. It seemed a little pricey for the quality of service, not horrible, considering our menu choices, but I would expect a little more attention to detail for that price. Reinforcing that, the servers and chef are clearly highly trained and experienced, so I'm comfortable holding them to a high standard. The food was yummy and had it been less expensive I would have had little to complain about.

There is a small handful of choices for classic French in Victoria and I think Chez Michel holds up well against its competition. Then again, I think there's some room to shake things up in this dining genre of and heighten the level of competition.

  Reviewed: November, 2007