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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