Le Pichet, the French café on First Avenue, owes a lot of its charm to the neighborhood bistros of Paris, but perhaps even more to the informal bouchons of Lyon, where workmen gather noon and night to eat hearty plates of pork sausage, pike quenelles, and beef tripe in side-street storefronts that once housed stables and made themselves known by hanging a bundle of brush -- known locally as a bouche -- over the door. Hence bouchon, which means cork in Bordeaux and Burgundy; no corks at a bouchon, however; the wine comes straight from the cask. Chicken livers are also on the menu, not as a mousse or pâté but puréed and baked and served with tomato sauce. Paul Bocuse, the towering Lyon chef who reinvented French gastronomy, has a highly refined version, gâteau de foies blonds de volaille de Bresse, sauce écrevisse that’s served warm, with a delicate sauce of crayfish.
Jump cut to Seattle and a restive Jim Drohman, UW grad, aeronautical engineer at Boeing, who chucks it all, moves to Paris, and spends 18 months learning to cook professionally at the École Supérieure de Cuisine. Back in Seattle he begins to work as a line cook, eventually becoming exec chef at Campagne. His wife’s uncle is Joe McDonald, who owns the private supper club The Ruins, where he meets his business partner, Joanne Heron. Together they open Le Pichet, and Drohman decides to adapt the Bocuse recipe for his new place.
The chicken livers (free range chickens, naturally) come from Corfini Gourmet, a classy restaurant supply house. Poached, then emulsified and blended with cream, eggs and a Madeira reduction. Seasoned with orange peel, thyme, clove and allspice, the whole thing strained through a fine sieve to remove the fibrous bits. Then it’s baked, like a terrine, in a bain-marie, unmolded, and served chilled: a thick, four and a half-ounce slice for $6, topped with a line of gros sel that provides crunch as much as saltiness. At Le Pichet, the garnish is cornichons and two kinds of mustard; at Café Presse on Capitol Hill, it’s served with a cherry compote.
“We take modest products and turn them into tasty food,” Drohman says. Food that pleases Drohman himself. You can’t get a Caesar salad at Le Pichet, certainly no caviar. It’s not an “I want” restaurant for fussy diners, it’s a “show me” place for 32 eaters at a time, lucky enough to eat whatever Drohman and his kitchen turn out. Fortunately, the gâteau de foie de volaille is on the “anytime” Casse-Croûte menu.
Unctuous seems the right word for the gâteau, a mouthfeel much smoother in texture than traditional chopped liver, with richer flavors than a foamlike mousse and lighter than a traditional pâté. Spread it thickly on the crusty slices of Grand Central baguette that they serve alongside it, add a petite salade drizzled with hazelnut oil and wash it down with a glass or two of Beaujolais, and you will be happy.
A Resurgence of Seattle Fine Dining
Several new spots in Seattle this month.
First, there’s Bisato, which Lampreia chef Scott Carsberg opened mid-March in Belltown. Carsberg had been hoping to move, but failed to find a buyer for Lampreia. The remodeled space is less formal, offers Venetian-style cicchetti (small plates) starting at $2 and inexpensive wines.
Boding well: Kevin and Terresa Davis, owners of Steelhead Diner, have opened Blueacre Seafood at 7th & Olive in the space vacated last year by the bankruptcy of Oceanaire. The chef is Bryan O’Connor (last seen at Cliff House in San Francisco) and the GM is Bruce Sturgeon (of Wild Ginger). David Leck (formerly of Elliott’s and winner of the Oyster Olympics five years in a row) will welcome guests at Blueacre’s shellfish bar. That’s one of the few bits of Oceanaire that haven’t been touched by the remodel, remarkable for its efficiency. The Davises couldn’t wait, you see; Terresa’s expecting twins in April.
And two more openings: on Eastlake, Nettletown. On Melrose, Sitka & Spruce (formerly in the Eastlake space).
Meantime, Bellevue’s boom appears to be over. After a streak of new places (Artisanal Brasserie, John Howie Steak, Purple Café & Wine Bar and Barrio, Wild Ginger, Boom Noodle), there’s been a hiccup. Solstice Restaurants has closed all three of its downtown Bellevue properties: 0/8 Seafood Grill, Stir Martini + Raw Bar and Twisted Cork Wine Bar. Matt Bomberger, the Bellevue businessman who bankrolled the company (and removed his original partner, chef Dan Thiessen), pulled the plug last month, citing the difficulty of competing with the deep pockets of “corporate” restaurants like Maggiano’s and Palomino. But Bradley & Mikel’s Pearl, an independent with a truly difficult location across the porte cochère from the Bellevue Westin Hotel, just celebrated its first anniversary.
Vulcan Lands Douglas
The shoe has dropped: Seattle restaurant entrepreneur Tom Douglas has finally confirmed what everyone suspected for months: his next restaurant(s) will be in South Lake Union. The Belltown Messenger anticipated the news in a report on the neighborhood back in January.
Douglas is going to open at least one restaurant in the historic Terry Avenue Building, a former truck factory from the early 1900s between Thomas and Harrison, surrounded by the rising concrete bookends that Vulcan Real Estate is building for Amazon.com’s headquarters campus, around the corner from the new Flying Fish location. The Fish, a Belltown fixture for 20 years, is moving in May.
“It’s an exciting area full of new opportunities for us that we couldn’t pass up,” Douglas says. No names announced yet for the restaurants to be housed in the two-story building, which will be completely renovated inside but maintain its landmark brick exterior and connect to an outdoor plaza and streetscape.
The new Amazon.com campus includes 11 buildings (totalling 1.7 million square feet) on 6 blocks in the heart of South Lake Union. The first space will open next month with full occupancy by 2013.
Hot Dog University
One of those all-American hot dog carts, the kind you see in Belltown late at night, will cost you about $500, give or take. And, for another $700, there’s an outfit in Chicago that will teach you how to run it. (Sample from the weeklong curriculum: dress the dog, not the bun.)
That would be Vienna Beef, longtime purveyors of tube steaks to vendors in the Windy City, and looking for new markets. “We have been trying to export Vienna to other cities for years, but it’s very difficult,” says CEO James Bodman. So, a year ago, he came up with the notion of a training program. Enrollment surged with the unemployment rate, as layoff victims started looking for a fast track to entrepreneurship.
Vienna, for its part, hopes its graduates will crack new markets around the country. “Hot Dog University has given us dozens of new accounts around the country, and it’s priceless for us,” Bodman tells Chicago Business.
Here in Seattle, Joe Jeannot recently sold Slo Joe’s, his hot dog & BBQ storefront in South Lake Union and is tending bar at Toulouse Petit. (In its place, a sandwich shop called Yellow Dot Cafe.) Jeannot knows from hotdogs, however, and would scoff at shelling out tuition for his nighttime vendors, where a five-spot buys you the definitive “Seattle dog” (i.e., with cream cheese).
Which brings us to the latest Harris poll: many Americans attribute a recent illness to “something they ate.” That’s the takeaway, as it were, for the food industry. Says Chain Leader, a trade publication, “[There’s a] perception that a food-attributed illness poses a major problem for our nation’s food manufacturers and suppliers. In fact, seven in ten (69%) of those who attribute an illness to a food item think they know what made them sick.”
Not to mention what makes them fat: 57 percent say sedentary lifestyle, the remainder say individual food choices and eating habits. Right, like eating far too many hotdogs.
Ronald’s blog: cornichon.org