Sunday, February 13, 2011

Michel at the Ritz Carlton, Tysons Corner

Not fond of the Valentine's Day prix fixe menu's, we prefer to have our V'Day dinner on the weekend before. This year it works out especially well, since my husband will be back in Seattle on Monday.

Michel Richard is one of the best, if not the best, chefs in Washington and we've had the pleasure to dine in his Citronelle a few times. We were very excited to find out that he opened a restaurant in the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner this past fall, Michel.

We know the location of this restaurant well, as we've had quite a few brunches here and occasionally ate at its predecessor, Maestro. Our coats are taken and we're brought to our table, which faces the open kitchen. We enjoy watching the food being prepared.

As is often the case with me, the appetizers appeal more, than the entrees. I decide to order the beef tartare for my appetizer and the leeks tartare and the tuna tartare nicoise for my main course.

My husband chooses the salmon tartare (there are a lot of tartares and carpaccio's among the appetizers) and for his main course the ribeye with haricots verts and mashed potatoes. We order a side of "Spuddies", just to try those out.

We start with a kir royal, our drink of choice when we're out for a celebration. They taste heavenly. In the meantime the bread basket has arrived. The bread is possibly the best we've had at any restaurant. It's warm, the crust very crunchy and the inside soft and airy.

The appetizers arrive and look great! My husband's salmon tartare is surrounded by crumbled egg, capers and onions. Very thin crispy wafers hug my steak tartare, which is one of the best I've ever tasted.

We're watching chef Levi at work and notice when he starts on my husband's ribeye dish, because he substituted the "spuddies" for mashed potatoes. We also ordered a side of spuddies to try them, but they turn out to be an adult tater tot. They're tasty, but not worth the extra calories for me.

My two "dinner" appetizers come at the same time, the kitchen is well coordinated, that's for sure. The leeks tartare looks like a work of art, while the tuna Nicoise looks like something you could get in any restaurant. It is doused in a creamy sauce and there is no artistry in the presentation.

My initial reaction proves right. The flavors of the ingredients of the tuna salad are overwhelmed by the abundance of sauce. Only the anchovies and their saltiness prevail. I am totally underwhelmed by this dish. On the menu it mentioned cheese eggs (or some such) and I see no evidence of those.

The leeks tartare on the other hand is a completely unique dish. On top I find a crunchy decoration and three perfectly cooked poached quail eggs. The tartare itself has a soft flavor and is totally delicious. What a difference between two dishes! This one is worthy of a high class restaurant, the Nicoise certainly is not.

All the while my husband and I have seen amazing desserts leave the kitchen. We have to try some of those. My husband is determined to try Michel's Napoleon, which is the biggest and tallest I've ever seen! I order the apple tatin, not knowing what to expect.

Another small criticism would be, that the menu could use some explanation. The servers do a great job, but it would be nice to see the ingredients spelled out just a little more. Especially for people with allergies this would be a challenging restaurant. I wouldn't see my best friend with shell fish allergies eat here, purely due to lack of detail of ingredients on the menu.

The Napoleon is very good, but I'm glad I've ordered the apple tatin. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but I finished the whole thing! That very rarely happens. The presentation is cute, an apple in a bed of sauce, and the taste even better. It's a light and playful dessert, just right for someone who's not a big dessert eater.

We will return to Michel's. With the exception of the Nicoise salad, which was the only disappointment, the food was excellent, the service attentive and the ambiance, albeit loud, festive.

Ambiance: 8
Service: 9
Food: 9
Price: 8

Recommended for: special occasions, night out