Chez Michel: A very pricey bistro lunch

Lobster Chez Michel 9 21 11

It has been quite a few years since I set foot inside Chez Michel, a longtime popular bistro just steps from the Gare du Nord, making it an ideal spot for a meal just as you are leaving Paris, or a restaurant for a celebratory return to the city. There is much to love about this small, classic bistro : Chef-owner Thierry Breton clearly knows who he is and what he wants, and offers impeccable ingredients, some of the best baked-on-premises bread in town (perhaps the best country rye bread to be found for kilometers), and a blackboard menu that’s so varied, every diner should find something to satisfy. In winter months you’ll find every sort of game (from wild boar, duck, and rabbit prepared in a variety of ways), always fresh fish and shellfish (from giant abalone to succulent lobster, and meaty mussels). At a recent lunch, I thoroughly adored his lasagne starter, two ultra-thin squares of homemade pasta filled with a mix of artichokes and soothing goat cheese and topped with a thin basil puree. (In fact this was the first dish I tasted there when Breton opened Chez Michel in 1996, and it still makes me want to rush to the kitchen and recreate it for my family and guests.) If you order lobster, you’ll be sure to know that it’s fresh, for the live and wiggling shellfish is ceremoniously ushered into the dining room so  that you can attest to its state. In fact that was the best dish we sampled on a recent visit : perfectly moist, giant claws and meat, glistening in a delicate and full-flavored shellfish broth, a lobster lover’s dream (photo). Now here’s the downside : While Chez Michel used to be known for its well-priced menus, I was shocked to see the 50-euro price tag on the blackboard menu. No a la carte here. Fork over the 50 euros for lunch or dinner or dine elsewhere. Worse, yet, when the check arrived, a 15-euro supplement (NOT noted on the blackboard nor mentioned when ordering) was tacked on to the bill for the lobster. I’m sorry, but when there are dozens of restaurants all over town where one can dine seriously and well for so much less, I find it hard to defend such prices. And with a tiny room full of bare wooden tables which guests share, 50 to 65 euros for lunch seems to move Chez Michel i out of the "bistro" category. That said, I’ll probably go back one evening soon, when I know what I am getting into. And I’ll continue making that lasagne and thank Monsieur Breton.

CHEZ MICHEL, 10, rue de Belzunce, Paris 10. Tel: +33 1 44 53 06 20. Métro: Gare du Nord.

Open : Monday to Friday,  Closed all day Saturday and Sunday, Monday at lunch. 50-euro fixed price menu lunch and dinner.