The Boston Phoenix
February 18 - 25, 1999

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Café de Michel

The French eat in the darndest places

On the Cheap by Liz Zack

Michel Soltani, owner of Café de Michel, thinks Americans are too inhibited, and in his seven-month-old eatery he offers the consummate French cure for shyness: camaraderie, conversation, and red wine. And Soltani does it in the most unlikely of venues -- Café de Michel serves up French eating not at a posh South End address, but on the outskirts of Mission Hill, with no restaurant like it for blocks.

The restaurant's 12 small tables are intentionally placed close together, encouraging, if not forcing, you to chat with the stranger next to you -- who may or may not speak English. Ordering is done in many languages here, while the servers sing along loudly to the French rock playing overhead.

You order at a long marble bar, decorated with jars of biscotti and glass cases of cakes; the menu is part Italian, part French. The vegetarian sandwich has mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, basil, roasted red peppers, and extra-virgin olive oil ($4.95); the penne à la Mediterranean features tomatoes, basil, and jalapeños in a slightly hot sauce ($6.25). There's also chicken à la crème fraîche, which pairs chicken and penne in a high-comfort, low-risk garlic-broccoli-cream sauce ($7.95). Soltani says the menu will continue to grow, and he's just gotten a license to install a grill. For dessert, request a cheese platter: it's not on the menu, but it's a decidedly French way to bring the meal to a close.

Café de Michel, located at 1625 Tremont Street (Mission Hill/Brigham Circle), in Boston, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.; and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call (617) 566-5958.

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