Le Beach

Chez Million marries a stunning waterfront location with disappointing food, making a poor French impression.

The traditional preparation for anything served "Oscar"—veal is classic—has the meat topped with crab, béarnaise sauce, and, when the chef is feeling festive, a pair of triumphantly crossed asparagus spears. It's a standard at restaurants on the East Coast, so when my New Jersey–born friend saw filet mignon Oscar ($36.95) on the menu at Chez Million, it reminded her of countless memorable dinners overlooking beaches facing the other direction, and she ordered it. While the prevailing aesthetic on Alki includes flip-flops, Rollerblades, and yellow Labs on long leashes, the beach's new French restaurant offers an alternative for those who prefer yellow toile wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, and escargots classiques. The wallpaper is fantastic; it's unfortunate that the filet Oscar is not. While the steak was suitably cut and prepared and the crabmeat was right there on top of it where it belonged, the sauce had no earthiness, no richness, no scented distinction. The uncrossed asparagus we could have lived with, but a sad sauce is a very disappointing thing. So it was with the white wine beurre blanc that came in a ramekin on the side of the Alaskan halibut ($21.95), ordered from Chez Million's mix-and-match grill page. Not only was it thin and lukewarm, but a filmy skin had developed on the surface, suggesting that it had been waiting for us under a heat lamp for quite some time—long enough, it seemed, for the fish to become dry and lackluster and the twice-baked potato to go for a third round. On another visit, a seafood crepe was dressed in a bland and indistinguishable white sauce, and inside, the scallops were mealy and soft, the shrimp tough and unfriendly. The Dungeness sandwich ($15.95) might as well be made with tuna for all the character it offered, and the "frites" served on the side were flimsy and limp, unworthy of the French name that implies they were given the European treatment of two proper trips through the fryer. For the grilled calamari and shrimp appetizer ($12.95), Chez Million serves lightly dressed whole squid sleeves, with just the tentacles removed. Eating them requires that you chew and chew and chew before chewing some more. The menu, which pairs classic—and somewhat dated—French dishes (duck breast served with pear dauphinoise, $26.95; assorted pâté and cured meats with toasted baguette and pickle, $14.95) with classic upscale beach fare (half a Maine lobster served with filet mignon, $39.95) and a few sandwiches and salads to meet the needs of Rollerblading passersby, was designed by owner Panumas Pornvarakorn. (It's also worth noting that she's responsible for the excellent interior design.) Pornvarakorn has experience running French restaurants in Paris and Bangkok, but she's brand-new to Seattle. Her menu has undergone constant revision; frog legs were offered, for example, and then deleted because Pornvarakorn wasn't happy with the quality of product she was getting. Bartender/manager Randy Powell, who is apparently included on the lease when you rent the space (he made the drinks when the space was the Lighthouse Grill, and before that at the Point Grill), told me that Pornvarakan has had trouble finding a chef who will execute her recipes to her liking. If the chef is feeling confined and the owner is feeling apprehensive, there's little chance the food is going to sing. And yet, on occasion, it did: On that first visit, the two courses that we didn't order were actually the highlights of the evening. Halfway into the chewy calamari, our server presented us with pork rillettes on tiny toasts drizzled with a fig and balsamic reduction. It was the evening's amuse-bouche, a little gift from the chef, and the smooth, fatty pâtélike indulgence paired wonderfully with its sweet, fruity dressing. Later, basil sorbet was offered as a palate cleanser. The icy cool and very alive flavor was a welcome sensation, so we employed the small offering as a palate stimulator, not a cleanser. Pornvarakorn clearly has an eye for detail. If she can find a chef to work with her and not against her—and if she can find the right menu for this neighborhood—she could really be on to something. LEAVING THE restaurant that first night, my friends and I speculated about how long Chez Million might last on this notoriously brutal (and very expensive) stretch of beach. With its Sound-facing, elegantly appointed dining room and its West Coast beach–meets–the world menu aspirations, Chez Million has the opportunity to be a destination restaurant, and the front-of-the-house staff seem to genuinely want your experience to be a positive one. We got the feeling, however, that the more experienced and knowledgeable among them were actively trying to make up for something. "Something" being, of course, just about everything that came from the kitchen. lcassidy@seattleweekly.com Chez Million, 2770 Alki Ave. S.W., 206-933-0118, WEST SEATTLE. Lunch 11:30 a.m.– 3 p.m., dinner 5:30–10 p.m. Tues.–Sun. Weekend brunch 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

 
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