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You guys! Are you having the best summer ever? I think I’ve overdosed on Vitamin D.
So. No new reviews this week – I’ve got a few things on deck, but nothing I feel like I can comment on definitively at the moment. Also I’ve been insanely busy getting ready for an avalanche of guests immediately followed by some travel abroad. And when I say abroad, I mean the untamed bear-infested woods of Northern Wisconsin.
But you guys. It’s all good. Here are some random thoughts I have been thinking for your pleasure:
- Top Chef Masters is a real treat. I’m fairly limited in my regional knowledge of restaurants and chefs, but I do pay attention to other things bubbling around the country. I’m constantly making mental notes about places I’d like to eat if I ever pay a visit to this or that city. So it’s really great to see some of these names in action. Cindy Pawlcyn (hot). Roy Yamaguchi (nerd). Wylie Dufresne (hot nerd).
- I’m so in forever love with Hubert Keller. He was chilling at the bar at Fleur de Lys when I visited San Francisco a few years back and I was completely charmed. I had a completely vegetarian five-course dinner with wine pairings that totally upstaged all the meat-eaters at the table. Even better was chef Keller resolutely striding across the restaurant into the kitchen and roaring at his crew: “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”. It was very quiet after that. *swoon*
- Speaking of Top Chef, I’m sure you’ve probably heard by now, but we’ve got TWO contestants from Seattle in the new season premiering next month. Ashley Merriman, the badass behind Branzino, and Robin Leventhal of the lately lamented Crave (which I always thought was profoundly overrated). But who cares! Finally some hometown heroes to root for! I’m stupid excited about this. AND! The rumor, rumor, rumormill is buzzing that Seattle might finally be THE LOCATION for next season… oh I would probably just die of joy.
- The burgeoning dessert emporium insanity continues in our fair city. Megan Seling cries Uncle over here. I tend to agree, but then you know I’m pretty indifferent about sweets. Still, I’ve occasioned Molly Moon’s a couple of times, and stopped by Bluebird this past week. The ice cream is creamier, milkier and freakier at Molly Moon’s, but Bluebird has that DIY vibe that I dig. That said, they don’t seem quite ready for primetime. Best of luck to them all – I hope it’s not a slaughter out there when the dark days return.
- Café Presse still has the best goddamned Frites in town. Hands down.
- What is better than a Niçoise salad in the summertime? How about a Niçoise salad from Skillet in the summertime. Oh hell yeah.
Photo via Flickr by PAAT
If you ever need to find me, I suggest you try looking just around the corner of 12th and Madison on Capitol Hill. Over the course of the past year, Jim Drohman’s neighborhood bar Café Presse has quickly cemented itself as my very favorite restaurant in Seattle. It’s probably the first place I have ever wanted to eat my way through the entire menu. And dozens of visits later, I still haven’t managed to accomplish this, for a number of reasons.
For starters, Café Presse has the greatest Croque Madame on earth. The creamy béchamel and gruyère are melted over the soft baked ham sandwich, and the egg served sunny side up on top is fried perfectly every single time. I love cutting into the vibrant yellow yolk and watching it slowly drip down the sides of the sandwich. It’s a work of art. Additionally, any of the other sandwiches en baguette are going to satisfy. From pork rillettes to jambon cru, with a side of the best frites in town, you can’t go wrong. Don’t miss the grilled sardines with bibb lettuce – salty and smoky and straight from the sea.
Speaking of bibb lettuce, the salade verte is a masterpiece. Crispy and vibrant green leaves stacked one on top of the other, lightly coated with a mustardy vinaigrette and scattered hazelnuts. It’s simple and splendid (and it’s only $4). And that’s another wonderful thing about Café Presse – for the caliber of the cuisine, the prices are astronomically fair. Particularly the wine, which is served in variously sized pitchers à la chef Drohman’s other beloved restaurant Le Pichet. And though many of the items on the menu are similar to his downtown bistro (and likewise many of the dishes rotate seasonally), Café Presse is ultimately a much more casual and relaxed space. I like to sit at the bar and sip on a demi pichet of La Chaussynette and just absorb the scene.
