Embracing Michel's elegance at the Colony Surf
By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
An impeccable meal easily consumes a few hours, and diners can lose themselves in pleasures that last longer than a brief moment.
Dining at Michel's At the Colony Surf had me reflecting on more genteel eras. Life's pace was less hurried then. Today's luxurious indulgences, oysters and caviar, for example, were commonplace on restaurant menus.
A visit to Michel's is a reminder of the glory of fine dining. Its tranquil oceanside setting, perched right over the beach, begs guests to relax. Patrons, as they gaze out at the horizon through large windows spanning the dining room, feel stress wash away with the waves.
On a recent blustery evening, this grande dame of Waikiki restaurants (which opened in 1962) still drew patrons clamoring for a table.
It was a Monday night, typically one of the slowest nights for restaurants. But a Japanese wedding party, a musician with a small entourage, some not-too-boisterous businessmen and several couples were all there seeking the same thrill a comfortable place to unwind while being waited upon like royalty.
Our waiter, Jesse, did not disappoint. Service here is seamless and professionalism abounds. This is the kind of place where you wish all waiters could go to learn the skills and traditions of guest-service excellence. From the moment you are seated, you are treated to the sort of attention almost forgotten except in old movies where butlers graciously serve their employers.
Moving imperceptibly with a subtle finesse, tuxedo-clad Jesse, along with a troop of secondary waiters, made sure our meal flowed smoothly, like a well-choreographed dance. Glasses appeared to refill themselves. Extra silverware seemed to materialize from nowhere. Dishes practically disappeared when we were finished with them. Everything was done so discreetly that our conversation was barely interrupted.
A large appetizer of pink 'ahi carpaccio ($14) arrived first, fanned over an entire plate. The delicate yellowfin tuna was crowned with a tomato, cucumber and daikon slaw drizzled with a truffle vinaigrette.
Although this relatively avant-garde creation was striking, its radiance was dimmed by that of the more traditional lobster bisque ($11).
According to the menu, they have been serving this trademark soup for more than 40 years. Jesse quickly heated the rich, creamy liquid over a burner until it reached just the right temperature. Then he proceeded to flambÚ tender chunks of fresh Maine lobster in cognac, adding them as a substantial garnish to the soup. When he deftly caused flames to shoot up from the sautÚ pan, all eyes in the dining room turned to look.
It is impossible not to enjoy these classic tableside preparations. Many tables began their meal with Caesar salad ($14 per person, prepared for two). Michel's version is composed of Big Island-grown Hirabara Farm romaine lettuce and hearts of palm, as well as warm garlic croutons.
My companion's choice of steak Diane, another flambÚed dish, upstaged my Sugpiaq wild Alaskan salmon ($36). Reclining on a bed of fine angel hair pasta was a sizeable piece of perfectly grilled coral-colored salmon, decorated with a dollop of osetra caviar. A light wine sauce gently swathing the noodles complemented the distinct flavor of the fish. I encountered a few small bones in this fish, but these certainly did not ruin my meal.
But I couldn't help wondering why I hadn't ordered the steak Diane for myself. Even if you aren't the least bit hungry, watching a waiter sautÚ tender black Angus filet, with aromas emanating from the pan, arouses an appetite.
My companion relished each bite of the beef coated in a velvety smooth sauce, with portobello mushrooms, reluctantly offering me only two tastes.
Grand Marnier soufflÚ, a dessert not often seen these days, was the finale. As requested, we had placed our order for this early in the meal, because it takes about 20 minutes to prepare. It arrived at our table at the appropriate temperature, hot enough to emit wisps of steam but not enough to burn the eager tongue. A crispy crust topped its warm, soft, custard-like interior. Though it could have done with a touch more orange flavor, it was the type of restrained sweet that leaves dinner ending on a high note instead of dragging it down with an overpowering dose of sugar.
Michel's also offers Sunday brunch, with a menu that most of us only fantasize about. It has such decadent offerings as black tiger shrimp cocktail ($12), eggs Benedict á la Michel's with artichokes and Dungeness crab ($16) and Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and whipped cream ($14). Morning service cannot compare with the elegance of dinner, but it is still a lovely way to greet Sunday.
If you have time to stop for a while, then Michel's is your answer.
A cordial atmosphere and exceptional service combined with executive chef Eberhard Kintscher's opulent continental menu will have you dallying over your meal. And don't forget that breathtakingly romantic view.
Reach Helen Wu at firstname.lastname@example.org.