The Weekly Eater
Nadine Kam

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Michel’s just as worthy
by light of day

WITH schools out, the dearth of cars on the road leaves the impression that much -- if not the whole town -- is on vacation. For 9-to-5ers it's not a good feeling to think everyone's having fun while you're staring at four walls, thinking, "What am I doing here?"

For those who can't get away this summer, or for those who want to preserve the glow after returning from a recent jaunt across the Pacific, a visit to Michel's might provide the easy escape you need.

The Waikiki restaurant long famous for French cuisine served at beachside, by the light of candles and torches, is now open for Sunday brunch, and daylight doesn't break its romantic spell at all. Some would say daytime's even better for views because, face it, after the sun goes down all that's left is a field of black. In the morning, the show of surf and beach bodies, with a backdrop of Diamond Head and the Pink Palace, plays on and on.

Brunch here is a perfect way to start a day of leisure. The best thing is, dining is an equal-opportunity pastime, so you don't need a million bucks -- wait, inflation factor, make that $2 million -- to bask in the luxury of this magical setting. Just make sure you're dressed in more than in beachwear and they'll let you in.

JUST AS AT night, service is excellent, and promises to get even better, depending on how many mimosas you succumb to. Just sink into your chair and let them pamper you. Just don't let your mind go blank with one too many mimosas. At $8 a pop, the dollars add up quickly.

This would be a treat for any of your out-of-town guests, or to celebrate Father's Day next weekend, because as frilly as the night-time Michel's might seem to the average guy, brunch is a far more stripped down, casual affair -- maybe just dad's speed. And you probably won't have to force him to enjoy a course of Beef Tenderloin ($22) with grilled portobello mushroom and sautéed spinach, or grilled lamb chops ($24) with gratin potatoes.

Which brings me to an important point. Where brunch as we know it might be defined as "buffet," Michel's Sunday brunch is an a la carte affair. The sit-down menu has the effect of preserving Michel's elegant aura. It pretty much assures there'll be no kids folding themselves around table legs or throwing tantrums that would drown out the music of harpist Sharene Boulas.

Sharene Keliipunilei Luna Boulas plays the concert grand harp during Sunday brunch at Michel's.

I THINK THEY made the right decision, although it is tough to narrow your choices down to a couple of courses, knowing all of it would be on your plate at a buffet.

For starters, there are chilled asparagus spears with tomato vinaigrette ($7.50), black tiger shrimp cocktail ($12), and smoked salmon plate ($9.50). I opted for the creamy mushroom soup ($7) with delicate garlic croutons that melt on the tongue. It's quite a change from the typical restaurant's Caesar salad crouton that requires gnawing to ingest.

The warm summer days leave me with little appetite, so I didn't think of adding fresh fruit ($8) or ahi sashimi ($12) to my order, choosing to move on to a shared Maine lobster and Bay shrimp salad ($18) served atop Hirabara greens finished with a light touch of papaya seed dressing, which suited me just fine. Food is often best when served up fresh and as unmanipulated as possible.

The soup and salad alone were quite filling and at this time of year, many could stop right there. But how many can really resist the temptation of Eggs Benedict ($16) served here with fresh artichokes and Dungeness crab meat, or homemade Belgian waffles ($14) topped with fresh strawberries?

Seafood lovers will get their fill with a Gold Coast omelette ($16) filled with lobster, whole shrimp, scallops and crab meat with mild cheddar.

Any of the above would make a better selection than the egg-heavy homemade German apple-blueberry pancakes ($12) that weigh like stones. The reality is, most people here grow up with Bisquick, so unfortunately, that kind of homemade authenticity takes a backseat to more commercial fluffiness.

Although the crepey pancake left much to be desired, the batter can be ripped away, allowing the diner to enjoy the lovely baked apple inside. Adding to the hearty nature of this dish, the pancakes were topped with several strips of crisp bacon.

For dessert there are choices of pineapple passionfruit cheesecake ($6.50), a warm cinnamon apple tart ($7) or chef Eberhard "Hardy" Kintscher's deep chocolate cake ($7), but one effect of being on the beach is realizing you probably don't need the calories. For Michel's, it's the only drawback to opening to the light of day.

Sunday Brunch At Michel's

Colony Surf Hotel / 923-6552

Food Star Star Star Half-star

Service Star Star Star Star

Ambience Star Star Star Star

Value Star Star Star Half-star

Hours: Sunday brunch runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Michel's evening hours are 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily

Cost: Brunch about $45 to $60 for two without drinks

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to nkam@starbulletin.com

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