The crowd is more diverse and dynamic than downtown, no doubt due to the location (next to Seattle University) and the hours (open daily from 7AM to 2AM!). The space is bright and airy, with wood ceilings and brick walls crisscrossed by giant black industrial girders. The back of the restaurant is separated from the front by the kitchen, and is generally more subdued. The front holds the bar and several green-topped tables bathed in natural light during the day via the epic skylight above. There is a newstand and framed soccer jerseys and a great big beautiful clock hanging from the ceiling. There is always something good playing on the stereo. Café Presse truly succeeds at being the “sort of place that Parisians use as a kind of alternative living room”.
On a recent visit, a group of us shared a simple bowl of almonds sautéed in olive oil and coarse sea salt along with gâteau au foie de volaille, a terrine of smooth chicken liver and dried cherry compote. The almonds were crunchy and the pâté was cool and rich. I was delighted to see that Drohman’s famous caramelized onion soup was back on the menu for the Autumn, and ordered up a big bowl. Served piping hot, with two huge baguette croutons and melted comté cheese… tell me one thing more than this. How about the roasted chicken? Same drill as at Le Pichet, order for two, allow an hour to prepare, allow days to recover.
If you happened to be in Seattle for one night only, this would be the place I would take you for a truly authentic, local and unique meal and experience. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
There’s something about Le Pichet that always makes me feel at home — in France. Whenever I step inside Jim Drohman’s enchanting downtown bistro, I quickly forget my American troubles and my troubles with America and allow myself to travel abroad. This is usually followed by a genuine sigh of relief. The archetypal space is so remarkably authentic, it’s hard not to be completely transported by the illusion. The floor is dotted with small tiles, the walls are hung with old photo frames and chalkboards scrawled in Gallic script, an enormous mirror reflects your image behind the bar. Wine bottles and casks line every horizontal surface. And while Drohman’s second restaurant Café Presse may have completely stolen my heart, Le Pichet will always be my first love.
The dining is not exactly communal, but the small tables for two are arranged so closely together in the cozy space that you will inevitably strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you. “What’d you get?” is not an uncommon icebreaker. Or: “Have you tried the moules-frites…?” Penn Cove mussels with bacon, leeks and saffron. The frites are crispy and golden and taste like Belgium. (They are also the best in town and should not be missed – order them solo with traditional french mayonnaise).
Le Pichet is casual and crowded during lunch, and tends to attract a more upscale scene for dinner. There are certain items on the menu that you can order all day (le casse croûte), and certain dishes that you can only get during the evening. Of these, Drohman’s most famous spécialité de la maison is easily the poulet rôti à votre commande, and for good reason. His remarkable roast chicken is only available upon request, is only served for two, and takes an hour to prepare. Juicy meat, golden crispy skin, seasonal vegetables marinating in savory drippings… it’s everything you dream a roast chicken could be. I’ve heard tell that you can phone in your order in advance, but that seems like blasphemy to me. Enjoy a plate of charcuterie or cheese (or both) and take your time exploring the immense wine list. Why on earth would you want to get back to the States so quickly?
Despite his classical approach, Drohman continues to innovate and expand his technique. I’ve noticed in particular that quite a number of curry dishes have been showing up on the menu lately. During one visit this summer, I was utterly floored by a plate I had never seen before, one salade aux pommes de terre marinées, aux pissenlits et aux lardons (marinated red potatoes tossed with dandelion greens, olives, radish, bacon and red wine vinaigrette). I couldn’t even imagine what this might taste like, so I was quick to order. It was probably the most intense salad I can recall eating. The bitterness of the dandelion greens was countered by the relative sweetness of the vinaigrette and magnified by the spiciness of the radish. The potatoes acted as necessary buffers between each bite of salad explosion. I honestly don’t know if I’d order it again – it was a bit much. More enjoyable were the house-made grilled chipolata sausages with cauliflower and saffron aioli. The coarsely ground pork sausages were hot and spicy and the cauliflower florets were roasted and crispy.
But now as the autumn approaches, I find myself craving the classics – particularly the gratin lyonnais, a simple and delicious french onion soup with gruyère that will warm your heart and fill your stomach. I love Le Pichet. It’s one of a handful of places that truly makes me grateful to live in Seattle.