(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)
I’m not a fan of the term “fine dining” as it connotes some sort of snooty experience in my mind, and after all, any food that’s great seems quite “fine” to me. But I do appreciate refined cooking, high quality ingredients, and multiple courses of food where every detail has been pored over carefully and lovingly. And if the words “fine dining” are the only way to let you know what I’m talking about, then so be it.
Seattle doesn’t exactly have a vast collection of high end restaurants that deliver a really special experience. There are a handful that are trying and only a couple that succeed. While I enjoy living here, there’s no arguing with the fact that when it comes to quantity of quality, Seattle simply can’t compare to the major food hubs of the planet — New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, etc. (Yes this is unsurprising given Seattle’s population and age relative to those other cities, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love a better selection here.) But that shouldn’t stop us from finding things that scratch that refined itch. Enter Le Gourmand.
French in its foundation, Le Gourmand’s main appeal, is surprisingly its almost rustic flavors in refined packages. The delicate flavors that you’d expect in fine dining aren’t exactly what you find here. That’s not to say the flavors aren’t present, or aren’t good. They exist, and are enjoyable. There just isn’t always the delicateness about them that you’d find in other higher end restaurants cooking French food. The blunt quality of the flavors is surprising but enjoyable nonetheless. It is what it is. Enjoy it or don’t. I generally have, and still do.
Bread arrived. It was chewy, but not warm. (Is it wrong that I want to live in a world where all bread is served warm?) I desperately tried not to eat all the bread as I wanted to save room for the food. I lost most of this battle. A token crust remained mocking me, sitting there saying “Are you serious? Do you think that leaving a few molecules of bread on the plate is a demonstration of your willpower and discipline?” I’m often mocked by food. Luckily, it wasn’t too long until the Heirloom Tomato Soup arrived. For my taste, it was underseasoned. We helped it along a bit with some of the salt on the table and things felt better. One saving aspect of the soup was the crisp freshness of the flavor that came through nicely. But otherwise the soup was a bit flat. Following the soup was Local Crayfish and Dungeness Crab Timbale with Champagne Sauce and Chanterelles. Local shellfish with chanterelles — sounded great to me. Again though, it was not thrilling. Not particularly flavorful. Just kind of lying on the plate. The components wondering what they were doing there like a fix-up date gone bad each person wondering what their friend was thinking setting them up with this other person. It wasn’t a bad dish, it just wasn’t at all integrated. And the flavors weren’t particularly interesting or memorable.
At this point in the meal, I was nervous. I’d talked up Le Gourmand as a wonderful restaurant with simple French dishes prepared in an unassuming but flavorful way. Luckily, my favorite dish (and a signature dish of the restaurant) — Blintzes filled with Sally Jackson’s Sheep Milk Cheese with Chive Butter Sauce arrived to save the day. There are very few things on which you could put chive butter sauce or fill with sheep milk cheese and not have me eat them and proclaim them delicious. The blintzes were no exception. Things were looking up.
The mains arrived. First was Sage-wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Crabapple Sauce and House-made Pickled Crabapples. Delicate this dish was not. The pork was literally swimming in an ocean of sour red apple sauce. And yet, the pork was cooked to perfection. Savory, juicy, warm. Covered in a light blanket of the apple sauce, the chunks of pork tasted fantastic. There was nothing subtle about the apple sauce or the pickled crabapples. Even though the pork was gentle in its approach, the apple sauce almost made you feel like you were eating at a BBQ with its “down home” simplicity. The Grilled Tournedos of Beef with Chive and Potato Pancake and Sauce of Blueberries, Huckleberries, and Lemon Thyme also did not disappoint. Much like the pork, the sauce on the beef — this time comprised of berries — was super present. And again, when combined in moderate amounts with a slice of the well cooked meat, the dish just worked. This time more sour, and deep, than the apple sauce. It approached almost a juicy tart wine-like flavor.
In a funny way, the most delicate thing that arrived was the side of vegetables that came with our entrees. Little red potatoes, cabbage, and kale. Cooked just enough. And with a perfect amount of melted butter glistening across the surface of the veggies. Simple, clean, understated, and cooked perfectly. Yummy.
For dessert we had the Creme Brulee a l’Ancienne — Old Fashioned Burnt Cream with raspberries preserved in house-made Ratafia. It was uneventful. But the Raspberry Sorbet (phallic presentation aside) was incredibly sour and fresh tasting. A little shock to the system, cleaning out any traces of the previous dishes from your palate and letting you finish the meal on a with a spring in your step instead of feeling all weighed down.
Even though we were nervous at first, the combination of the blintzes and the entrees really did remind me of everything I liked about Le Gourmand. While not every item we tried found it’s mark, there were more than enough that delighted us through a combination of simple, clean, and mouthwatering flavors. It’s not the super-refined delicate flavors you’d find at some of the higher end French restaurants, and it’s not cheap, but the simple combinations of ingredients and direct and unassuming flavors are more often than not tasty and special in their own way.
Le Gourmand, 425 NW Market Street, Seattle, WA 98107, (206) 784-3463, website. For all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries check out our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.