Treat yourself

Cool off and fill up on a summer Sunday with an upscale brunch

Eggs Benedict with turkey and avocado.

Eggs Benedict with turkey and avocado.

Photo courtesy of Christian Michaels

Christian Michaels Ristoranté
192 E. Third St.
Lunch: Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: daily 5 p.m.-close
Sunday brunch: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Summer is coming on strong, and with it the seasonal urge to eat something tasty, nutritious and—most of all—not cooked or cleaned up after by me. Especially on a Sunday afternoon when the temperature in downtown Chico is already pushing the 100 degree mark.

So, for my most recent Sunday brunch adventure, I invited a couple of friends to the cool and comfortable confines of local fine-dining institution Christian Michaels on the corner of Third and Wall streets downtown. The pleasantly appointed dining room, with its equally pleasant adjoining lounge, struck me as just the right setting for a leisurely mix of conversation, people-watching, appetite-sating and perhaps a thirst- and nerve-soothing beverage or two.

Not having thought or planned far enough in advance to make reservations, I half expected to be put on a waiting list after glancing through the dining room’s plate-glass windows and seeing its many tables filled to capacity with a large and cheerful multigenerational gathering of Sunday diners. But when we entered through the lounge door, the hostess/bartender glanced into the full dining room and then offered us a seat at one of the lounge’s window-side tables for four.

Our hostess seated us and took drink orders—water, Bloody Mary ($7) and coffee ($3 with refills) for myself, and compatriots Missy and Nevada, respectively—then quickly returned with the brunch menus. Reading our obviously unhurried vibe, she allowed us plenty of time to discuss our options and make our decisions. Which was very considerate, because there are plenty of options to choose from.

The midday-meal side of the brunch menu offers everything from a hearty prime-rib sandwich ($12, with “sauteed mushrooms, onions, havarti cheese and roasted garlic aioli on a ciabatta roll with a side of creamy horseradish and pommes frites) to classic favorites such as Caesar salad ($12) and a pasta pomodoro ($11, add prawns, grilled chicken or Italian sausage for $5).

We all decided to order from the more breakfasty side of the menu, which features several omelet and scramble options, including an ominously named but delicious-sounding Black and Blue omelet ($12) that combines prime rib, caramelized onions, mushrooms and Gorgonzola cheese with potato cake on the side. There’s also a breakfast bacon potato pizza ($12), as well as crab crepes ($12) made with red onion, tomatoes, cream cheese and avocado (and potato cake on the side). Add $4, and Champagne is included with any entree.

Going traditional, I opted for French toast ($11), which, as advertised, consisted of a “golden-brown battered croissant topped with strawberries, caramel and powdered sugar, served with maple syrup”—not to mention a thick stripe of whipped cream along two edges of the croissant. The strawberries were juicy and just ripe enough to add a hint of fresh tartness that perfectly complemented and enhanced the sweet components of the plate, which I uncharacteristically ate every bite of, using the last chunk of maple-soaked croissant to mop up the gooey remnants of whipped cream, caramel, sugar and syrup.

My companions both chose variations of the eggs Benedict ($14), made with a toasted croissant served and topped with fresh-made Hollandaise sauce (with a choice of crab cake, prime rib or smoked turkey and avocado). Nevada couldn’t resist the crab cake option, and one good-sized bite affirmed that choice. Missy chose the smoked turkey and avocado, which gave the dish a more traditional flavor profile, along with the bonus of perfectly ripened avocado slices lending a healthful air to the richness of the meal. Both dishes featured perfectly cooked soft-boiled eggs with bright yolks.

Christian Michaels is a little pricier than many brunch options in Chico, but it’s worth the extra cost. The restaurant is beautiful, with natural lighting, and the delicious food is perfectly prepared. Plus, we were able to finish dining at a leisurely pace befitting a Sunday brunch, unhurried by any sense that we should clear out for incoming diners, and left profoundly satisfied with the hospitality and comfort of the experience.