Le Café Miche Bistro
A tale of two Miches
French food is misunderstood. In fact, it’s one of the most misunderstood styles of food here in the States. (Probably because many of us have grown up on the Bugs Bunny cartoons where the slinky, mustachioed waiter screams “oui, oui!!” every couple of seconds.) French cuisine is generally perceived as being too exclusive, with impossible-
I’m a big fan of the original Le Café Miche on Wyoming, and I was quite excited to try what appeared to be a new one, even though I was unsure about their affiliation. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one. Le Café Miche Bistro, situated to the east of Cottonwood Mall, gets several calls a day from eager patrons wanting to know if it’s related to Le Café Miche in the Northeast Heights. So here’s the breakdown: Bistro owners Ulla and Mogens Hansen owned the first Le Café Miche restaurant from 1988 until 1996, when they sold it to Claus Hjortkjaer, their head chef and longtime pal. Then Ulla and Mogens moved to Taos for 10 years where they ran another restaurant, Casa Cordova. But as it turned out, “It’s hard to make it in Taos,” explained Mogens. They returned to Albuquerque and opened the bistro last September.
The two stores are not technically affiliated, but the owners are all good friends. Mogens decided to keep the name Le Café Miche for instant recognition, while adding a distinguishing “Bistro” to the end. So that’s that. But the big question is, how does the new mini-Miche stack up against its popular older brother?
The bistro is petite, with only five tables and a modest patio-commons area out front. It’s decorated with eggshell paint and brick red walls, and, like the Heights Miche, art by local Kelly Cozart. The tables are all properly clothed and adorned with tea candles and tiny pitchers of flowers. I loved the lighting--colored glass bubble lights that made the place trendy but still charming.
And, of course, there was the food. I noticed a few menu-related similarities between the original store and this one, namely the crab cakes served on fresh market greens, the French onion soup and the chicken Cordon Bleu with Mornay sauce. (French food translation No. 1: Mornay sauce is Béchamel sauce with the addition of grated cheese.)
The bistro features breakfast and lunch at present, but dinner may be coming “in the not-so-distant future,” said my server, Drew. Early morning fare includes a bit of Americana (scrambled eggs and toast, bagel and cream cheese), a bit of New Mexico (applewood smoked bacon and green chile) and a touch of France with the continental cheese and Genoa salami plate and croissant with butter and marmalade.
Lunch offerings include savory crêpes (either seafood or spinach and mushroom), chicken or seafood vol-au-vent (French food translation No. 2: These are circular pieces of puff pastry with a small hole in the top to accommodate fillings) and a few larger entrées like beef stroganoff and chicken Provençale (French food translation No. 3: Provençale denotes the Provence region of France, where the cuisine is heavy on ingredients like fruits, tomatoes, olives and goat cheese). See how easy the menu is to understand?
I could not resist the call of the seafood crêpe ($10) and I had a house salad ($4.25) while I was waiting. The salad contained a large tuft of field greens, and the baby tomatoes were nice and firm. It was served with a delicious buttered poppy seed roll and a decent bleu cheese dressing on the side.
My main course arrived in good time, and not at all like the Franken-crêpes they apparently serve at IHOP, this was some seriously gourmet goodness. The crêpe itself was tender and moist, the side of rice pilaf was homemade and seasoned with fresh carrot and celery. The crêpe was filled with chunks of flaked salmon, shrimp and scallops, and blanketed in a thick, buttery, peach-colored lobster sauce. I was delighted up until the point where I reached the inner sanctum of the crêpe, which contained some weird balls of unknown origin. Upon examination I deduced that the balls were actually bits of cheese with copious amounts of basil. They weren’t really bad, but completely unnecessary, as was the cheddar on top the crêpe. The sauce was good enough to stand alone, and the fresh chopped parsley around the sides of the plate was garnish enough.
The bistro has daily desserts, some visible in the diminutive glass case near the door. On my visit, choices included strawberry shortcake ($2.50), triple chocolate cake ($2.50) or dessert crêpe with ice cream and rum-marinated cherries ($3).
I paid my tab ($21 for beverage, salad, entrée and tip—not as cheap as a hamburger, but nowhere near the price of my firstborn), and asked Mogens if there would be any wine classes there, like at the Wyoming location. “No,” he laughed. “I’m getting too old for that.” Server Drew commented that owner Ulla was usually the server, but she was in Denmark visiting family, so I was stuck with him in the meantime.
“She’s prettier than I am,” he said.
These two guys are about as far from the typically portrayed French maitre d’ as it gets, and to complete my debunking of French food theory, even I’m a fan of the stuff. The last time I checked, a snob doesn’t hoover chip crumbs off her t-shirt while plopped in front of the tube. How’s that for keeping it real?