My husband and I were prepared to like Chez Charles even before we sat down. We weren't disappointed.
Several weeks before finally dining there, we had reservations for a rainy weeknight in December. I was to meet my husband, but the baby sitter was late and I called to ask that someone let him know.
My husband called back. Still no sitter. He decided to come home and, if she did arrive, we'd return together. Before leaving Chez Charles, he asked if we could be seated later. "Actually," the hostess said, "you're our only reservation for the rest of the evening. We were staying open for you."
Within 10 minutes, my husband was home and called back to say they needn't wait as we still had no idea where the sitter was.
While we were disappointed -- we wound up having a pizza delivered -- we were deeply impressed with the restaurant's attitude.
So we wondered if Chez Charles would live up to our hopes.
Since it opened about a year ago, Chez Charles has looked interesting. It is carved from the first floor of the old Red Cross building on North Charles Street in Charles Village, a neighborhood better known for its delis and pubs than for fine dining with a French touch.
As interesting as the location is the decor. The restaurant's two rooms are done in black and white with bursts of a color that sometimes appears orange, other times pink. Windows, trimmed in lace, offer a look at the row houses across 27th Street, but the view does not detract from the sophistication.
And a sophisticated restaurant this is -- in decor, food, service and price.
We began with Onion Soup ($4.95) and a special, Shrimp, Tomato and Feta in Garlic Sauce ($8.95).
To me, the soup was the least appealing dish we had. I thought it had been sweetened; my husband thought the flavor came from a heavily reduced beef base. He thought it superb; I found it too sweet.
We agreed that the other appetizer was marvelous. How can you not be charmed by plump shrimp mingled with chunks of feta in olive oil?
For a salad, we shared a cold asparagus vinaigrette. It was a perfect counterpoint to our appetizers.
For our main courses, I had the Filet of Salmon poached in Champagne Vin Blanc ($16.95); my husband, the Coquilles St. Jaques a la Parisienne ($16.50).
The large salmon filet was perfectly prepared, flaky and moist with a mild flavor, and just enough sauce to keep it interesting.
The coquilles lacked the mussels promised on the menu, but my husband, not enamored of them anyway, didn't mind. The shrimp were huge, the scallops plentiful, the mushrooms everywhere. What set this dish apart was the sauce, made from a browned roux that gave the dish its signature.
The entrees came with carrots and green beans, both sauteed tender-crisp in butter, and an unusually good wild rice mix.
By this time, it was no surprise that the dessert tray was atypically attractive. I chose the Apple Kuchen; my husband, Chocolate Mousse.
The apples, raisins, walnuts and custard in the kuchen melded perfectly with the crust. The mousse, slightly grainy when served straight from the refrigerator, approached excellence after a few minutes at room temperature. Despite their quality, the desserts seemed overpriced at $5 each.
Service was top notch. Our waitress was attentive, pleasant, accommodating. The bus person was the most professional we have ever seen.
In all, with two drinks and a large half-carafe of wine, our tab was $86.14.
Early evenings from Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Sundays, all dinners are $15.99, including salad, dessert and coffee, for which we paid $1.50 a cup. Given that prices for the standing entrees run from $14.50 to $18.95, this seems to be a bargain -- especially for some of the best food around.
*** 1/2 Chez Charles
2701 N. Charles St.
Hours: lunch served 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; dinner served 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Credit cards: major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: accessible.
Smoking: designated areas.