The story: The people behind the San Francisco wine bar Amelie tried to duplicate their success on this side of the bay with another wine bar in Oakland’s Grand Lake/Lakeshore neighborhood, opening in 2014 and serving up French-California dishes.
Why I went: We’re in the midst of Oakland Restaurant Week when local restaurants offer up prix fixe menus to entice customers in what is traditionally a slow time for restaurants. (Although with the food-centric community in the Bay Area, there’s rarely a slow time for restaurants here.) I decided to round up my fellow foodie friends, Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging, and Christina of East Bay Dish, to check out a restaurant and we settled on Michel Bistro because we all have not been to this quaint restaurant that’s been a bit under the radar outside of Oakland.
The vibe: With front of staff and servers with French accents, you immediately get into the French bistro/brasserie vibe. I didn’t realize how big the restaurant is with its high ceilings and film noir feel with French films flashed on the brick wall. The low lighting offers up a bit of romance for this neighborhood spot.
The booze: Michel Bistro offers up French-inspired cocktails, but we all passed and both Sandy and Christina went with a simple glass of red wine. The wine list is dominated by French wine but there are a few other regions, such as the jammy Malbec that the girls ended up ordering.
The menu: So we were there for the Oakland Restaurant Week special, and Michel offered up a $40 three-course dinner, starting with a choice of pork rillette tartine or Jardinere salad. We all went with the pork rillette tartine, which came out looking like a huge salad because of the pork rillette on toast was piled high with chicories and what I believe were huckleberries (because they looked blue even though the menu listed it as dried currants). We all enjoyed the tartine, although I wished there was more of the pork rillette, which I felt were overwhelmed by the sweetness of the currants/huckleberries. The main course was a coq au vin pot pie, which came out on a cast-iron skillet with frisee and lardons. The coq au vin was lovely, with a rich sauce and tender chicken and vegetables. It was deceiving calling it a pot pie, to me, because the crust on top was a biscuit instead of a flakey pie shell. Still, it was filling, but Christine wished the salad had more acid in the dressing to help cut into the richness of the coq au vin. Dinner finished with a Meyer lemon pot de creme, which was light with a faint lemon flavor. I felt the streusel, brown butter apple bits and lavender caramel on top was way too much.
My favorite dish: My favorite was probably the coq au vin, even though it was a biscuit top (I think I would have preferred a regular pie dough). Honorable mention does go to something not on the menu, but the complimentary tapenade that was served with the bread before dinner. It was yummy and I kept going for more throughout dinner.
The last bite: The restaurant week special was a nice introduction to Michel Bistro, and I felt it really reflected the cooking style, which is rustic French food that are sometimes successful but other times needing a bit of editing or balance on the plate. Still, the restaurant is a charming neighborhood spot providing a pleasant dining experience.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Michel Bistro, 3343 Lakeshore Ave, Oakland. PH: 510.836.8737. Dinner daily from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. (till 9 p.m. on Sunday, Monday); Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.michelbistro.com
Bonus: Check out this video I made of our dinner.
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