Beauty And The Bistro
Michele Wilkes conjures magical moments in Fifi's food and wine fairyland.
Wednesday, November 22, 2000
There are many things to remind us (the males of the species) daily that women are tougher than we are. I will not insult anyone reading this by making a list, since even the simplest person intuitively understands that fact.
Every time I happen to notice my older-than-their-years-looking legs, or my more-cantankerous-than-my-age emotional attitude, or my more-intolerant patience level, the scars from years of standing, serving, sweating and supplicating, brought about by the beastly business of feeding people, display themselves to me like headstones in the collecting graveyard of my life.
Fifi''s has been serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week for something like 15 years. For the last 10, one person--Michele Wilkes--has been the driving force behind the meals. She shows up there every day, stays all day and, like a little fairy, casts her magic dust upon her staff, her products, her establishment and, especially, her clientele. Instead of a magic wand, however, Ms. Michele''s spells are created by hard work, dedication and an inherent desire to provide an authentic bistro experience: fine food and wines, well-served and fairly priced, presented in a relaxed European setting.
Well, if you have already experienced it, you have figured out that she has hit the bull''s-eye with Fifi''s. The only thing I don''t understand is, how come she doesn''t look and act like Cruella DeVille? When you see her--fashionable clothes, sparkly makeup, natural beauty--you don''t even think about how much work pain she must be enduring. And maybe she isn''t (although I, as a member of the weaker sex, can''t fathom that possibility).
Fortunately, sorceress Michele recently found a soul buddy to share her load. Enter one Calvin Wilkes. With his British accent, smoother-than-velvet demeanor, easy wit and extensive fine dining acumen, Calvin is the quintessential host, maitre d'', sommelier and captain. Together, the twosome form a French-British alliance the likes of which would have made the great freedom fighters of WWII proud.
Since joining forces, Calvin has convinced Michele to close Wednesdays (a marvelously sensible idea for the two of them), install a wine bar where folks can sit and enjoy the action up front, and probably a number of other things to improve her professional and, especially, her personal life.
Fifi''s is a great spot. Casual yet elegant, it is a place to go any time for any meal. There''s always good music, usually sophisticated jazz or exotic French tunes, playing at a volume loud enough to integrate itself into the dining experience. There are always scrumptious aromas wafting throughout and an overall feeling that you are being loved. Readers of this column are aware of my affinity for places where love is a regular ingredient. The love is definitely here.
Each of the three daily meals here--four, actually, since there is also a menu for Sunday brunch--is a different yet satisfying experience. Each provides quality ingredients properly prepared, carefully presented and affectionately served. To not enjoy the Fifi''s experience would be next to impossible.
Although located on the busy Forest entranceway to the Del Monte Forest, with hundreds of cars swishing by, once inside Fifi''s, the outside world either disappears entirely or becomes like something observed from the midst of a giant tank of water. You know there''s stuff happening outside, but it really doesn''t affect you.
For this official sojourn, my eternal Sweet Thing and I spontaneously picked a Friday night to visit Fifi''s. Because we hadn''t actually planned on eating out, we showed up without rezzies. Fortunately, we were able to get a nice little table for two, one that is probably considered fairly unappealing because it is situated smack-dab in the middle of the room. We felt like we were completely unbothered, despite the continuous flow of staff and customers around us.
The ambiance--delicate sconces on the walls, beautiful chandeliers, attractive posters, lace curtains and candles everywhere--the tones of Billie Holliday and Johnnie Hartman and John Coltrane, the smooth stewardship of Calvin, the occasional glimpse of the quietly elegant Michele, the actual food and wine, all conspired to create the sensation of being in our own private dining room.
The $14.50 prix fix Bistro Menu includes soup and salad and a choice of entrees ranging from dill-crusted salmon to duck to filet mignon. Add a bottle of expertly chosen wine, one of the limitless house-made desserts (a chance to have Michele herself attend to you as she shows the tray) and you are born anew.
This is one of those spots where you just go in and order anything on the menu. The prices are all in line. The quality is always there. The experience always offers more than your money''s worth. Take your clients to lunch here. Stop in for a European-style breakfast or brunch. Or you can just buy pastries from a display case full of exotica.
Any way you play it, the hard work of Michele, Calvin and their dedicated staff has sculpted a wonderful expression of the true bistro. Go, try, enjoy.
1188 Forest, Pacific Grove, 372-5325. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily except Wednesday. Brunch on Sunday.