Young and Hungry

Michel Richard’s Fancy Cheesesteak Makes Me Miss Provolone

Michel Richard has some balls. Inox’s locked doors, darkened suburban office buildings, and empty tables were testaments to the economic environment his new restaurant faced. And yet, the longtime D.C. celebrity chef threw his toque blanche into the Tysons Corner ring, currently wrapped up in endless road and Metrorail construction. He opened Michel, serving up a self-described innovative take on modern French cuisine.

But screw economics and suburban development; I came to try the cheesesteak.

Richard’s trusted executive chef, Levi Mezick, puts an interesting spin on the blue-collar classic. Flat bread, almost certainly house-baked (and slightly undercooked during my visit) served as a foundation for exceedingly tender slices of top sirloin. Lightly sautéed diced onions were sweet and bright, contrasting earthy mushrooms. A blend of white and yellow cheddar, tempered with the king of all melting cheeses, Fontina, stood in for popular Whiz. The viscous sauce, served on the side, seemed an understudy. I craved simple provolone.

Sure, the sandwich tasted great, even though it was a distant cousin to the traditional incarnations that make cheesesteaks popular. But is it worth 20 bucks? To evaluate fairly you’d have to take into account that the price of admission gets you a lot more than a simple sandwich.

The supporting cast was subtle and refined, focusing more on execution and technique than showmanship. A salad of tender mixed greens lightly kissed with the simplest vinaigrette filled the remainder of my plate, and the fries, perfectly cooked, were seasoned quietly with salt and ground pepper. The frites came in a metal basket mimicking the fry buckets responsible for cooking the delicious spuds–cute.

Service nearly sealed the deal. It’s been a while since I’ve had a waitress who was such a pro. She took care of me like it was her career and not some summer job: attentive just enough to make me wish she’d lingered a little longer. And when confused about how to traverse a convoluted pathway back to Tysons Galleria—I needed socks—the host walked me the entire way.

It can take a lot more than beautiful food to succeed in suburban, high-end dining during economic doldrums. You have to sell a package that makes the sum of the parts a perceived value to the person picking up the check. My cheesesteak and a Duck Rabbit beer came to $32 after tax and tip. Almost fair.

Photo by Scott Reitz

  • Native American JD

    Cheaper to make your own with ribeye and three cheese bechemel.

  • http://www.districtplates.com Scott Reitz

    Actually by the time you bought all the ingredients for the salad and fries, using similar quality ingredients, I think you'd skirt past an Andrew Jackson. I guess you could grab a handful of buddies and reap economies of scale, but you'd also forgo a nice waitress... and you'd have to do the dishes.

  • xcorrick1

    God forbid the food critic step out side of his comfort zone. If you want provolone, buddy, go to Subway.

  • Roger

    Eh, I'm with Scott on this one. He's starting to come into his own, and I'll gracefully and humbly take all the credit.

  • Kev29

    IMHO, provolone is totally wrong for a cheesesteak. You need a more savory cheese like American or Whiz to counter the sweet onions and mild beef flavors. I guess you could use a nice sharp provolone, but that seems like kind of a waste. Provolone works so much better with cured, saltier meats - which is why it's perfect on an Italian hoagie. And sharp provolone is so nice with the savory, garlicky zip of broccoli rabe on a roast pork hoagie.

    And when it comes to making your own - yeah, easier said than done. You really need a meat slicer and my wife won't let me have one!

  • Scott Reitz

    While eating dinner with another food writer I heard a historic tale of Trios in Dupont Circle that used to shave rib-eye for cheesesteaks to order.

    Kev29 we all keep our secrets. You can keep your slicer at my place. A culinary concubine. I want it for Italian beef this weekend as well.

    http://bit.ly/dS6rFr

  • Kev29

    Seriously - I have a blender and a waffle iron - never used. But a meat slicer.. I'd use that once a week!

  • http://twitter.com/monkeyrotica monkeyrotica

    Sometimes I want provo, sometimes American, sometimes Wiz. Sometimes I want a DC steak & cheese. Sometimes I want one from White House in Atlantic City.

    But I will never want to pay $20 for a cheesesteak.

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